Written by Aaron-Michael Fox.
It has been my experience that most cities around the country have a preferred vacation spot when one wants to get away for a little bit and Huntington is no different. While the beaches of Virginia and the Carolinas remain popular, if my newsfeed is to be trusted, it seems that more and more Huntingtonians are opting to spend their wilderness time in America’s newest national park: the New River Gorge in Fayette County.
Located just two hours southeast of Huntington, the New River Gorge has been exploding in popularity since being designated as a national park and preserve by the federal government in 2021. The tourist season will reach its peak on October 15, 2022 with the return of Bridge Day, the state’s largest single-day event.
Bridge Day is held annually on the third Saturday in October and is the only day of the year when the New River Gorge Bridge is closed to vehicle traffic and open to pedestrians. The featured attraction is BASE jumpers parachuting off the bridge and into the canyon. Get more info HERE.
The New River Gorge National Park and Preserve contains more than 72,000 acres of land, according to the New River Gorge Convention and Visitors Bureau. Approximately 90 percent of the land is in the national preserve which permits hunting. The park stretches for 53 miles along the New River, from the Bluestone Dam in Hinton to Hawks Nest State Park in Ansted.
The New River Gorge is not only picturesque, but also offers numerous opportunities for whitewater recreation such as rafting and kayaking. Visitors who prefer to stay dry have plenty of other activities to choose from, including hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, and ziplining. Be sure to stop in the Visitor’s Center and stock up on trail maps first thing. You can also view a Visitor’s Guide HERE.
Visitors looking to sample the local beer and/or cuisine will want to spend some time in Fayetteville, located on the southern end of the New River Gorge Bridge, which is home to the Fayette County Courthouse as well as several artisanal shops, boutiques, and restaurants such as Pies & Pints pizzeria and the Freefolk Brewery.
History buffs will want to make time to visit Ansted and Hawks Nest State Park on the northern side of the Gorge. The town is home to the historic Page-Vawter House which was built in 1889, the Tyree Tavern, which was built in 1810, and a cemetery that is the final resting place for confederate general Stonewall Jackson’s mother. Marshall University alumni and fans will take note of the fact that the namesake for the University, John Marshall, visited this area in 1812 traveling down the New River on a wooden boat.
A search of Airbnb showed numerous places to stay on or near the Gorge ranging from cabins in Ansted to houses in Fayetteville to a yurt on the canyon rim. Prices range from $99-$450 night depending on amenities. According to West Virginia Tourism, the best time to visit the Gorge for leaf season will be mid-late October.