There are precious few hiking trails within the Gauley River National Recreation Area. But there is 1 trail that manages to be long and utterly engaging, as well as mercifully easy, and largely devoid of challenges. It’s the Gauley River Rail Trail.
What Makes It Great
The Gauley River Rail Trail is one of the most unique hikes in the area, full of fun features like 2 abandoned railroad tunnels, 1 railroad bridge recently converted for foot traffic, and more than 20 miles of rail trail running next to steep river gorges. Deep in the wilderness of West Virginia and accessible only to those with intimate local knowledge—and now you—this beauty winds its way up and down the Gauley and its main tributary, the Meadow River. Once the domain of 19th century lumberjacks, this area now welcomes explorers of all stripes, from hikers to ATV and UTV enthusiasts. And since the river is never more than a few hundred feet from the trail, you’re treated to views all day long. If you’re here in early autumn on the weekend, you’ll also have ample opportunity to watch whitewater rafters and kayakers run some of the most challenging water on the East Coast.
Enter the Gorge on Old Wood’s Ferry Road and then choose upstream or down. Upstream will eventually take you even closer to the middle of nowhere at the mouth of the Meadow River, while downstream will bring you to an abandoned railroad tunnel at Koontz Bend and a dizzyingly high footbridge over the river.
When you are hiking on this trail, be sure to remember that you will be sharing it with ATVs and UTVs on crowded weekends, though everyone tends to be pretty friendly. Your biggest challenge is simply finding your way there.
Who is Going to Love It
Anybody looking for a commitment from their day hikes will love the Gauley River Rail Trail. It’s a challenge just finding the trail, and once you do, it’s extremely secluded. For the amount of people who enter the Gauley River Gorge yearly, it is surprisingly far out there.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
From Route 19 between Summerville to the North and the New River Gorge to the South, exit at Hico, WV, onto Route 60 (also known as Midland Trail) toward Ansted. Across from the Exxon station near the exit, turn right onto Sunday Road. Settle in for 9 miles of weaving and winding country road, before turning right onto Wood’s Ferry Road. Though 4-wheel drive is probably not necessary (unless it’s raining), high clearance will be helpful. You will eventually descend to the Gauley River at a T junction with the rail trail.