A New River and An Old Story new river gorge and shenandoah national parks

The New River Gorge in West Virginia is our newest national park. The designation protects four swaths of land, therefore leaving some parcels available for hunting. It also protects 53 miles of North America’s oldest river, The New.

The New River was probably named by a surveyor who jotted down “New River” on his crude map, as he did whenever he discovered a waterway. The powers that used to be back then probably never got around to renaming it.

The river is so old that it probably predates the Appalachian Mountains. This may also explain why its flow is north and west so its waters are eventually emptied into the Gulf of Mexico rather than the Atlantic Ocean.

foliage turns gold in October

Besides white water rafting on The New and Gauley Rivers, there is an abundance of rock climbing, smallmouth bass fishing, and even base jumping from the New River Gorge Bridge.

New River Gorge Bridge coming into view

There is a popular view of the park from Hawk’s Nest State Park. But the only true way to see the gorge is by rafting down the lower part of the river itself.

entering the gorge
digging in

The locals are not necessarily in favor of the Gorge’s new distinction. In fact, many are troubled by it. There was no proper planning before it became a national park. Lodging and facilities are scarce, and the overflow of people make visiting the park difficult. There are a few primitive, first-come first-served campgrounds as well as a few hotels on US route 19.

view from Glade Creek Campground

So, when you go, please be mindful of the people who live here. Be courteous and patient. And, as in all wilderness areas, whatever you bring in, make sure you bring out. Leave no trace.

500 million year old rocks

Traveling on a weekday in September or October may be advised. The water is lower then and the whitewater, at least on the New, is more leisurely. Fewer rafts are on the water, so the all-day trip is more enjoyable. The water is still fairly warm, though a wave’s slap may be brisk and refreshing.

like The Nile, The New travels south to north

The river outfitter that I used was ACE Adventure Resort. They have overnight accommodations and adventure packages. They were easy to deal with over the phone and very helpful. A full day trip (5 hours) on the Lower New River on a Monday in late September only cost me about $130. A nice lunch was provided.

lunch in a cove

If you use ACE Adventures, try to get Bodie as your raftsman. He has a deep knowledge of the history of the area and a great understanding of human nature. He is light-hearted, friendly, and can tell a humorous yarn. I found him to be at his best when, in the course of preparations, he would ask our names on an individual basis. He always referred to us by our names when addressing us after that and genuinely registered us in the handbook of his mind. He was also a skilled oarsman and a great captain.


The drive from New River Gorge to Shenandoah National Park was roughly two and a half hours. I stayed overnight in a hotel along the way.

I hadn’t been to this park since my wife and I visited there before we ever thought of getting married. In fact, it was our first trip anywhere together. She passed away many years ago now, though it still seems like yesterday

So it didn’t matter to me that it was a drizzly, foggy day up in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was the same exact weather 45 years before.

early colors

Skyline Drive is the main feature of the park. It is a long 105 miles winding affair from toe to crown. Campgrounds and lodging are fairly plentiful; but I was able to do the park in one day, by limiting myself to one and a half hikes.

Skyline Drive

Shenandoah has 500 miles of trails, deep hollows, lush vegetation, and scenic overlooks.

The long hike I took was that of Dark Hollow Falls. The park is full of and known for its waterfalls, so I highly recommend backpacking or hiking to at least one of them. There are 10 named falls in the park. Dark Hollow had a 300 ft. elevation drop down and gain on the returntrip. So I would rate it as a “moderate” hike. Just go slow, and you will end up sying that the effort was worth it.

elevation gain
worth the trip
Dark Hollow Falls
the constant flow of memories

While driving the Skyline Ridge, be aware that deer and their fawns often leap out in front of traffic. This can be especially daunting in foggy conditions. But also kep an eye out for wild turkey, foxes, and black bears with cubs. The animals sense that they are protected, so they are less fearful than those outside the protection of a national park.

all ears

The brilliant colors of Autumn are known to peak in mid to late October. So it might be wise to have reservations in a comfortable hotel or lodge with a nice fireplace and restaurant.

Enjoy Nature's artistry of chestnut oak, red maple, and yellow poplar gone to leafy surprise.

a sculptor's eye
Created By
John Syron


John syron