Entire books have been written to guide intrepid explorers along the many winding paths of the New River Gorge and surrounding areas. In fact, before we go any further, if you're serious about getting into the Park on foot, here's the one we recommend: Hiking & Biking in the New River Gorge a Trail User's Guide. But if this is your first time hiking in the area or if you have only a short amount of time to spend, and you want to see a list of the real gems, then in our opinion, these three hikes are THAT LIST.
The Endless Wall Loop Trail
Recently voted the #1 National Park day hike in the US by USA Today Readers! When hiking in this area, a sense of adventure is your best friend, and for those willing to climb a few fixed ladders, the adventure just keeps on coming.
The New River Gorge is a view-rich environment. For those willing to walk a bit, the views are even better, because you can get to places others can't or won't go. When hiking in this area, a sense of adventure is your best friend, and for those willing to climb a few ladders, the adventure is non-stop.
Let's take, for example, the Endless Wall Loop Trail, which gives you the option to ladder or not. Built by rock climbers in the late 1980s so they could more easily access the crown jewel of local cliffs, the EWLT has a trail head that's only a 5 minute drive from Adventures On the Gorge and follows the very rim of the Gorge for a huge percentage of its length. It offers several different views of the river, which is why its 3-mile length (and the shorter, more popular out-and-back variation) is so well trodden.
There WILL be climbers below you. Please do not throw items from the top of the cliff.
If you opt to climb down ladders to the bottom of the cliff, this hike will entail exceptionally rugged terrain. There exists potential for falls from ladders and cliffs in excess of 60 feet. Aside from ladders, it has boulders, poison ivy, slippery rocks, sections of off-trail walking, caves you have to hike through and in the summertime, there might be Copperheads. If you go on this hike, you might get very seriously hurt. You might even die. Especially if you're "afraid of heights," stay atop the cliff.
1. Park at the Fern Creek Trailhead, less than two miles from Adventures on the Gorge. Get Directions.
2. Hike the well-worn trail from the parking area, until you come to a foot bridge over Fern Creek. If the water is up, you'll hear a waterfall just down stream. Continue across the Bridge and up the hill until you reach the rim of the New River Gorge (you'll know). From here you have two choices, to stay at the top of the cliff, where the views are best, or to follow the sign marked, "Climbing Access," down a series of ladders to the bottom of the cliff. The latter option is adventurous, to say the least. If you're not comfortable with dangerous, unprotected heights or if you physically can't descend and climb long ladders, stick with the first option. If you want that riskier option, skip to number 5.
3. Continue leftward to contour along the top of the cliff, Endless Wall. Over the course of the next couple miles, you'll pass numerous overlooks—NONE of which are protected by railings or other barriers, so be careful! Also, this cliff is very popular with rock climbers. If the weather is nice (and sometimes even if it isn't), there WILL be climbers below you. DO NOT THROW ITEMS FROM THE TOP OF THE CLIFF. Be careful where you step as well. An accentual rock hurts as much as a purposeful rock.
4. Continue on 2 miles until you come to a three-way trail junction (or turn around and retrace your steps at any time). Turn left here for a short walk back to the road along which you're parked. Then turn left on that road. Another 1/2 mile will have you back at your car.
5. Once you've reached the bottom of the cliff, turn left going upstream (away from the Bridge), and walk through a tight corridor between the main cliff and an apartment-building-sized boulder. Exit the corridor (watch your step on some innocuous-looking, but rather slippery roots) and continue on.
6. In the warmer months, you'll probably see rock climbers doing their thing on these cliffs. As amazing as the whitewater is here, the rock is even better, so "crown jewel of local cliffs" is really saying something. Endless Wall is known for being one of the taller cliffs in the area, for it's top-to-bottom crack systems, and for the technical, heady nature of its climbing. Many are the traveling gunslingers who journeyed to Endless only to be shut down by the emotional and mental rigors of the harder climbs here. But for those who get used to it, Endless is often a lifelong favorite.
If you're not a climber yourself, you should know it's entirely acceptable to wave, say hi and ask a question or two. Steer clear of the dumb questions, though, like, "How do you get the rope up there?" and "Do you mind if I try?" As you pass, don't step on any of their equipment, and keep your own noise levels down a bit, since climbers' lives sometimes hinge on their ability to communicate with each other.
7. The hike along the bottom of Endless Wall will seem long, but in fact, it isn't. You'll be down there for maybe a 1/4 mile altogether. It will go slowly, though, because there's a lot to see and the terrain is rough in places. At one point, you'll come to a 100-meter wide amphitheater cut into the rock, where you'll have two choices: one, continue to stroll the bottom of the cliff, or two, cut through the talus and cross the hillside. Either way is tough going, but cutting across is definitely the easier way.
8. After your 1/4-mile scramble, you'll come to a system of ladders similar to the ones that got you to the bottom of the cliff. These ladders are longer, though, and the damage resulting from a fall would be greater, so be careful! Climbers call this system the Honeymooners' Ladders.
9. Atop the first ladder, stroll a short but exposed walkway to gain a dark crevice. Up in there, you'll see a second ladder. Have at it. That ladder will take you to the top of the cliff.
10. Once you've gained the cliff-top, you'll see a trail that cuts immediately back in the direction from which you came and one that heads straight back into the woods. Take the second one straight back for around 50 feet until it hits the Endless Wall Loop Trail. Turn left to head back across the top of the cliff.
One of the first places you'll come to is Diamond Point Overlook. If you've ever rafted the New River, you might recall a point where the cliff line above you juts out into the Gorge. (From the river it looks as though the cliff ends.) That's Diamond Point. In the photo, Michelle is looking out over Double Z, Seldom Seen (because the river was at about 16 feet that day), Hook 99, Harmon's and Greyound Bus.
Once you've had your fill of overlooks (does anybody ever really have their fill of overlooks?) continue along the trail until you're back at your car.
If you're interested in a longer version of the Endless Underworld Hike, pass the Honeymooners' Ladders and continue along the bottom of the cliff for maybe 1/2-3/4 mile more. Eventually, you'll hit yet another system, called the Miner's Ladders. Take that to the top and then head back left. Be careful if it's close to dark, though. The extension can potentially add several hours to your walk.
With a roundtrip walk of slightly more than three miles, this moderate trail will take you to the single best view of the Bridge.
But in that two miles, you lose almost 900 feet of elevation… and then gain it all back again.
From Adventures on the Gorge, as you drive south over the Bridge on your way to the trail head, look to your left. You'll see a rocky point jutting out into space on a thin ridge, some 800 feet above the New River. That's your destination! Get Directions.
1. Park at the Long Point trail head, about a 15 minute drive from Adventures on the Gorge (see map.) Facing the back of the parking lot, there are two trail heads. You want the the one on your right. As you start out, you'll see a sign that says, "Long Point 1.6 miles."
2. Don't detour. Stay on the wide, main trail. When you're getting close, the trail will begin to slope downward, and when your arrival at Long Point is imminent, it will steepen and narrow.
3. By the time you exit the forest onto the rocky ridge, either side of it will be in spitting distance. Be especially careful of the edges. Both of them are a long way down, and there are no railings or other barriers. Expect a fall to painful… or worse.
4. The Long Point Trail dead ends at Long Point itself. We hope you brought a camera! Simply reverse your walk when it's time to go.
Kaymoor Bottom (very strenuous!)
The hike to Kaymoor Bottom (AKA, "the Stairs") is local favorite with history and exercise aplenty.
Veritably overflowing with New River Gorge coal history, this hike is also a favorite work-out zone of physically fit locals. You see, as the crow flies, the round-trip hike to Kaymoor Bottom is short, no more than two miles. But in that two miles, you lose almost 900 feet of elevation… and then gain it all back again.
1. Park at on the rim of the Gorge at Kaymoor Top, abut 20 minutes from Adventures on the Gorge. Get Directions.
2. From where you parked, hike back along the gravel road about 200 feet, until you see a wide trial that aims into the New River Gorge. This steep trail will take through two side-by-side cliff bands and under a waterfall until you reach the bench road. Here's your first shot at some real history, because you'll hit the road right at the old Kaymoor Mine entrance.
3. From the bench road, you'll see a set of wooden stairs that descends deep into the Gorge. There are more than 800 of them, but when you arrive at the bottom, you'll be treated to one of the best ghost towns around. The massive building in front of you is the defunct coal tipple. Explore below this and you'll find train tracks with coal carts still on them and an enormous bank of brick coke ovens. Be forewarned, while it's easy to walk on top of or inside the ovens, we don't recommend it. Remember, they're old and unstable.
4. Reverse your path up 800+ stairs and the steep trail back to your car at the rim of the gorge. Good luck!