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Trip 3, Days 6-7: New River Gorge National Park

The New River Gorge is the newest to be added to the national parks and the New River is among the oldest rivers on the continent. The park is 53 miles long and encompasses several distinct areas, each with its own features. Driving from Gatlinburg, we chose to focus on the southern end of the park on our first day and went to the Sandstone area. This ended up being one of the highlights of our entire trip and is a must-see area. The Sandstone Falls is the largest waterfall on the New River. The drive to this area runs along the New River and is very scenic, with several opportunities to stop along the way. At the falls area, we hiked the Sandstone Falls Boardwalk and the Island Loop Trail (each about a half-mile). We also did some exploring along the river's edge and hopped/climbed rocks to get a better view of the falls. There are two areas of falls...the main falls that cross the entire river and smaller falls that cross a floodplain area. Well worth a few hours of exploring.

If you are a movie buff, we recommend checking out the Mountain Lake Lodge in Pembroke, Virginia, a little more than an hour from the southern end of the New River Gorge National Park. This is the lodge that is known as Kellerman's Resort in the movie Dirty Dancing. The lodge has done a good job of preserving the feel of the resort and has a self-guided tour of 10 locations used in the film. There are also a number of hiking trails around the lodge and we opted to do a sunrise hike up the mountain to Bald Knob (close to a mile hike roundtrip). The lodge has a quaint tavern where we were able to enjoy some good beers (Devils Backbone 16-point IPA and their Munchen on Pumpkin Pumpkin Lager).

For our second day at the park, we focused more on the north end by the New River Gorge Bridge, which is the longest single-span steel arch bridge in the United States and the third highest bridge in the country. It is amazingly massive! From the visitor's center, we hiked the Canyon Rim Overlook Boardwalk (a little more than half a mile), with great views of the bridge and gorge. A short drive away was the Endless Wall Trail (2.3 miles one way), which provided great views of the river from various observation points, including Diamond Point Overlook. This area is also popular with rock climbers. (You can opt to do the trail out and back for a 4.6 mile hike, or do as we did and walk the road 0.5 miles back to the parking lot.) We then took the scenic drive on Fayette Station Road down the gorge and under the bridge. There are several observation areas along the way to see the bridge and gorge and the Fayette River Access Point provides a nice vantage point at the bottom of the gorge next to the river. We stopped in nearby Fayetteville for lunch at Pies & Pints, which has an impressive list of beers on tap. (The breweries in the area were closed on the days we visited the park.)

For the afternoon, we drove to the Grandview area of the national park and hiked the Main and North Overlooks and the Grandview Rim Trail to Turkey Spur Rock (about 3 miles out and back). There are several overlook areas on the trail with views of the gorge and river 1,400 feet below. At the end of the trail, there are about 160 steps to get to the top of Turkey Spur Rock, with a beautiful panoramic view from the top. The trail parallels the road at several points and we opted to follow the road back part way since the light was beginning to fade in the late afternoon. While the distance was about the same, we were able to hike faster along the road than on the trail, where we were navigating tree roots and rocks. It is definitely worth exploring this area, as the scenery is beautiful with good hiking trails that are not very crowded. If we had more daylight, there were a few other short trails we would have explored in the area. We definitely plan to return to this national park!

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