Can You Make It Through This Amazing Cave Hike?

Yes, the Cave Hike does include actual caves!
Yes, the Cave Hike does include actual caves! Jay Young
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The following article is a paid collaboration with Wild, Wonderful West Virginia.

The Cave Hike is short, but it packs more adventure than a runaway trainload of pirates and dinosaurs.

It's so adventurous, in fact, that it probably requires a disclaimer. This hike has exceptionally rugged terrain on cliffs more than 60 feet high. It has ladders, boulders, slippery rocks, sections of off-trail walking, caves you have to hike through, caves you have to scramble up through, and in the summertime, watch out for snakes and wildlife. In addition to standard hiking equipment for the season, bring a headlamp.

That said, if you have an adventurous spirit and are at least kind of physically fit, you might want to give this a try, because it also has amazing scenery and one of the oddest waterfalls you'll ever see.

The trailhead is the same as for the Endless Wall Trail at its Fern Point end, one of the New River Gorge’s most famous paths. Stop in at the Canyon Rim Visitor Center and grab a map.

The dark and mysterious passage that connects ladders.
    Jay Young
The dark and mysterious passage that connects ladders. Jay Young

Hike out on the Endless Wall Trail for about 2/3 of a mile, crossing Fern Creek on a wooden foot bridge. When you reach Endless Wall and see a sign that says "Climbing Access" with an offshoot toward the cliff, take it. In just a few feet, you’ll find yourself at the edge of the cliff and the top of a steel ladder leading down into a small cave. That ladder will lead you to a surreal passage and another ladder. Watch your step getting onto the second ladder.

Soon, you’ll find yourself at the bottom of Endless Wall. If you’re a rock climber, you’ve probably turned left here a number of times and headed to Idol Point, Kaymoor Slabs and so on. Today, turn right, heading downstream toward the New River Gorge Bridge.

There is a faint trail that leads all the way to the climax of this little adventure, but depending on the season, you may not be able to find it. That’s okay. Just walk parallel to the cliffline and you’ll be fine. After 200 meters, you’ll come to a small grotto. Fern Creek Falls is inside the rock here. You’ll be able to hear it. If it’s dry enough, you can scramble into any of the large cracks to see it, too.

The grotto where it all comes together.
    Jay Young
The grotto where it all comes together. Jay Young

Speaking of large cracks, when you’re ready to continue, you’re looking for the one in the picture with the woman pointing. Up. That’s where the hike continues.

Now, don’t get all jumpy. It’s actually not that bad. In fact, if you can make up the first 6 feet, you’ll be fine, because that is by far the hardest part of the scramble. Think of it as the price of admission. If you can’t, no big deal. Just reverse your course.

Once you’re past the first step, continue to worm and scramble your way upward into the chimney of rock. After gaining a large flat ledge about 20 feet up, head straight back into the cliff until it’s possible to scramble up another 8 feet or so. By now you should see the light at the end of the tunnel. You made it!

Almost. Follow the winding trail uphill from the cave exit until it intersects with the Endless Wall Trail. Turn left and follow it back to the trailhead.

The history of the Cave Hike is an interesting one. Before climbers accessed the bottom of Endless Wall (a 2.4-mile unbroken section of cliff) via steel ladders, they accessed it via wooden ladders. Before that, they rappelled in and often climbed out via this "cave," which was known as the Fox Hunter’s Crack. Did locals use the cave long before climbers? Did Native Americans? Probably so. And now you can, too.

Discover more amazing hikes in the New River Gorge.

Originally written for West Virginia .

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