The Next Big U.S. National Park
Author’s Note: As I’ve yet to visit West Virginia, this article, “The Next Big U.S. National Park,” has been written in collaboration with the knowledge of Kirsten Gonzalez & Love Holidays.
What is the Next Big National Park?
Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Everglades are three of the best-known national parks in the United States. But here, we’re posing the question: what is: “The Next Big U.S. National Park?”
The three parks mentioned above attract millions of visitors each year looking for a relaxing experience; indeed, Statista reports that Yosemite alone attracted 3.2 million visitors in 2021, & 5 million in 2016. While it’s the most popular park, Yosemite along with Yellowstone & the Everglades are just three of 63 designated National Parks in the U.S. Some of the lesser-known parks are similarly incredible, & very much part of the tourist trail ~ yet not as well-known nationally as their more famous cousins.
One of those is the New River Gorge in West Virginia, the newest National Park in the United States. Officially known as The New River Gorge National Park & Preserve, it stretches 53 miles from Hinton to Hawks Nest State Park, near Ansted. It attracts more than one million visitors annually, & has risen in popularity since being designated a National Park.
But locals still consider it a loosely-kept secret…
New River Gorge National Park
What to Do at New River Gorge
There’s no shortage of things to do along this stretch of river. Sandstone cliffs stand proud watching over the winding water, & are perfect for rock climbers. Those who prefer to be on the water won’t be disappointed either: the whitewater rapids here provide some of the best rafting on the east coast. Hikers & walkers will enjoy trails that wind around the surrounding hills, giving access to wonderful treks & sights, such as up-close views of the stunning sandstone walls. The New River Gorge Bridge, once the world’s longest single-span arch bridge, is an iconic landmark; ideal for photographers.
Interestingly, unlike other National Parks, the New River Gorge area hasn’t previously depended on tourism. A piece by Love Holidays explains how parks such as the Grand Canyon have relied on tourists to boost the local economy for years. But the New River Gorge hasn’t; in fact, there’s a fear that the area isn’t ready for the influx of visitors expected from its recently-acquired National Park status. Park Superintendent Lizzie Watts even suggests that people should arrive with alternate trails in mind when visiting, to avoid excess crowds.
It is a question well-worth considering: how can you best visit this wonderful area with minimal impact on those who live & work there?
No Developed Campsites
Figuring out where to stay at the New River Gorge requires some planning, mainly due to their lack of resources. At some National Parks, you can turn up with a tent & fairly easily find a campsite: but the New River is different. There are no lodges or cabins in the park, & only primitive campsites, many accessible solely by narrow gravel roads. This park is really best for those seeking a more rustic, in-nature National Park experience.
Have a clear plan before you arrive ~ & ideally, speak to other campers prior to your trip to ensure that you’re not left without a place to stay. For those seeking good lodging options, check out nearby Fayetteville, which offers quirky & unique inns such as The Historic Morris Harvey House.
Alternative Hiking Trails
As mentioned, hikers should come with a secondary plan. The trails around the river can get busy, but with 53 miles of river, there’s plenty of space for everyone. You might need to adapt your visit depending on how many others are visiting your chosen trail. The Endless Wall Trail is a great 3-mile loop that’s relatively flat, & will suit nearly all fitness levels.
The slopes are full of history, so don’t worry if your trail is too busy; you’re bound to find something interesting by taking an alternative route.
Best Time to Visit
April thru October is typically the best time to visit the New River Gorge, as the weather is warmest then. This is also when whitewater rafting trips are offered. But if you’re visiting to see the fall colors, you’ll want to visit anytime from late September thru October.
Additionally, if you can avoid weekends, you’ll have a better chance of getting a good viewpoint & photos at popular Egglestone Cliffs.
The Next Big U.S. National Park
Thanks for reading this article, & thanks to Kirsten Gonzalez & Love Holidays for bringing this new park to our attention!
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Really enjoyed this article on our country’s newest national park! My husband and I are retired, and one of our goals is to visit all of them in our RV. Do you know what the closest national park is to the New River Gorge? Thanks, Ellen
Hi Ellen ~ so it would depend which direction you’re headed. To the northeast, you’ve got Shenandoah National Park in Virginia; to the south-west you’ve got the Great Smoky Mtns in Tennesee (& North Carolina, really); & more due west is Mammoth Caves in Kentucky. Hope that helps, the RV trip sounds great! xoxo