5 undiscovered (but just as amazing) trails near the nation’s #1 National Park hike
The New River Gorge National River has plenty of iconic trails, including the “Nation’s #1 National Park Hike”— but it’s also got some secret routes.
That #1 trail, voted for by USA Today readers, is Endless Wall, and we definitely recommend you try it, because it’s one of those memorable views that makes you realize the vastness and wonder of nature. It follows a ridgeline on the gorge rim, so you’re literally tracing the edge of one of the world’s most ancient canyons.
But, as awe-inspiring as that trek is, it’s just one of many bucket-list-worthy trails in the gorge. In fact, it’s not even the only one on the canyon rim! So if you prefer to forge off the beaten path, away from the crowds, you can still find the same stunning level of scenery in a more secluded part of the park.
Here’s where to find the rarer-shared views that are every bit as jaw-dropping:
1. Glade Creek: New River to Pinch Creek
Take this hefty 12-mile out-and-back route for spectacular views, wildflowers and stunning water features. Follow along Glade Creek is a very moderate elevation change, but it’s long! It can be a muddy trail, so bring sturdy, waterproof hiking boots. In the summer months, make time to stop at one of swimming holes along the way, and try at least one rope swing. Bring a picnic lunch to sit by one of the waterfalls and spend some time enjoying the beauty of the trail. As you make your way down, take notice of the changing color of the sandstone. The various shades of brown look just like a watercolor painting.
2. Fern Creek
You can see the waterfalls of Fern Creek from the New River Gorge Bridge when the leaves are off the trees, but you can rarely get a glimpse up close from the forest because of the tricky nature of the trails. The trailhead to Fern Creek is about 0.5-miles away from the Canyon Rim Visitor Center, near a pullout on the right-hand side of the road, facing downhill. Keep an eye out for arrows scratched into the cliff, which will point you in the right direction for the first waterfall.
The general rule for staying on path, like most paths in New River Gorge, is to hug the cliffs. There is a steep downhill at a 45-degree angle, but the reward is the breathtaking Middle Falls. Back on the slightly more beaten path, continue for another 0.2 miles and you’ll reach the natural stone amphitheater, with the High Drama waterfall crashing down in its center. It’s truly a sight to behold.
3. Red Ash Island
Red Ash “Island” is separated from the mainland by a narrow slough. The place has a tragic history. Despite its eerie past, Red Ash Island is a unique place to explore rarely trekked trails and consider New River Gorge’s fascinating history. Walk among the striking old-growth sycamore and beech trees that stretch into the sky, and relax on the sunny riverside beach, where whitewater rafters sometimes stop for a break.
4. The Stairs (hike to Kaymoor Bottom)
Don’t let this hike’s short 2-mile distance fool you: this trail will make you sweat. In that short distance, you’ll go down 821 steps (equaling about 900 feet), and then climb right back up. But this isn’t just a great workout. Like most of West Virginia, this trail is full of history— a lot of it, of course, at the bottom!
Below the coal tipple at the foot of the staircase, you can see full coal carts and train tracks from the now-closed Kaymoor Mine. But don’t blow too much energy playing explorer down here (and don’t walk on top or inside the ovens, because they are old and unstable), because you still have to trek back up those 800+ wooden steps.
5. Craig Branch Falls
Starting from the same area as the steps on the Kaymoor Miners Trail, move downhill on some rock steps and cross a creek toward the nearby cliffs. The trail can seem to trickle away at times, but as long as you make sure to stick by the cliffs, you won’t get lost. Climb over boulders and along a faint path, with views of the Endless Wall and a number of waterfalls. The major reward, though, is the at the end of the trail: Craig Branch Falls itself, the tallest waterfall in New River Gorge.
What’s your favorite New River Gorge trail?
This post was last updated on July 29, 2020