What is the New River Gorge National Park?

About The New River Gorge National Park & Preserve

In the heart of the Appalachian mountains, a river has cut and carved a canyon worthy of praise. Over thousands of years, the New River has painstakingly created the 1,000-foot canyon now known as the New River Gorge.

In her wake, this river has left exposed sandstone, incredible whitewater, and wild woods that now make up the New River Gorge National Park in West Virginia. This adventurous place hasn’t always been the recreational paradise that it now is and hasn’t always been classified as a National Park either. Rather, it has ebbed and flowed through transitions throughout the centuries.

Learn more about the origins & topography that define the heavenly slice of West Virginia otherwise known as the New River Gorge National Park and the activities this beautiful spot has to offer.

New River Gorge vs. New River Gorge Region vs. New River Gorge National Park

If you’re an out-of-stater trying to make sense of the terminology of the New River Gorge National Park and the surrounding area, you might find it all slightly confusing. We’re here to set some things straight to make it easier on you!

  • The New River Gorge, or simply “The Gorge”, refers to the actual Gorge itself, or the vast expanse of land carved out by the New River. (A gorge is defined as “a narrow valley with steep, rocky walls located between hills or mountains”.)
  • The New River Gorge Region refers to the geographic area that’s near the New River Gorge. Over time, it’s come to be more of a catch-all term and isn’t necessarily reflective of the area right on the Gorge itself.
  • The New River Gorge National Park refers to the area of the New River Gorge, which also encompasses portions of the New River itself, that has been officially classified by the NPS as a National Park since 2020.
    As you read through more of this piece to discover the history and origins of the New River Gorge and the New River Gorge National Park in WV, this will begin to make more and more sense!

History of the New River Gorge Area

Before European settlers moved into the area, the Shawnee lived, hunted, and fished the New River Gorge.

This land has supported various industries since settlers began to call the region their home. Dense hardwood forests were logged, and world-famous coal was mined from the New River Gorge, helping to fuel the second Industrial Revolution.

As demand for coal slowed and more efficient mining practices were realized, the once bustling coal towns were left to return to dust, and the Gorge was able to begin reclaiming her land.

Whitewater Rafting the New River Gorge

As adventurous pioneers began to explore the rapids of the New River Gorge, a new industry was realized. These early ambassadors recognized the potential for whitewater in West Virginia, and set up shop along the banks of the New River and in the surrounding towns, creating whitewater rafting outfitters.

Soon, rock climbers began to explore the sandstone cliffs, mapping out routes that are still known throughout the climbing community. Trails to some of these climbing areas were created, allowing hikers to also experience the beauty of the New River Gorge.

How the New River Gorge Became a National Park in WV

In 1978, the New River Gorge was established as the New River Gorge National River, falling under the protection of the National Park Service (NPS). Unique flora and fauna are found in the area, and this protection allowed for these important species to be preserved. The New River Gorge Bridge, completed in 1977, spans the gap between the two sides of the steep New River Gorge, and has become a treasured part of the landscape, adding to her beauty even further.

Culturally, the New River Gorge region is also important. Abandoned settlements of former coal towns are scattered throughout the Gorge, some of which you can now visit and learn more about today.

The New River Gorge National Park & Preserve is Established in 2020

Though the New River Gorge was classified as a national river under the NPS as early as 1978, it wouldn’t be until late 2020 that the New River Gorge National River and surrounding area received a promotion to the New River Gorge National Park & Preserve, further cementing her status as one of the great and wild places in the United States.

Topography & Activities in New River Gorge National Park, WV

The New River Gorge National Park spans over 70,000 acres, including 53 miles of the New River.

Adventures on the Gorge borders the National Park and is perched on the rim of the Gorge, offering both picturesque views of the famous New River Gorge Bridge and close proximity to all of the park’s most popular experiences.

Here at Adventures on the Gorge, located right near the New River Gorge and the National Park itself, there is a piece of “Almost Heaven” for everyone.

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