The gorge is particularly well suited for hiking, according to an increasing number of patrons who have rediscovered the region’s winding scenic staircase along the river.
The silence of the forest is punctuated by gasps and groans as the mountain trail snakes its way along the torturous trace of New River Gorge. The corridor rises and falls along the banks of the murmuring eddies.
“Hikers can’t say they weren’t warned about the rocks, roots, logs, hills, slippery inclines, and treacherous thoroughfares,” explained Christopher McGrady of Kentucky, and formerly of Grandview.
“It’s an impressive hike, crawling past craggy cliffs, lumbering through growths of hickory, river birch, sweet gum, red maple, and sycamore.”
Some area hikers and runners tackle the trails along the gorge as a warmup for the summer and fall hiking seasons.
Others take to the winding tracks as an alternative to a vacation at the beach.
Still others are attracted to the New River Gorge hiking trails for their scenic wonder and primitive simplicity.
To be sure, they are probably among the Mountain State’s most wild and remote hiking trails, parts of which are often sandwiched between peaks and passages of Glade Creek, Canyon Rim, Kaymoor, and Thurmond.
On the Glade Creek Trail, by far the wildest of the Gorge’s hiking areas, hikers are confronted with a path that gradually ascends along a narrow-gauge railroad bed paralleling Glade Creek for its entire length.
The path begins at Hamlet, on a narrow new-gravel road that runs 6.5 miles upstream.
Along the way are constant thunderous cascades, waterfalls, in deep chasms and arched steel foot bridge at mile 2.9 and above this crossing many species of wildflowers.
This is part of the middle gorge section of the New River Gorge National River. The Canyon Rim Trail is located near the main overlook at Grandview.
Canyon Rim is one of our longest and most interesting trails at Grandview and offers many views of the Allegheny Plateau and how the river carved its way through it.
About 37 highway miles north to Fayetteville, there’s another, Canyon Rim Visitor Center, touted as the largest and most impressive visitor center in the National Park. Starting at the Canyon Rim Visitor Center is the short but very popular Canyon Boardwalk Trail. It descends nearly 200 steps to a breathtaking overlook of the New River and the U.S. 19 bridge.
Across U.S. 19 from the visitor center entrance is Burnwood Day Use Area, where the tranquil 1.1-mile Laing Loop Trail leads hikers to old growth hemlock and beech.
The other five trails at this end of the canyon are on the south rim.
From the Kaymoor top parking area on county route 9/2, the 1.6 mile Long Point Trail crosses a plateau sometimes open, sometimes forested to a precipitous rock out-cropping. Here are magnificent views of the canyon bridge, river, and escarpments on the north rim.
Also from the parking lot, the 1-mile Kaymoor Miners’ Trail switchbacks 600 feet downward past a waterfall to historic Kaymoor mines and an old road.
To the left, on the old road near the mine, is the 2-mile Kaymoor trail.
This path passes barred coal mine entrances and relics of the large coal conveyor to the tipple below. The trail follows a moderately graded old road and crosses a footbridge over cascading Wolf Creek to a small parking area on Fayette Station Road.
At Wolf Creek is a connection with the 1.6-mile New River Bridge Trail, which ascends steeply among boulders and dangerous cliffs for outstanding views of the canyon bridge.
History buffs should head for Thurmond, six crooked miles from Glen Jean on county route 25.
Now nearly deserted, the town of Thurmond once was the busiest center of commerce in the gorge. It was a town with one bustling sidewalk by the tracks and no main street.
There was money, gambling, prostitution, drunkenness, and murder, but there was also what some historians called glamour, pulsating and colorful with human and natural energy.
Today, this quiet ghost town is the starting point for two of the gorge’s historic rail trails: the Southside Junction to Brooklyn Trail and the Thurmond to Minden Trail.
The 7-mile Southside Junction Brooklyn Trail, open to hikers and cyclists, is an easy and scenic riverside ramble on an old railroad grade.
The Southside trail continues for 5.6 miles, shaded by hardwoods and passing by high rock faces and building ruins.
The 3.2-mile Thurmond to Minden Trail crosses five trestles as it follows another old spur up Arbuckle Creek. It can also be accessed from WV 16 by driving five miles down county route 25 from Glen Jean.
In Raleigh County, another grouping of trails is at Grandview Visitor Center off I-64 North on WV 9.
There are six hiker trails, all short except the 2-mile Canyon Rim Trail and the 2-mile Turkey Spur Trail.
Formerly a state park, this extraordinarily beautiful area of flame azaleas and Catawba rhododendrons has picnic shelters and canyon overlooks, including one of the most photographed and published upriver views of the New River.
“People come from hundreds of miles away to see this non-native species of rhododendron,” one park ranger explained. “It is a non-native species of rhododendron that migrated into the New River Gorge by the New River from North Carolina. Usually, the weekend before Memorial Day is the peak blooming period for those wanting to view this beautiful sight.”
The park’s overlook offers a spectacular view of the New River.
“There’s no question that the Horseshoe Bend is one of the most scenic sites on New River,” another park official said. “Some people refer to the site as the Grand Canyon of the East.
“People come from all over the country to photograph this impressive view of the river. It’s one of the most spectacular attractions in the country.”
Top o’ the morning!
Editor’s note: New River Gorge at Grandview NationalPark offers a spectacular view of the Horseshoe Bend and distant mountain ridges. Park rangers offer nature walks and trail hikes that explore the history of the gorge’s early settlements and hamlets nearby. Nearly all the physical structures are gone today, but some of the heritage remains.
Top o’ the morning!