The New River Gorge is the most recent addition to the U.S. National Park system and is a natural playground for outdoor adventurers. From whitewater rafting, to climbing, to hiking, the New River area has a little something for everyone, and is within an easy 5-hour drive of Washington, DC.
The area is perhaps best known for the New River Gorge Bridge, an engineering marvel that spans the New River 876 feet below and is one of the longest single-arch steel bridges in the world at 1,700 feet long. Every year in October, the road is closed to vehicular traffic for "Bridge Day," when pedestrians are free to walk across the bridge and daredevils are allowed to BASE jumpfrom the bridge deck to the river below.
The New River Gorge also offers (arguably) the best whitewater rafting east of the Mississippi, which is particularly true during "Gauley season" in the fall, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers releases excess water from the reservoir, creating great rapids downriver. Several companies operate whitewater trips on the New River and Gauley River, but our favorite is ACE Adventure Resort.
ACE offers various rafting options for every age and skill level, and also has a very cool water park with massive inflatable climbing rafts (think American Ninja Warrior, but in the water).
The steep cliffs and bluffs carved out by the New River over the millenia are a destination for serious climbers. The National Park Service claims over 1,600 climbing routes, and local outfitters offer guides and equipment for rent.. For those not inclined to imitating Spiderman, the Endless Wall Trail offers an easy 2.4 mile hike with vistas overlooking the river 1,000 feet below.
There are free, no-reservation campsites along the New River available on a first-come, first-serve basis. These sites do not have any water or electric hookups, but that is not a problem for Vander compact campervans, which are designed for off-grid adventure.
West Virginia has an impressive state park system, with several good options nearby, including Babcock (pictured left) and Little Beaver State Parks. These are quiet and relaxing parks, dating from the Civilian Conservation Corps era, and offer clean bath facilities and basic sites with electric and water hookups at a very reasonable price.
The New River Gorge is an ancient and beautiful destination to escape from the urban-suburban sprawl of the East Coast. Use these ideas for a starting point for your own adventure!