Besides the well-known National Parks, the US Park Service also recognizes certain National Rivers such as the New River in West Virginia (As of 2021, this is the newest official National Park). This “park” technically includes 70,000 acres of land along the river, and the best way to see it all, in my opinion is the two-lane Route 60.
This is my favorite day trip because you can do it so many times and never do exactly the same thing. Maybe one day you just drive and do some short hikes and eat lunch at the Secret Sandwich Society. Maybe another day you leave early and go rafting or take a boat ride at Hawk’s Nest. As you drive along Route 60 from Charleston, you are traveling the Midland Trail (roughly miles 60-120 on this blog post) – a National Scenic Byway, so this is pretty clearly a good trip to do.
Your first stop will be either Kanawha Falls or Cathedral Falls or both, which are located on either side of the town of Glen Ferris. Cathedral Falls is pictured to the left. You arrive here right as you’re ready to get out and stretch your legs, and this is a great place to climb around on the rocks and take pictures.
Soon after the falls, you come to Hawks Nest State Park which offers some fantastic overlooks of the river. In the summer, you can also take a tram down the gorge and ride a jet boat and see the walls of the gorge from below.
Soon after Hawks Nest, Route 60 rejoins with the interstate at Hico, which takes you directly to the New River Gorge visitor’s center. This is where you can ask about hikes, see the bride up close, or stop by the gift store. Also nearby are campsites and the companies that will take you rafting, climbing, and zip-lining. I cannot recommend a raft trip enough, although they do require some planning. At the very least, there’s the Endless Wall Trail. It’s about 3 miles total, and you can get a map from the Visitor’s Center to show you exactly how to get there. The trail takes you along the edge of the gorge to Diamond Point where you can take amazing pictures.
After this, you’re close to Fayetteville, so it’s a good time to get lunch at the Secret Sandwich Society, which at least for me is an obligatory part of this trip. Their food is fantastic and filling and completely worth the struggle of finding a parking space.
Although you can take Route 60 all the way to Lewisburg and White Sulpher Springs, my last note for this post is Babcock State Park, which is famous for its old Grist Mill. As much as I love the New River Gorge, Babcock is consistently less crowded and runs at a slower pace. There are several short trails around the park, but it’s also nice to just climb around the rocks (when the water isn’t too high) or sit and take in the view. Driving this road and making all these little stops is one of my favorite things to do and something that I don’t think enough people know about.
Bonus Tip: If you stop at the Secret Sandwich Society, be sure to get their Society Chips and Dip! It’s definitely a highlight of this trip!