Earlier this year, West Virginia’s New River Gorge was named the United States’s 63rd national park as part of a federal omnibus spending bill. Finally, our legislators have done something right! New River Gorge is filled with a massive 72,000 acres of woodlands, rivers, ravines, and Appalachian mountains. Visitors can expect to take part in any one of dozens of fun outdoor activities.

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve is more like the type of location you would expect to find in lush Southern California

The timing is probably strategic, as national park visitation has skyrocketed during the coronavirus pandemic. Even unfamiliar Indiana Dunes National Park (in Michigan) has had trouble with overcrowding. The park is one with very limited resources because it isn’t as popular as the bigger parks. This last year has changed everything.

But New River Gorge National Park and Preserve doesn’t have that same problem — in large part because its visitors have the option to spread themselves out over such an enormous region. And populations will likely always be sparse anyway, since the closest city is three hours away.

West Virginia Tourism Commissioner Chelsea Ruby said, “There is not one standard entry-and-exit point. Travelers who visit will not have to sit in a long line just to get in. It’s almost as if the park has natural crowd-control build from within, given its accessibility and expanse.”

The omnibus bill provides the park with the option to buy up to 3,800 acres just for parking if needed.

Although visitor populations aren’t unbearably high, park enthusiasts recommend booking nearby hotels well ahead of time. Already established hotels, camping areas, and outdoor resorts plan to add new lodging. Adventures On The Gorge is one such resort operating in the region, and has publicized plans to add new camping areas and glamping tents to increase its already-high capacity. There are currently 90 campsites. Those who want a room can look at the cabins nearby.

Co-owner of Water Stone Outdoors said, “This place was bound to be discovered. It’s truly one of the outdoor recreational meccas in the United States.”

Although the entire park is scenic, most visitors will want to head to the New River Gorge Bridge, which hangs 876 feet over the river below and spans 3,000 feet end-to-end. The bridge has a walkway underneath for those who want to journey across on foot. 

What activities might you enjoy in the park? You can go whitewater rafting, ziplining, mountain biking, rock climbing, hiking, or drive along the self-guided African American Heritage Auto Tour to experience a piece of the park’s storied past.

The best part? The park is established, but not so established that you have to pay a hefty price just to camp there. Many campsites are free — as long as you’re willing to accept a lack of amenities. Visitors should check COVID-19 updates for current lodging options.

West Virginia’s Newest National Park: New River Gorge