Autumn at New River Gorge National Park and Preserve

Head to Lansing, West Virginia, to explore one of nation’s newest national parks in all its fall glory. 

A fall landscape at New River Gorge National Park in West Virginia (photo Doug Lemons)

Although West Virginia has historically been known for its extractive industries and its exporting of vast amounts of coal and timber, the state has now made a name for itself as a destination for outdoor adventure that celebrates and highlights the Mountain State’s vast expanses of natural beauty. 

There is no higher testament to this than the fact that it is home to New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, a gateway to adventure that Congress granted national park status in 2020. 

The park encompasses more than 70,000 acres along the New River, which flows for 53 miles within the park. The river’s upper section is calmer with smaller rapids and is great for families and less-experienced paddlers, while the lower part gets more intense with rapids ranging up to Class V. There are a half dozen local commercial rafting operators, with the two largest being Ace Adventure Resort and Adventures on the Gorge.

The park’s nine campgrounds offer primitive sites (no drinking water and limited restroom facilities) and all but one are located along the river. The almost 100 miles of trails in the park reward hikers with majestic views of the New River Gorge, from a variety of lookout points. There are around 1,400 established rock-climbing routes, as well as some cycling, plenty of fishing opportunities and hunting within approved areas. 

The park is also rich in history. Be sure to explore the (almost) ghost town of Thurmond; The Church Loop Trail, which leads to one of the area’s first churches for Black residents; and Red Ash Island, which was used to quarantine people during a smallpox epidemic. 

Fuel up for your adventures in the nearby town of Fayetteville, which boasts an excellent food scene. The Cathedral Cafe & Book Store offers outstanding breakfasts, Pies & Pints serves great pizza, and Arrowhead Bike Farm has its own take on German street food (and offers mountain bike rentals). 162 Visitor Center Rd., Lansing, West Virginia 25862, 304/465-0508.