5 Days in the New River Gorge with Kids

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The New River Gorge-proper stretches from Hinton to Cotton Hill, with more than 70,000 acres of land protected by the National Park Service. The deep river gorge is flanked on both sides by rock walls, while the forest is lush with vegetation and filled with trails to explore.

Fayetteville, the hub of the region, is one of “America’s Coolest Small Towns,” with a unique variety of restaurants, two top-quality bike shops (New River Bikes and Marathon Bicycle Company), one of the nation’s finest gear shops (Water Stone Outdoors), and tons of local adventure outfitters that have equipment for everything from rafting trips to paintball.

These five family-friendly activities cover everyone's taste for adventure.

1. Rafting the New River

Canoeing at Summersville Lake.
Canoeing at Summersville Lake. Iris

There’s no better way to get the lay of the land than by whitewater rafting. From the bottom of the gorge, you can get a feel for the terrain and scale of the NRG, and it will set the stoke for the rest of the trip.

Depending on the age of your kids, choose between the big waves on the classic Class V Lower New trip from Cunard to Fayette Station, or the more mellow Class III Upper New trip from Thurmond to Cunard. In the calmer waters, your little explorers can even take the lead and paddle on their own in inflatable kayaks.

You can't go wrong with any of the local outfitters, such as Adventures on the Gorge, ACE Adventure Resort, River Expeditions, New & Gauley River Adventures, West Virginia Adventures, or Cantrell Ultimate Rafting.

2. Rock Climbing

Climbing at the New River Gorge.
Climbing at the New River Gorge. Mark Doliner

Most kids naturally love climbing, so it's only fitting to get on a rope at the NRG, one of the best places in the U.S. for rock climbing. The Bridge Buttress and the Junkyard areas both have easy top roping. Sandstonia Wall at Bubba City is packed with beginner-friendly sport climbs. And the Whippoorwill sector at the nearby Summersville Lake is loaded with tons of easy and fun deep water solos.

Grab a copy of Mike Williams’ New River Rock Volumes 1 or 2. Both are filled with route names, ratings, and general reference information so you can go explore on your own. For a little extra help, book a trip with New River Mountain Guides or Hard Rock Climbing for a guided tour.

3. Hiking

There are so many great hikes in the region that it’s hard to pick just a few, but a good place to start your day of hiking is with the NRG’s crown jewel: the Endless Wall Trail. This 2.4-mile trail, which was named the best National Park hike in the nation by USA Today, is known for its hardwood forests and huge rock overlooks.

Stop at the Burrito Bar at Breeze Hill for a quick lunch and then head across the highway to the Burnwood Loop Trail. This 1.1-mile trail has some of the nicest old-growth beech trees in the region and plenty of rhododendron tunnels that will make your kiddos feel like they have entered an enchanted forest.

Last on the list is the three mile Long Point Trail. The best part of this trail is the huge rocky overlook at the end, where you get a breathtaking view of the New River Gorge Bridge.

4. SUP and Swimming at Summersville Lake

Rent a few stand-up paddleboards and head to Summersville Lake for some water time. Launch off at Salmon Run and hug the left coastline until you hit Pirate’s Cove, where you can paddle behind a waterfall cascading off the cliff. Break for a picnic lunch on any of the shoreline boulders and then go swim or explore more.

5. Mountain Biking at Arrowhead, Class VI, Southside Junction Trail

Rent bikes at New River Bikes or Marathon Bikes, then head over to the International Mountain Bicycling Association-created Arrowhead trail system. Everyone from little kids to teenagers will appreciate the buffed flow trails with very little elevation and beginner-friendly berms, rollers and jumps. Both of the bike shops offer guided tours, too.

+ Fuel up!

You'll need some fuel before you go, so a good place to start your day is at Tudor's Biscuit World with a Thundering Herd (sausage, hashbrown, egg and cheese on a gigantic homemade biscuit). Another good option is Vandal’s Kitchen has healthy farm-to-table breakfasts. After a long day, go to one of the best artisan pizza joints in the nation: Pies and Pints. You can’t go wrong with any of the crazy pies here, from grape to Thai. And Secret Sandwich Society’s house burgers and sammies are a not-so-secret local favorite.

New River Gorge Bridge.
New River Gorge Bridge. Fred Wolfe

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Originally written for West Virginia .

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