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National Park Adventures

The United State’s Newest Dog-Friendly National Park: New River Gorge

New River Gorge is the most recent park to be elevated to National Park status, receiving this designation in December of 2020. The focus of this new national park is the New River, a rugged, whitewater river that flows northward through deep canyons. The New River is among the oldest rivers on the continent. And the national park protects over 70,000 acres of land along this river, preserving scenic and recreational opportunities, as well as cultural and natural history.

New River Gorge National Park is broken up into several different sections that can take a little bit of driving to connect. So make sure to plan time to travel between the different sections. And grab a trail map from one of the Visitor Centers (Canyon Rim, Grandview, Sandstone, or Thurmond).

You can find information about each of the areas included in New River Gorge National Park at the nps.gov website. But some of the highlights include the following:

  • The New River Gorge Bridge, located in the Fayetteville/Lansing area, is the longest steel span in the western hemisphere. It spans the New River Gorge 876 feet over the river.
  • The Grandview area is located on the edge of the gorge 1400 feet above the river and provides some of the best views of the gorge.
  • The Sandstone area is home to the largest waterfall on the New River. Sandstone Falls drops the river 15 to 25 feet around a series of islands. While the falls aren’t that tall, they are wide and spectacular.
  • Nuttalburg is home to the remains of a tipple, coal conveyor, coke ovens, and buildings that mark the location of one of the gorge’s most significant coal mining towns.
  • For more history, Thurmond is a historic railroad town from the days when railroads and coal transportation were an important part of life in this region.

So whether your goal is to hike, explore nature, or delve into the history of the area, you will find plenty to do to fill a couple of days at New River Gorge National Park.

Dogs at New River Gorge National Park

New River Gorge is one of the United State’s most dog-friendly national parks. Pets are allowed on all trails at New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. Please just follow a few simple rules:

  • Dogs must be kept on a leash no longer than 6 feet at all times.
  • You must pick up after your dog. Leave no poop behind.
  • Bring extra water for your pet to drink on hikes. The park states that streams may contain bacteria or parasites such as giardia.
  • Pets are not allowed at public ranger programs.

Since dogs are allowed on all hiking trails at New River Gorge, we had a lot of trails to choose from. Trails range from 1/4 mile to 7 miles in length. And difficulty varies from flat smooth walking to steep challenging terrain.

During our visit, we stopped at three areas: Lansing/Fayetteville, Grandview, and Brooks/Sandstone. And we were happy with each stop.

Lansing/Fayetteville Area

The Lansing and Fayetteville area is popular as it is home to the New River Gorge bridge. I highly recommend stopping in at the Canyon Rim Visitor Center to get some information about the area. Then hike the steps down to the bridge overlook. This park icon is worth the flight of stairs you have to hike back up after viewing the bridge.

Although the bridge is impressive, my favorite part of this region was our hike on the Endless Wall Trail. This trail is rated as moderate and is 2.4 miles in length. The trail offers some stunning views of the river gorge (and access to rock climbing if you are interested in that). The view from the overlook at Diamond Point will have you stopping to soak it all in and lingering to orchestrate a little photoshoot.

We parked at the Fern Creek Trailhead and hiked out and back to Diamond Point, but you can make this a loop if you are okay with walking on the road a little bit between the two trailheads that provide access to the Endless Wall Trail.

Grandview Area

After our hike on the Endless Wall Trail, we drove to the Grandview area for some more stunning overlooks of the river gorge. There were two trails that interested us at this location: the Grandview Rim Trail and the Castle Rock Trail.

The Grandview Rim Trail is a moderate trail that is 1.6 miles in length (one way). The trail gently winds through the forest along the rim of the gorge and offers several overlooks of the gorge and the river below. We did not walk the entire trail but instead walked from the parking lot to the trail’s intersection with the Castle Rim Trail. We then used the Castle Rim Trail to loop back to the main area.

The Castle Rock Trail is considered strenuous, as it has uneven footing and is near drop-offs. But this intriguing trail was one of my favorites, as we hiked along rock walls and exposed coal seems just below the rim of the gorge.

Sandstone Falls

The final stop of our day at New River Gorge National Park was Sandstone Falls. We almost didn’t make the long drive down to these falls, but after we arrived we were so glad that we had made the extra effort to see this landmark.

Sandstone Falls span the river where it is 1500 feet wide. And while the falls only drop 10 to 25 feet, the wide falls divided by a series of islands are certainly impressive in person. The Sandstone Falls mark the New River’s transition from a broad river of large bottomland to a narrow mountain river.

I highly recommend making the drive out to Sandstones Falls, then walking the Sandstone Falls Boardwalk (an easy 0.2-mile boardwalk that is handicap accessible). The views that you can access from just off of the boardwalk are fantastic. When you are done soaking in the views of the falls, don’t forget to walk the 0.5-mile Island Loop Trail to see the largest island below Sandstone Falls.

If you still have energy (and time) after hiking and visiting Sandstone Falls, the Big Branch trail is located only a few miles from Sandstone Falls. We intended to hike this trail, but after all of our other adventuring during our visit to New River Gorge, we were tired and hungry. So we skipped it to head back to our camper. But Big Branch Trail sounds wonderful. It is a 2.0-mile loop trail that follows the Big Branch River and includes several waterfalls and views of the gorge, river, and Brooks Falls along the way.

Camping at New River Gorge National Park

New River Gorge National Park does not have developed campgrounds, although there are some opportunities for primitive camping. These primitive camping areas are managed on a first-come, first-served basis. Developed camping is available at state parks and private campgrounds throughout the area.

This page on the National Park website provides links and brief information about the nearby state parks, which include Babcock SP, Pipestem Resort SP, Bluestone SP, Hawks Nest SP, Carnifex Ferry Battlefield SP, Little Beaver SP, and Camp Creek SP.

The state park we choose to camp at, Babcock State Park is one of the oldest parks in West Virginia and is actually located within the boundaries of the New River Gorge National River. With over 4,000 acres of land preserved and protected by this state park, Babcock State Park is located only 20 miles southeast of the New River Gorge Bridge. Babcock state park is most known for the Glade Creek Grist Mill, a fully functional replica of the original Cooper’s Mill.

The campground at Babcock State Park was nice with good shade trees. Also, please be aware that the campground utilizes a separate entrance from the main park. Make sure to drive past the main entrance until you see the signs for the campground entrance. We arrived late, after sunset, and missed the sign which caused a bit of confusion for us. The sign was pretty obvious in the light of day the next morning.

We didn’t spend long enough in this area to really explore the park, but we did hike a little on the trail that leaves from the campground area – the Manns Creek Gorge Trail. The trail was well maintained and offered some nice opportunities to explore Manns Creek.

Should you bring your dog with you for an adventure at New River Gorge National Park?

Yes. Bring your dogs and enjoy.

New River Gorge National Park is one of the most dog-friendly national parks that we have visited. And we have been to 46 of them!

While we think that you can enjoy just about any national park with your dog, as long as you come prepared and know that in most national parks your dogs can’t hike the trails, there are many national parks that you will want to revisit without your dog. Happily New River Gorge wasn’t one of those national parks. Instead, it earns its place among the following list of national parks we have visited that you can nearly fully experience with your dog by your side.

So what are you waiting for? Grab your leash and jump in the car with your dog for a road trip adventure to one of the United State’s most dog-friendly national parks.

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