Oh, we’ve got trails. We’ve got skinny trails that wind along the ridgelines and wide ones that gently slope down to lake’s edge. We’ve got trails with views and trails that tunnel under thick rhododendrons. Which one should you pick, you ask? Read on for recommendations from local trail junkies who know them best.
The New River Gorge lies in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, and with its unique geology, abundant wildlife and diverse flora, new discoveries are only a few steps or rolls of the fat tire away.
#1: Endless Wall
Difficulty: Beginner to Moderate
Length: 6 miles
Recommended By: Amanda Ashley, trail runner and triathlete
A 1.3 mile drive out Lansing-Edmond Road just north of the Bridge takes you to the marked trailhead for the Endless Wall/Diamond Point trail. This trail drains well and stays dry, an important consideration given our wet climate. Even better, over 60% of the trail provides spectacular views of the Gorge, especially in late fall/winter when the leaves are off of the trees and the most intimate contours of the Gorge are exposed.
You’ll begin in a grove of old growth pines, which give it an ultrashady, ancient forest feel. After a mile or so the trail crosses a bridge over Fern Creek and begins to climb. Interesting rocks keep you focused on your footing and rolling little hills provide sprint opportunities if you so choose.
The Endless Wall Trail is a 6-mile out-and-back trip from the trailhead to the access point for a climbing area called the Cirque. You can turn around at any point, but once you climb away from Fern Creek, you won’t want to. Most of the trail sticks close to the edge of the Gorge, which means ample opportunities to take a break at one of several overlooks and enjoy the upstream views of exposed sandstone cliffs. Look for wild blueberries, or sit and watch for peregrine falcons, which have nested nearby in recent years.
Want to add a mini-adventure extension to your outing? Take the Donkey Kong Loop. Continue along the rim to the 2nd rock climbing access for Central Endless Wall. Climb down the ladders bolted to the rock face and run downstream along the base of the cliffs. Be prepared to rock scramble before climbing back up to the rim via the climbing access ladders at Fern Buttress.
A trail map for the Endless Wall Trail and others in New River Gorge National River can be found at the Visitor’s Center, just north of the Bridge.
#2: Fayetteville Loop
Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
Length: 12 miles
Recommended By: George Rogers, Managing Partner and Chief Creative Officer at Weld, an Oak-Hill based content marketing firm
The New River has sculpted the longest and deepest gorge in the Appalachian Mountains, a happy thing for us, since this also means that trails within it have plenty of steep grades to get your heart pumping and downhills for feeling the breeze in your hair. The Fayetteville Loop is a 12-mile combination of trails through the Gorge that are no exception—in fact, an aerial map image of this trail system looks like an accordion, with more than 800 feet of elevation gain and loss. Plenty of creek crossings intersect this route, but three National Park Service–installed steel bridges ensure that you can go year round whether the creeks are high or not.
Starting at the trailhead located at the back of Fayetteville Town Park, take the Fayetteville Trail, cross the bridge over Wolf Creek, and then follow Timber Ridge gradually up and up. Once at the top, cross over the Long Point Trail to make your way to Butcher’s Branch. From here, take a wide service road.
It is possible to ride upstream all the way to Thurmond at this point…but that’s another expedition for another day. Instead, take a left and ride to the Old Kaymoor Mine. If you’re out there in the fall, keep a lookout for some old overgrown apple trees that provide a sweet snack. Be sure to stop at the mine to explore and enjoy the view of Endless Wall. You’ll get an idea of the unique features that exemplify the Appalachian Plateau, with the exposure of sandstone and shale, house-sized boulders scattered from rim to river, and waterfalls careening off of the steep cliffs. The Kaymoor Mine and Camp was built in 1899 and operated until 1964. At its peak it employed 1500 men and ran 101 coke ovens. Along its winding path, the river has exposed four seams of coal, considered among the best bituminous coal in the world. The smokeless New River coal once fed the boilers of the nation’s trains, factories, fleets and power plants, and its coke fueled the nation’s iron furnaces.
If your legs are feeling strong, you can detour and walk down the 800-some stairs to the river and explore the abandoned town and structures. The Kaymoor Trail ends on Fayette Station road. Head up the pavement for just a few hundred yards, where on the right you can access the Fayetteville Trail again. From here it’s a climb all the way back to the Park.
Trail maps can be found at Marathon Bicycle Company and New River Bikes in Fayetteville.
#3: Babcock Linked Trails
Length: 8 miles
Recommended By: Donnie Hudspeth, Race Director of the Gristmill Grinder Half Trail Marathon & The Animal Upper Gauley Race
Babcock State Park in Clifftop, West Virginia, is adjacent to the New River Gorge National River and has more than 4,000 forested acres with streams, boulder-strewn canyons, majestic overlooks, and 20-plus miles of trails to see them by. History buffs love Babcock, too: mossy stone walls and steps are the work of the CCC many years ago, and a fully operational gristmill sits on Glade Creek, the main waterway that cuts through the park. The mill was made by combining parts and pieces from mills all over the state, and completed in 1976. The park gift shop sells freshly ground cornmeal and buckwheat flour from its grinding stone.
The park’s personality changes with the seasons: In spring the wildflowers and rhodos are blooming. Summer brings a thick canopy from the mature forest. Fall of course is ablaze with colors and many photographers come to snap a fall image of the Gristmill. In the winter most of the roads are gated and closed for the season, but the road to the Gristmill remains open, as do the trails, for your hiking and running pleasure.
The Babcock Linked Trails is a combination of three short trails connected with road sections that form a loop. Park at the Gristmill and take Sewell Road (1.5 miles) down along Glade Creek past the cabins. From here a sharp right turn and a creek crossing puts you on the Narrow Gauge Trail, a former narrow gauge railroad in operation until the 1950s. After three and a half miles up the hill, this trail ends at a paved service road. Here, turn right and go up to Mann’s Gorge Overlook. The overlook is complete with a picnic area, tennis court and volleyball net. Once there, find yourself on the 2.5 mile-long Skyline Trail. Skyline passes through big boulder fields before crossing the spectacular overlook of the Glade/Manns Creek Canyons and the New River Gorge. From there it is only a 1-mile downhill cruise back to your car.
A map and directions can be found at Babcock State Park, 304-438-3004.
#4: Southside Junction Trail
Difficulty: Beginner to Moderate
Length: 14 miles
Recommended By: Carlos Plumley, founding member of New River Bicycle Union
Southside Junction Trail, named for a junction of railroad tracks at its southern end, follows one forgotten set of these relics that’s slowly being reclaimed by nature. Starting at Cunard public landing, take the gravel road that heads upstream. In one mile at Brooklyn, the trail turns into a beautiful narrow channel through the trees all the way along the New River from Cunard to Thurmond, West Virginia. Perfect for beginners, the total elevation gain is just 25-30 feet along the entire length.
Take a break as you pass right through 19th century industrial ruins, coke ovens, old house foundations, and mining enterprise ruins. A lot of the flowers that grow along the trail were planted by citizens of the towns and have now gone wild. As you approach Thurmond, old buildings are visible cross the river. In its heyday, Thurmond was a booming coal town, boasting 2 hotels, a red light district and the world’s longest running poker game (14 years). Today the town has just a handful of citizens and is home to a NPS–managed public takeout and put-in point for the New River.
As an out-and-back trail, Southside Junction is easy to navigate. Go as long as you like before turning around. If you go to the end, look for steep trails leading down to the riverside for some great rock skipping. And remember that you’ve been traveling upstream. When you do turn around, you’ll notice that even a small amount of gradient makes great downhills.
Trail maps can be found at New River Bikes and Marathon Bicycle Company in Fayetteville.
#5: Ansted–Hawks Nest Rail Trail
Length: 4.5 miles
Recommended By: Cristina Opdahl, Editor and Publisher, New River Gorge Adventure Guide
If you like waterfalls and don’t mind heights, this trail is for you. If you like the idea of following a creek, listening to the steady rush of water flowing over rocks, yet don’t want to be hemmed in by skinny singletrack, you and this trail are a perfect match. The Ansted–Hawks Nest Rail Trail, more commonly known as Mill Creek Trail, begins just below the town of Ansted, a small stop on Route 60 just down the road from Hawks Nest State Park.
Mill Creek Trail is not crowded, but maybe because it is a Rail Trail, it has a well-traveled feel. Built as a narrow gauge railroad by the Ansted-based coal company in 1874, the C&O purchased it 25 years later and upgraded it to a standard line. This spur route connected Ansted to the main line running down the New River, and carried passengers reluctantly. Because of the 4 percent-plus gradient, the C&O Railroad did not want to carry human freight. The state of West Virginia intervened and required that it do so.
It’s worth getting yourself to this trail even if you can do just the first few hundred yards, where it crosses a bridge high above Mill Creek using an old railroad trestle. Two waterfalls gush to the left; on the right, the creek tumbles out of sight. From there, continue on the trail with cliffs to your left and the creek down a bank to your right for two miles at a gradual descent. Morel mushrooms have been spotted here, as well as salamanders and box turtles. If the water level is right, look for kayakers running the steep drops. There are a few steep scrambling paths down to the creek and some wide smooth rocks to sit on when the water levels are low.
The wide trail ends at the New River, where it has flattened out into a lake, compliments of Hawks Nest Dam. Jet boat rides leave from here and travel six miles up to see the New River Gorge Bridge. Have a snack, feed the ducks, and watch for osprey.
Once you’ve had your fill of the New, you could ride the Hawks Nest State Park tram back up to the top of the Gorge if you have purchased your tickets in advance and managed to leave a vehicle at Hawks Nest State Park. But then you’d miss half of the trip. Mill Creek is an out-and-back trail. Head back up the hillside for 2.2 miles of moderate but totally doable uphill, and you’ll be glad you did.
Hawks Nest State Park (304-658-5212) can give you directions to the Ansted–Hawks Nest Rail Trail and for the tram.
Top photograph and photograph of Babcock Linked Trail by Donnie Hudspeth