4 Stunning Scenic Drives at New River Gorge National Park WV

New River Gorge National Park & Preserve, West Virginia, is located in the rugged Appalachian Mountains. It’s a haven of natural beauty, outdoor adventure, and cultural history. The park was designated as a national park and preserve in December 2020, making it one of the newest additions to the National Park System. The area spans over 70,000 acres and is renowned for its dramatic landscapes, diverse ecosystems, and the deep, rugged New River Gorge. And, of course, scenic drives!

If you’re looking for an East Coast National Park that will blow you away, this will do the trick. 

The park has a variety of scenic drives that wind through its breathtaking landscapes, many of which are among the national parks’ best and most picturesque landscapes. So, let’s dive into four of the most notable drives in New River Gorge National Park!

1. Grandview Overlooks

new river gorge national park & preserve west virginia featuring the Grandview Overlook with the New River rushing below
A beautiful fall day at the Grandview Overlook with the New River rushing below.

This scenic drive takes you to the Grandview area, where jaw-dropping overlooks provide impressive views of the New River Gorge. The New River Gorge Bridge, an engineering marvel, spans the chasm and is an iconic focal point. The various overlooks provide different perspectives of the gorge, highlighting its sheer cliffs, lush vegetation, and the winding river below.

Key Points of Interest:

  • Grandview Visitor Center: Your journey can begin at the Grandview Visitor Center. Here, you can gather information about the park, its trails, and the area’s history. The visitor center is an excellent starting point for learning about the significance of the Grandview Overlooks.
  • Overlooks and Scenic Points: The drive features several designated overlooks, each offering its own unique perspective of the New River Gorge. The most notable viewpoints include Grandview, Turkey Spur, and Main Overlooks. These vantage points provide unobstructed views of the gorge, the surrounding landscape, and the towering New River Gorge Bridge.
  • Turkey Spur Trail: The Turkey Spur Trail is a short and moderately steep trail leading to a rocky outcrop offering outstanding gorge views. This trail allows you to stretch your legs and explore the area on foot.
  • Main Overlook Trail: This short, paved trail takes you to the Main Overlook, which provides an expansive view of the New River Gorge Bridge against the backdrop of the ravine. This is a popular spot for capturing photographs and enjoying views of the beautiful landscape.
  • Picnic Areas: Along the drive, you’ll find designated picnic areas where you can stop and have a meal surrounded by nature. These areas offer a peaceful setting to relax and take in the scenery.

Experience and Tips:

  • Timing: The Grandview Overlooks are particularly remarkable during sunrise and sunset when the changing light enhances the beauty of the landscape. However, the area can get crowded during peak hours, so visiting early in the morning or later in the evening might provide a quieter experience.
  • Photography: Bring your camera to capture the sprawling vistas, especially during the golden hours of dawn and dusk. The New River Gorge Bridge and the gorge itself make for fantastic photographic opportunities.
  • Comfortable Footwear: While you can experience most overlooks directly from your vehicle, I would suggest a comfortable pair of shoes, especially if you plan to explore the short trails leading to viewpoints.
  • Weather: Be prepared for changing weather conditions, as the climate in the Appalachian region can vary. Bring layers, especially if you plan to spend time outside the vehicle.

2. Canyon Rim Visitor Center to Sandstone Falls

A gorgeous summer afternoon at Sandstone Falls inside New River Gorge National Park
A gorgeous summer afternoon at Sandstone Falls inside New River Gorge National Park.

This drive takes you along the gorge’s rim, offering glimpses of the impressive rock formations, dense forests, and the serene New River. The highlight of this drive is Sandstone Falls. This majestic waterfall spans the width of the river, creating a series of cascades and rapids. The falls are stunning during fall foliage season.

Key Points of Interest:

  • Canyon Rim Visitor Center: Start your journey at the Canyon Rim Visitor Center, where you can gather information about the park and its attractions. The center contains exhibits, maps, and knowledgeable staff to help you make the most of your visit.
  • Canyon Rim Overlooks: As you drive along the rim, you’ll encounter several designated overlooks that provide hair-raising views of the gorge, the New River Gorge Bridge, and the surrounding cliffs and forests. Pictorial Overlook and Grandview Overlook are among the most notable viewpoints.
  • Sandstone Falls: The highlight of the drive is Sandstone Falls, a series of cascades and rapids that span the width of the New River. A boardwalk leads to various viewing platforms, allowing you to get close to the falls and experience their power and beauty. Sandstone Falls is incredibly mesmerizing during times of higher water flow.
  • Boardwalk Trail: The boardwalk trail at Sandstone Falls is a leisurely stroll along the river’s edge, providing opportunities for photography, birdwatching, and a closer look at the river’s intricate features.

Experience and Tips:

  • Timing: Consider visiting Sandstone Falls during different times of the day to witness how the lighting and atmosphere change. Early morning and late afternoon can provide softer lighting for photography.
  • Photography: Sandstone Falls offers fantastic photo opportunities. Try different angles and compositions to capture the falls’ beauty. The boardwalk trail allows for unique perspectives of the falls as well.
  • Pack Essentials: Bring water, snacks, sunscreen, and insect repellent. Sandstone Falls has picnic areas where you can enjoy a meal surrounded by the outdoors.
  • Accessibility: The Sandstone Falls boardwalk is accessible and suitable for visitors of all ages and mobility levels. It’s a family-friendly spot where you can enjoy the scenery comfortably.
  • Hiking: If you want more exploration, consider hiking on trails like the Sandstone Falls Trail or the Lower Gorge Trail. These trails offer different viewpoints of the surrounding landscape.
  • Wildlife Watching: Keep an eye out for wildlife along the riverbanks. You might spot birds, waterfowl, and even the occasional glimpse of deer or other animals.

3. Sandstone Visitor Center to Nuttallburg

The Nuttallburg tipple and railroad tracks in new river gorge np. An east coast national park
The Nuttallburg tipple and railroad tracks. NPS/Louise McLaughlin

This route is a journey into the park’s historical heritage. Nuttallburg was once a coal mining town, and you can explore what remains of its mining operations. The drive takes you through forested landscapes and provides insights into the area’s industrial past.

Key Points of Interest:

  • Sandstone Visitor Center: Begin your journey at the Sandstone Visitor Center, where you can learn about the history of the park, its cultural significance, and the coal mining heritage that shaped the area.
  • Nuttallburg: The drive’s highlight is Nuttallburg, a former coal mining town preserved as a historic site. You can explore the remains of the conveyor system used to transport coal, known as the coal tipple. The surrounding buildings also tell the story of the miners who worked here.
  • Historical Signage: Along the drive, you’ll find interpretive signs and displays that provide historical context and information about the coal mining operations that once thrived in the area.
  • Scenic Views: While the drive is focused on history, you’ll also enjoy great views of the surrounding landscape, including the dense forests and the New River.

Experience and Tips:

  • Historical Exploration: Take the time to check out the relics of Nuttallburg and imagine what life was like for the coal miners who worked here. The site is a window into the challenges and triumphs of the coal mining era.
  • Hiking: Consider hiking the Nuttallburg Loop Trail. This moderate trail takes you through the area with spectacular views of the New River Gorge. 
  • Respect the Site: While exploring Nuttallburg, remember that you’re walking through a historical site. Treat the artifacts and structures with respect to help preserve them for future generations.
  • Weather Considerations: The road to Nuttallburg includes gravel sections, so be cautious when driving, especially in wet or muddy conditions. Checking road conditions before your visit is advisable.
  • Photography: Nuttallburg’s well-preserved structures, set against the backdrop of the gorge, make for interesting photographic subjects. Capture the contrast between the historical structures and the natural surroundings.

4. Glade Creek Grist Mill and Babcock State Park

Glade Creek Grist Mill at New River Gorge National Park is one of West Virginia's most photographed locations
A crisp Autumn day at Glade Creek Grist Mill. This site is one of West Virginia’s most photographed locations and seems like something out of a fairy tale.

Key Points of Interest:

  • Glade Creek Grist Mill: Begin your journey at the Glade Creek Grist Mill, a fully operational replica of a historic mill. The mill is surrounded by a picturesque pond, cascading waterfalls, and vibrant foliage, making it one of the most photographed spots in West Virginia.
  • Babcock State Park: As you drive through Babcock State Park, you’ll encounter several key attractions, including:
  1. Hiking Trails: Babcock State Park has a variety of trails, each leading to different natural wonders. The Island in the Sky Trail takes you to a rock outcrop with far-reaching vistas of the New River Gorge. The Manns Creek Gorge Trail guides you to a hidden waterfall within a lush ravine.
  2. Hemlock Trail: This short loop trail is a peaceful walk through a hemlock forest leading to the charming Manns Creek Gorge.
  3. Island in the Sky Trail: A short hike takes you to a rocky outcrop known as the “Island in the Sky,” offering sweeping views of the New River Gorge and its vegetated landscapes.
  4. Manns Creek Gorge Trail: This trail winds through a dense forest and leads to a hidden waterfall, rewarding hikers with a peaceful retreat.
  5. Babcock Lake: A serene lake surrounded by picnic areas, offering a tranquil spot for relaxation and enjoying the scenery.
  6. Wildlife Viewing: Watch for wildlife such as deer, birds, and other woodland creatures as you drive through the park.

Experience and Tips:

  • Photography: The Glade Creek Grist Mill is particularly photogenic, especially during the fall foliage season. Experiment with different angles and lighting conditions for some incredible photographs.
  • Hiking: Take advantage of the park’s hiking trails to take in the natural beauty of Babcock State Park. Trails are well-marked and offer varying levels of difficulty.
  • Picnicking: Consider packing a picnic and enjoying it by the lake or near the Glade Creek Grist Mill. The park’s tranquil setting makes it a perfect spot for a relaxed meal.
  • Visitor Center: The park’s visitor center has information, maps, and displays about the park’s history and attractions. 
  • Seasonal Considerations: Babcock State Park offers different experiences throughout the year. Fall brings vibrant foliage, while spring and summer provide rich greenery. Winter can be beautiful with snowy landscapes, but some areas might be inaccessible due to weather conditions.
  • Nature Observation: Babcock State Park is the perfect spot for birdwatching and observing the local flora and wildlife. Bring binoculars and a field guide to record your sightings.

Final Thoughts

sunset at the New River Gorge Bridge national park & preserve west virginia
A summertime sunset at the New River Gorge Bridge.

The scenic drives around the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve in West Virginia offer a mix of natural beauty, historical significance, and outdoor adventure. Each route reveals a unique aspect of this diverse region, from the iconic New River Gorge Bridge to the tranquil Glade Creek Grist Mill. 

Whether you’re exploring overlooks, tracing historic coal mining routes, or wandering through serene meadows, these drives provide a window into the heart of Appalachia’s charm. So, gear up for an unforgettable journey into the heart of this wild and wonderful part of West Virginia!

Leave No Trace: As always, practice responsible outdoor ethics. Leave the environment as you found it, taking care not to disturb the natural surroundings.

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What is the preserve on the New River Gorge?

The preserve here conserves the region’s natural and cultural treasures.

What is special about New River Gorge National Park?

What makes this park unique are its astonishing landscapes and outdoor opportunities.

What town is closest to New River Gorge National Park?

The town nearest to the park is Fayetteville.

How many days do I need in New River Gorge National Park?

You should plan for 2-3 days to fully experience New River Gorge National Park.

How much does the New River Gorge cost?

The cost to visit varies; entrance is often free, but activities might have fees.

How long does it take to walk across the New River Gorge Bridge?

Walking across the bridge takes about 30-40 minutes.

Is the New River Gorge Bridge Walk worth it?

Yes, the New River Gorge Bridge Walk is definitely worth experiencing. Here are eight reasons why you don’t want to miss this key activity in the park:

  1. Unique Experience: Walking the bridge provides a rare opportunity to be on the catwalk beneath this iconic structure. The experience offers a unique perspective different from the usual views from the road.
  2. Breathtaking Views: The views from the catwalk are phenomenal. You can gaze down at the New River Gorge, take in the surrounding landscapes, and appreciate the bridge’s impressiveness.
  3. Adrenaline and Thrill: If you’re looking for an adventure, walking on the catwalk can give a rush of excitement. The bridge’s height and open design add an element of thrill to the experience.
  4. Educational: During the walk, guides provide fascinating insights into the bridge’s history, engineering, and the region’s natural features. You’ll gain a deeper appreciation for the bridge’s significance and surrounding area.
  5. Photographic Opportunities: The unique vantage point has fantastic opportunities for photography. Capture memorable shots of the gorge, river, and bridge that you wouldn’t get from a typical viewpoint.
  6. Personal Achievement: Walking the New River Gorge Bridge can be fulfilling. Overcoming any fears of heights or simply being able to say you’ve walked across one of the most iconic bridges in the world is a memorable achievement.
  7. Connection with Nature: While you’re above the river, you’re also surrounded by the natural beauty of the gorge. It’s a chance to connect with human engineering and the untouched wilderness.
  8. Guided Experience: The New River Gorge Bridge Walk is a guided tour ensuring your safety. It’s a structured way to explore the bridge and its surroundings.

How long does it take to drive through New River Gorge?

Driving through New River Gorge generally takes about 20-30 minutes.

What happens at the New River Gorge Bridge during Bridge Day?

During Bridge Day, extreme sports enthusiasts BASE jump from the New River Gorge Bridge.

What is the best overlook in New River Gorge?

Many consider the Grandview Overlook to be the best in New River Gorge for its stunning views.

About Me

My husband and I have three precious daughters and live in the Kansas City, KS area. One of our favorite things to do is travel across the country visiting our extraordinary US National Parks!

Let us know what you think about our content and if you have any questions, suggestions, or have any favorite memories or tips you would like to share. We would love to hear from you!

Happy Travels! Sandy

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