Adventures on the Gorge: Visiting New River Gorge National Park

Written by Teresa Bergen

June 16, 2021
Home >> Destinations >> North America >> United States >> West Virginia >> Adventures on the Gorge: Visiting New River Gorge National Park

I was only a few feet off the ground when I looked at the rock face stretching blankly and bleakly above me. My rock climbing instructor in West Virginia's New River Gorge National Park encouraged me to reach way overhead and stick my hand in a dark crevice. What lives in dark crevices? Snakes and spiders. I thought, why on earth would anyone want to climb this big rock? Maybe this wasn’t the sport for me.

rock climbing at New River Gorge National Park

I'm on the right in the blue shirt. Just to prove I got off the ground. Photo by Terry Gardner



But just that morning, I’d had a fabulous time at the Timber Trek Adventure Park, an aerial course up in the trees, walking across swinging logs and wires. That’s the beauty of vacationing at Adventures on the Gorge, where even a total beginner can get excellent guidance on a range of activities from climbing to whitewater kayaking. If you want to see New River Gorge, our newest national park, and try out different outdoorsy sports, the Adventures on the Gorge resort in southern West Virginia is a perfect home base for all of your adventure travels.


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Staying at Adventures on the Gorge

I visited West Virginia in May for a meeting of the Society of American Travel Writers, which Adventures on the Gorge (AOTG) was hosting. It was the first big trip since the pandemic for many folks, and the outdoor activities felt safe COVID-wise.

While AOTG bills itself as America’s premier whitewater rafting resort, don’t confuse it with a lounge-around-the-pool drinking Piña Coladas resort. There is a nice pool—although closed during my visit—but visitors here expect to get dirty, and maybe come home with a few bruises, bug bites, and a story of woman or man versus nature.



swimming pool at Adventures on the Gorge - New River Gorge National Park

Swimming pool at Adventures on the Gorge. Photo by Teresa Bergen.

The property was much larger than I expected, with a vast range of accommodations. You can bring your RV, set up a tent, stay in a rustic cabin, or bring family and friends and fill up a more deluxe cabin. I stayed in Dudley’s Dip—named for a rapid on the New River—a two-story, two-bedroom, two-bath cabin with a full kitchen and a hot tub on the back deck. Ah, that’s as close as I really like to get to camping.

Dudley's Dip cabin at New River Gorge - New River Gorge National Park

My cabin at Adventures on the Gorge. Photo by Teresa Bergen

Dudley’s Dip was a 15-minute walk from the gathering areas with the pool, restaurant, coffee shop, gift shop, and gear outfitters. It gets dark out here at night and I wished I’d packed a proper flashlight, especially after hearing about local cryptids like Mothman and Green Bean Man.  Trust me, as silly as a monster shaped like a giant green bean sounds in the bright morning, after dark, he’s a little more threatening.

Yoga at Adventures on the Gorge

Two of my three mornings waking up at AOTG, I made the long walk at dawn to attend a 6 am yoga class with local instructor Candace Evans. The setting was spectacular: an outdoor deck overlooking the New River Gorge Bridge. The bridge was the world’s longest steel arch bridge when it opened in 1977. Today, it is one of West Virginia’s most photographed sights.

Candace was a delightfully down-to-earth teacher, who gave useful cues like, “Let your arms float like pool noodles” for Warrior II pose. It might be the first time I ever heard the word “heinies” in a yoga class. The second morning, class started out with cotton candy mist, the bridge slowly revealing itself over the hour.

New River Gorge Bridge in mist - New River Gorge National Park

The awesome view from the morning yoga class. Photo by Teresa Bergen

Rafting the New River Gorge

I opted for a half-day rafting trip on the Upper New River my first afternoon there. This family-friendly stretch of class 1 to 3 rapids is suitable for ages six and up. Groups often run this river in individual inflatable kayaks called duckies, but our group went together on one big raft with guides Guido and Double D.

Guido has been guiding the New River for 32 years. Our trip was a fun, easy, and relaxing ride through the misty forests and mostly calm river. We got a little bit wet between rapids and a drizzly day but stayed cozy in our wetsuits. Thrillseekers choose the Lower New River instead, where rapids reach class 4. That ride is more prone to spills. My cabinmate went in headfirst on her trip down the Lower New.

view of New River Gorge from above - New River Gorge National Park

The New River. Photo by Teresa Bergen

Timber Trek at Adventures on the Gorge

Timber Trek is an aerial adventure course, like American Ninja Warrior in the trees, but depending more on balance and nerve than strength. Nobody else from my group was participating in Timber Trek the morning I did it. So I ventured out with Chloe Perdue, an enthusiastic first-time Timber Trekker who is a graphic design intern/front desk worker at AOTG.  We were the only two people doing the course that morning. So even though trying to cross swinging bridges and balance on wires could be a bit nerve-wracking, it felt very peaceful in the forest.

Our guide, Stevie, stayed quietly on the ground below. He helped us verbally when we forgot how to use our safety equipment or needed hints on navigating the course.

Timber Trek Adventure course - New River Gorge National Park

My adventure buddy Chloe traverses a high wire. Photo by Teresa Bergen

I’d been on zip lines before and was used to having a pro clip me in and out of safety equipment. Trusting myself to do it right was a new experience. But the pre-tree instruction was excellent and I could soon clip and unclip to lines with confidence. Timber Trek’s seven adventure courses consist of nets, suspended tunnels, rope ladders, platforms, zip lines, and swinging bridges. They range from easy to extremely difficult. We completed the easiest three courses before we ran out of time.

AOTG also offers kayaking, float fishing, jet boat rides, mountain biking, rappelling, and laser tag, to name a few activities. Bridge Walk is one of the most unusual options. Participants enjoy spectacular views while walking the 1¼-mile expanse on a two-foot-wide catwalk on the underside of the New River Gorge Bridge. Some of my comrades who went ziplining at AOTG said it was the best zip course they’d ever been on. You could spend a week here and not repeat the same activity.



rock climbing at New River Gorge

My comrades climbing a rock at New River Gorge. Photo by Teresa Bergen

New River Gorge National Park

Unlike Yellowstone or Yosemite, New River Gorge lacks an entrance gate with a guard booth and an admission price. Instead, the park encompasses 7,000 acres, mostly in the gorge, along 53 miles of the New River. This same stretch has been a National Park Service unit since 1978 but was recently upgraded from national river to national park status.

woman photographs New River Gorge - New River Gorge National Park

One of the viewing platforms at the Canyon Rim Visitors Center. Photo by Teresa Bergen

Things will probably get busier since many people have a goal of visiting all the national parks. Superintendent Lizzie Watts said that in the first four months after the new park designation, hits to its website rose 90%. Reservations at area businesses were soon up 50%, she said.

The numbers were already higher last year, thanks to the pandemic. “A whole new couple of generations that didn’t spend a lot of time outdoors prior to the pandemic started discovering mother nature and discovering out of doors,” said Watts. Her silver lining of the pandemic: Young people put down their screens and waded into streams. “We have a whole new group of stewards whose children love being outside.”

In addition to the climbing, rafting, and other recreational opportunities, flora and fauna make the area special. “More than 1500 animals call this corridor home,” said Watts. New River Gorge has an unusually large variety of warblers. During my visit, the rhododendron, which is the West Virginia state flower, was putting on a spectacular hot pink display.

rhododendrons at New River Gorge - New River Gorge National Park

Rhododendrons, the state flower. Photo by Teresa Bergen

Canyon Rim is the primary visitor center for the park and has exhibits on the history and culture of New River Gorge, plus great observation platforms for taking your bridge photos. If you’re planning to hike Endless Wall and Long Point, the park’s two most popular trails, arrive early on a weekday or you won’t find a parking space.

Canyon Rim boardwalks at New River Gorge - New River Gorge National Park

Visitors walk on boardwalks at Canyon Rim Visitor Center. Photo by Teresa Bergen

Summersville Lake

If you haven’t had enough outdoor fun already, nearby Summersville Lake fulfills the region’s need for boating recreation. The lake, which has 65 miles of shoreline and plunges 327 feet in places, was created in 1966 by damming the Gauley River. I spent some time with the multi-talented Mark Allen, who co-owns the marina and dive shop at Summersville Lake, as well as being a science teacher and dive instructor. He’s also helped law enforcement recover fifty-one bodies and even some murder weapons from the lake over the years. Which immediately derailed our talk about tourism. If you watch as many crime shows as I do, you’re bound to have a lot of body recovery questions.

pontoon boat on Summersville Lake - - New River Gorge National Park

Cruising Summersville Lake on a pontoon boat. Photo by Teresa Bergen

But don’t fear, the lake is a perfectly safe place to rent a pontoon boat, go kayaking, or paddleboarding. As long as you don’t get drunk while boating or decide to jump off stupidly high rocks or bridges. And maybe put on that personal flotation device before you get into trouble.

Allen and his crew at Sarge’s Dive Shop can also teach you to scuba dive here. It seems like a good place to learn, as the water is clear and there aren’t any sharks. Divers see enormous underwater rock structures and boulders bigger than houses.

Long Point - - New River Gorge National Park

Long Point, Summersville's most famous rock formation. Photo by Teresa Bergen

If You Go to New River Gorge National Park

For the best southern West Virginia souvenir shopping, stop by Tamarack Arts Center. This enormous art market features the work of artisans from all over the state. You can buy paintings, specialty foods, sculptures, and textiles, or take a glassblowing class. The onsite restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and features things like fried green tomatoes and Tamarack key lime pie.

Timber Trek gear - - New River Gorge National Park

I want to Timber Trek again! Photo by Dallas the guide

Unfortunately, getting around this area without a car is difficult. If you’re flying in, Charleston is the nearest airport, 61 miles from the Canyon Rim Visitor Center. The smaller Greenbrier Valley Airport at Lewisburg is about 56 miles away.  You can rent a car at either airport.

Check out other Wander With Wonder National Park Adventures!

The beauty of vacationing at Adventures on the Gorge - a resort in the newest US national park of New River Gorge - is that even a beginner can get excellent guidance on a range of activities from climbing to whitewater kayaking. If you want to see New River Gorge National Park in West Virginia and try out different outdoor adventures, the Adventures on the Gorge resort in southern West Virginia is a perfect home base for all of your adventure travels.



Written by Teresa Bergen

Teresa Bergen is a Portland, Oregon-based freelance writer and web content developer specializing in sustainability, fitness, vegan and sober travel. Her articles appear on inhabitat.com, Spirituality & Health, Whole Life Times Magazine, Pique, Bluedot Living, the South China Morning Post, travelandleisure.com, and other print and online publications. She’s the author of Easy Portland Outdoors and co-author of Historic Cemeteries of Portland, Oregon, and writes a blog called Veg Travel and Fitness. Teresa belongs to the Society of American Travel Writers and the American Society of Journalists and Authors. Follow Teresa on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Read all of Teresa's Wander articles here.

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