6 mountain hikes… that aren’t really hikes

Take a break from your go-to trail classics and hop on one of these hikes that are— well, not actually a hike.

Trek on these wild, wonderful stairs, ladders, bridges and more:

1. Endless Wall

The ridge of Endless Wall runs through the heart of West Virginia’s most famous rock climbing mecca, the New River Gorge. Named “Best National Park Hike” by USA Today, it stretches 1,000 feet above the New River, with breathtaking views and a slice of history— home to the largest mine in the area in the 1800s.

The trail can be a breathtaking hike, but it can also be an outdoor jungle gym. Follow the climbers’ access routes up installed ladders to explore cliffside caves, and keep an eye out for sport and trad climbers along the way.

This trail’s majesty and mystery has definitely been discovered, so it’s become pretty popular recently. Get there early if you want a parking spot.

Street in Harpers Ferry, WV

2. Stair Treks around Harpers Ferry

Harpers Ferry is known for its stone steps, carved right into the shale. Begin your own stair hike at the Visitors Center and walk along Shenandoah Street to see some of the historic buildings, like the blacksmith shop and the Provost Marshal Office. Head toward John Brown’s Fort, and to take in the view from “The Point” at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers.

From there, head back up High Street to your first set of stone steps, which lead to St. Peter’s Church. Behind the church is another set of stairs that lead to Jefferson Rock. The rock is perched along the famed Appalachian Trail, and has views so breathtaking that Thomas Jefferson famously noted that “this scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic.”

From the church all the way up to Jefferson Rock you will climb more than 100 steps. If you’re feeling adventurous, take a different route back down. You may even find more historic staircases! (…in fact, you probably will!)


3. Via ferrata climb

If you’re afraid of heights, here’s an opportunity to conquer your fears. This single mile of mostly vertical hiking may be one of the most mentally challenging of your life, but also one of the most rewarding.

Start with a long hike, then climb up the via ferrata (Italian for “iron road”) at Nelson Rocks with a series of steel rungs and cables. You’ll even cross a long suspension bridge 150 feet in the air. Don’t worry, though— the guides will make sure you are properly clipped in and secure. So go ahead and take in the scenic views of the double-fin rocks and soak up the beauty of the Mountain State.

This trek is especially stunning in fall when the leaves are changing. But if you really want to take it to the next level, try a Full Moon Climb.

View from the New River Gorge Bridge, WV

4. The New River Gorge Bridge

This the shortest and easiest hike on our list— but arguably also the most breathtaking.

It may be a short hike, but it’s long for a bridge: the iconic New River Gorge Bridge stretches more than 3,000 feet, and is the longest steel-arch span in the Western hemisphere. Cross the catwalk 800+ feet above the New River rushing below during a Bridge Walk. Occasionally, a thick mist rises from the river, creating the illusion that you are walking over the clouds as you cross the catwalk below it (on a Bridge Walk tour).

5. Kaymoor Miners Trail

Soak up a little slice of West Virginia history as you take this mile-long trail, made up of mostly stairs, to the old Kaymoor Mine in the New River Gorge. Once you reach the mine, where miners hunted for coal deep in the earth decades ago, you can continue down more than 800 stairs to get to the old coal plant.

For a longer hike, continue on the Kaymoor Trail to finally reach the old abandoned mining town of Kaymoor where the workers used to live.

6. Elakala Falls

You’ve never seen a waterfall like this before. The short, mile-long hike follows a typical trail to a bridge overlooking the majestic, cascading Elakala Falls of Blackwater Falls State Park in Davis.

That’s when things really get interesting— from the bridge, you can climb (carefully!) down the boulders lining the falls to get a full view from both above and below. Note: These rocks get slippery when wet, so be careful and wear appropriate hiking shoes.

This post was last updated on March 1, 2022