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Free Fallin’ For New River Gorge

How thrill seekers get their heart rates up in America’s gorgeous new national park.
A couple holds hands as they BASE jump

BASE jumping over the New River Gorge on Bridge Day.Photo courtesy Debra Parker and Matt Sanchez

DAREDEVILS from across the globe descended on New River Gorge in West Virginia earlier this month, less than a year after the 70,000-acre area gained national park status. For all its natural beauty, its most photographed feature is the longest single-span steel arch bridge in the United States, and it is accessible to pedestrians only once a year—on Official Bridge Day (Fayetteville, West Virginia). On October 16, thousands of visitors watched or took part as more than 300 BASE jumpers hurtled themselves off the side and floated nearly 900 feet to the lush canyon below.

The jumping spectacle took place throughout the day. You could get a close-up view from a catwalk 25 feet beneath on the New River Gorge Bridge Walk. If it whets your appetite for adrenaline, the New River is a whitewater rafting hotspot. For decades, courageous—some might say crazy—adventurers have flocked to the area to paddle the mellow Upper New River and its wilder Lower segment. Adventures on the Gorge (Lansing) and myriad other outfitters lead rafting newbies through rapids such as Miller’s Folly, Lost Paddle, and Meat Grinder safely. Relatively, anyway.

On dry land, the Endless Wall hike packs in tons of gorgeous scenery in a relatively compact 2.5-mile (one-way) walk. Reaching the top, the appropriately named Diamond View Trail offers incredible vistas of the surrounding limestone cliffs and gorge below. And about 60 small mining communities lie abandoned along the 7-mile Southside Trail, although only the remains of Brooklyn can be readily seen from the path.

After hiking, biking, and paddling their way through this slice of West Virginia heaven, visitors may have just one question: What took so long for New River Gorge to become a national park? 

STAY

Want to rough it in a tent or relax in your cabin’s hot tub? Adventures on the Gorge has nearly all your lodging options covered. Country Road Cabins can put you in a treehouse.

EAT

The Cathedral Cafe has been a staple since it opened in an abandoned Catholic church. Biting into the breakfast burrito is a near-religious experience.

INFO

nps.gov/neri

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