A Glimpse of New River Gorge: The Newest National Park and Preserve in the United States

A river runs through it: that is the key component of how what was once a national river flowing through a gorgeous gorge became the newest national park and preserve in the United States — complete with an engineering marvel which is part of a route that stretches from Erie in Pennsylvania to the small town of Memphis, which is south of Saint Petersburg in Florida.

A Glimpse of New River Gorge: The Newest National Park and Preserve in the United States

New River Gorge West Virginia

Photograph ©2019 by Brian Cohen.

Although a lot of hidden gems comprise the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve in West Virginia, the New River Gorge Bridge is an obvious landmark which can almost appear like it is out of place: an industrial yet majestic structure seemingly misplaced in the midst of natural beauty — but it successfully avoids being labeled as an eyesore.

New River Gorge West Virginia

Photograph ©2019 by Brian Cohen.

The embedded rock serves as the floor of the Long Point Trail near its terminus, where visitors are treated to scenic panoramic views of the bridge and the surrounding gorge after a moderate hike of approximately 1.6 miles. Watch your step if you dare inch your way close to the edges of the cliffs on three sides of the outcropping, as little is there to protect you from falling to the bottom; and the sheerness of the rock only increases the risk of slipping and falling — especially if it is wet.

New River Gorge West Virginia

Photograph ©2019 by Brian Cohen.

The name of the river itself is an ironic misnomer, as the New River is actually one of the oldest rivers in North America and “is like a ribbon tying together all the people, places, and events sharing its course through time.” Although it is described as being a rugged whitewater river which flows northward through deep canyons, the river completes the dichotomy of otherwise quietly meandering peacefully as it carves its way between the hills of southern West Virginia.

New River Gorge West Virginia

Photograph ©2019 by Brian Cohen.

Initially, 53 miles of the river between Bluestone and Hawk’s Nest Dams officially became part of the National Park System as the New River Gorge National River when Jimmy Carter signed legislation while he was president of the United States in 1978 — but a literal act of Congress redesignated the area as the 63rd national park and preserve in the United States, according to this official announcement which was released on Wednesday, January 20, 2021, as members of the House of Representatives voted to grant this treasure the highest form of protection in the federal government as a result of part of a relief bill during the current 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic.

New River Gorge West Virginia

Photograph ©2019 by Brian Cohen.

Remnants of the industrial history of this area abound among the greater than 70,000 wooded acres of land along the river, as the New River is at times flanked by the iron ribbons of railroad tracks, which hug its banks as they follow its curves and bends.

New River Gorge West Virginia

Photograph ©2019 by Brian Cohen.

The park is administered together with the Gauley River National Recreation Area and Bluestone National Scenic River, which were both established in 1988. The combined sites span five counties in southern West Virginia: Fayette, Nicholas, Raleigh, Summers, and Mercer. In the lower right portion of the photograph is the Fayette Station Bridge.

New River Gorge West Virginia

Photograph ©2019 by Brian Cohen.

One nice surprise about the New River Gorge Bridge itself is that you can see it from virtually every aspect and angle: on it, below it, at either side of it, far away from it, or so up close to it that you can touch it; and you can even take a guided tour of it — and, perhaps, even view it from above if you have a drone or are fortunate enough to fly over it in an airplane or helicopter…

New River Gorge West Virginia

Photograph ©2019 by Brian Cohen.

…and you can even view the structure from at least two levels of wooden decks which were constructed for the sole purpose of enjoying the appreciation of the design of the bridge from its east side — the view in the photograph is towards the west — or you can simply watch vehicles ply their way north or south along United States Highway 19 over the bridge.

New River Gorge West Virginia

Photograph ©2019 by Brian Cohen.

Greater than one million visitors visit the park annually — and in 2019 alone, they spent at least $60 million in nearby communities, which supported 846 jobs and had a cumulative benefit to local economies of approximately $70 million.

New River Gorge West Virginia

Photograph ©2019 by Brian Cohen.

Plenty of quiet places are available to simply enjoy what the park has to offer — along with the sounds of wildlife, the trickling of water, or even the crunch of leaves underfoot while simultaneously appreciating the natural beauty offered by the park.

New River Gorge West Virginia

Photograph ©2019 by Brian Cohen.

Summary

I visited the park in December of 2019, which was approximately only a year before New River Gorge National River became a full national park and preserve. I intend to document my experiences — along with plenty more photographs — in a future article…

…but if you do find yourself in southern West Virginia, I highly recommend that you visit the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. Give yourself at least a day to enjoy the basic aspects of the park at a relaxed pace; but depending on what you want to do — including but not limited to sightseeing, climbing, biking, hiking, whitewater rafting, bird watching, enjoying a picnic, or camping — you can easily spend a week here.

You can even visit the ruins of the abandoned town of Brooklyn, which is located along the New River. Please read this article about my experience there — along with plenty of photographs.

The interactive map above is of the national park itself overall; while the interactive map below is of the Canyon Rim Visitor Center, which is just southeast of the New River Gorge Bridge.

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve
104 Main Street
Glen Jean, West Virginia 25846
1-304-465-0508

The park is open 24 hour per day all year round.

The headquarters of the park in Glen Jean is open Monday to Friday from 8:00 in the morning to 4:30 in the evening.

The two main visitor centers of the park — at Canyon Rim and Sandstone — are open daily from 9:00 in the morning to 5:00 in the evening; but they are closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day.

All photographs ©2019 by Brian Cohen.

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