The West Virginia. Cyclopedia

New River Gorge

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The New River Gorge of West Virginia is among the most spectacular river canyons and popular vacation destinations in the Eastern U.S. Largely protected by the U.S. National Park Service as the New River Gorge National River, the New River Gorge is among the newest units of the National Park System and is a primary destination for hiking, paddling, and climbing worldwide. The roaring New River and its forested, sandstone-capped canyons is traced by hundreds of miles of deep-forest trails.

Most canyons, such as those of the New River and its tributaries, are formed by long-time erosion from a plateau level. Cliffs, such as those along its rim at Grandview, Beauty Mountain, and Hawks Nest State Park develop as their harder strata, which is more resistant to weathering, remains exposed. </br> Eroded over more than three million years or 320 million years, various sceintists have approximated, the gorge reaches depths of 1,300 feet and has been cut by the New River across the southern Allegheny Mountains. The gorge develops along the lower course of the New River, beginning just downstream of Hinton, WV and terminating at a point above Gauley Bridge, WV. Few communities exist in the gorge today within the boundaries of the national park service, notably Thurmond, WV. Virtually all of the more than 50 coal mining towns that once existed in the gorge are now ghost towns. The City of Beckley, WV, is the largest community in the New River Gorge region, though located some five miles from the canyon. Other incorporated communities in the New River Gorge region include Ansted, Oak Hill, Mount Hope, Meadow Bridge, and Fayetteville.</br>

The "New River Gorge" By Definition

The boundaries of the New River Gorge National River, (i.e., the legal boundaries of the park area managed by the National Park Service (NPS)), has been defined by Federal legislation: In 1978, the New River Gorge National River was established as a unit of the National Park System to preserve and protect 53 miles of the New River Gorge between Hinton and Fayetteville.

The NPS definition of the legal boundary as national park includes only part New River Gorge as defined geographically. This larger area begins downstream of Hinton, in the south, and terminates at "Gauley" (map), about 1.5 miles upstream of Gauley Bridge, in the north, where a section known as The Narrows of the New River Gorge ends.</br> The canyon walls of The Narrows are walled by high hills, or precipitous cliffs rising almost from the water's edge, leaving no bottoms or low grounds. The river bed of the at this point is rugged, and choked with masses boulders, tumbled from the cliffs above. At Kanawha Falls, two miles below Gauley, the hills along the river's course tower 1,000 feet above. Prior to the completion of the Hawks Nest Dam in the early 1930s, this section of the New featured nearly continuous falls rapids. The Chesapeake & Ohio Railway (C&O), with considerable effort, managed to cut a shallow ledge along the south side of the New for its rail line, built through The Narrows during the 1870s.

Travel and Recreation in the New River Gorge Region

The New River Gorge region is replete with dining, lodging, guiding, and outfitting to meet the needs of millions of annual visitors. Most New River Gorge visitors are familiar with the northern gorge, or "lower" gorge (as the river flows downstream to the north). Most whitewater-rafting outfitters and the center of the New River Gorge rock-climbing area are located in the northern region, as is the New River Gorge Bridge. By contrast, the "upper" or southern section of the gorge contains some of the most scenic areas, including Grandview and Sandstone Falls.

See Also:

NewRiverWV.com's vacation and travel guide to the New River Gorge.

Guide to New River Rafting provides information on whitewater trips on the New River.

Ghost Towns of the New River Gorge - Brief histories of more than fifty coal mining towns that existed within the New River Gorge.

Topo Map showing New River Gorge


New River Gorge at Thurmond, WV

New River Gorge at Gauley, WV - the "forgotten" section of the New River Gorge