TN-VA-WV: Stop 3, New River Gorge National Park-Day 3

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Wednesday was our last day at our newest national park so we tried to be sure we had done the most important items on the long list of opportunities in the park.  We began the day heading back to the northern end of the park.  We stopped to get a biscuit for breakfast at a regional chain Tudor’s Biscuit World.  Very good and very large biscuits.  From there we went to our main hike of the day, Long Point.  It’s only about1 ¾ mile hike but the payoff at the end is another great view of the bridge and the gorge.  At the start of the trail there is a crushed stone section but it quickly changes to the all too familiar rocks, roots and rhododendrons.  It’s classified as a moderate hike but we would really call it pretty easy except for the scramble up and down to Long Point at the very end.  The beautiful panoramic views of the gorge and the bridge make this another must do hike.

After a last quick stop at the Canyon Rim Visitors Center, we headed south to the Sandstone area of the park.  We did have to make one quick stop at Dairy Queen because we had just completed a hike. Our visit to the Sandstone Visitor Center meant we visited all four of the New River Gorge visitor centers.  There was another short film to watch and of course we stamped our passport book.  The Sandstone Falls are one of the attractions in this area of the park so we drove toward Hinton to the Overlook to take a look.  Unfortunately with the trees in full leaf, there was not much to see but a few small glimpses of the falls.  So we drove on towards Hinton which is another interesting community at the bottom of the gorge.  On the drive down to the bottom you have the mountain immediately to the left of the road, the railroad track immediately to the right and immediately to the right of the track there is a small sliver of land where the homes are built.  When we finally reached the bottom of the gorge there is a larger than expected although still small quaint little town of Hinton with several interesting shops and restaurants. After a drive back up the other side of the river we finally came to the Sandstone Falls.  At only about 30 feet, they aren’t nearly as high as many we have seen but there still very pretty falls reaching all the way across the river.  There was also another nice little boardwalk hike to reach the viewpoint of the falls.  Rain was on the way and so we headed back to the truck and then back to Fred.

So, how did we feel about our newest national park?  We had a great experience enjoying more of God’s creation.  We arrived midday Monday and spent 2 ½ active days in the there.  For us this was just about the right amount of time to get a really good feel for the park.  We did not have time to some of the longer or more strenuous hikes.  If you are primarily looking to drive to the sights, you could probably see most of the high points in about 1 ½ days.  The gorge is a beautiful area that we are thankful the NPS is working to preserve.  We hope to take a train ride through the gorge on a fall visit in the next year or two.

TN-VA-WV: Stop 3, New River Gorge National Park-Day 2

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Tuesday was another beautiful day in Little Beaver State Park, Beaver, WV.  Last week when we looked at the forecast for this week it was predicted that we would have rain every day this week.  So glad we didn’t change our plans!  We are having so much fun in New River Gorge National Park and so far have had NO rain.

We were on the road early because we scheduled a bridge tour for 9:00.  The New River Gorge bridge is at the north end of the park and we are camped on the south end, about an hour away.  We arrived about 8:00 at Bridge Walk Tours and had time to go across the highway to the Canyon Rim Visitor Center to pick up some maps and also walk down to the viewpoint for the Bridge – 164 steps down and 164 back up – before our tour began.  Our tour guide was very informative and we learned a lot.  The construction on the iconic bridge over the New River Gorge was completed on October 22, 1977. It is inspected once or twice each year and during this inspection every bolt and piece of steel is inspected inside (the hollow areas) and out.  It is the longest single arch bridge in the western hemisphere.  It is the 3rd longest single arch bridge in the world.  It is the second highest vehicle carrying bridge in the US at 876 feet.  The bridge tour allowed us to walk across this bridge (3030 feet) on the 24” wide catwalk under the vehicle platform (highway).  We were attached by a harness so that there was no way for us to fall or jump off the bridge. It was very cool.

After the bridge tour, we went back to the visitor center and talked with the people there about various hikes.  Before lunch we decided to drive the Fayette Station Road which is the old road and bridge across the gorge.  Instead of the 44 seconds it takes to cross the new bridge, the Fayette Station Road takes about 1 1/2 hour to drive to arrive at the same place. The Fayette Station Road is a beautiful scenic and very interesting drive but surely the people trying to commute to work each day do not want to go back to the old road.

After grabbing a bite for lunch we then drove to the Endless Wall trailhead to start our hike for the day.  It was about a 3 mile hike through the shaded woods to Diamond Point with many viewpoints of the sandstone cliffs and great views of the gorge.  It was not as strenuous as the Canyon Rim Trail we hiked on Monday but was still a good hike.

To finish off our day, we made a trip to Thurmond.  Thurmond is about 40 minutes south of the Canyon Rim Visitor Center and is almost a ghost town.  It was once the heart of the gorge due to the trains running through the town and the coal mines in the area.  At one time there were 15 passenger trains arriving each day and in 1910 75,000 passengers passed thru the Thurmond depot.  The town now has 5 permanent residents, all of whom voted in the last municipal election – not many polling places can claim 100% of their residents vote. There is another Visitor Center at Thurmond in the restored train depot and the volunteer docent is excellent. There are a number of other exhibits and a walk thru “downtown” where there are more exhibits.  If you enjoy history and quirky little places, Thurmond is a must see when you are in the area.  It is also a pretty drive. Amtrak still stops in Thurmond and we just may plan a train trip through the gorge to see the fall leaves next year when we are back in this area. It was an active and full day but so much fun!

TN-VA-WV: Stop 3, New River Gorge National Park-Day 1

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

We woke to another beautiful day Monday in Draper, VA.  We had a leisurely breakfast, reviewed our route plan for the day and readied Fred for travel.  We knew it was going to be a short driving day and couldn’t check into our next campground before 1:00 so we were in no hurry.  We headed back to I-81 and had a beautiful drive to Beaver, WV to the Little Beaver State Park.  We weren’t expecting it, but we drove through two tunnels straight though the base of two mountains on I-77.  We have been told that they aren’t mountains because we are on a plateau but they sure look like mountains to us.  Little Beaver SP is about 15 min from the south end of New River Gorge National Park, our newest National Park and the purpose for our visit here.  We got Fred parked and setup quickly.  We have a great fully shaded site that we are enjoying since the temperatures are back in the 80’s. Fred is so much easier to keep cool in the shade.

As soon as we were settled, we headed toward the national park.  Along the way we spotted the Grandview Diner and Grandview Country store. Both required a visit.  We had a BLT and a homemade cheeseburger at the diner.  We will probably go back there again before we leave.  The country store had some great looking produce as well as jelly, jam, candy, furniture, gravel, fertilizer and anything else you might want. Interesting place.  Then we headed to the park’s Grandview Visitors Center. (They have four Visitors Centers.)  First, we got our Park Passport stamped, and picked up some maps, and then we were off to explore the park.  We first went to the main overlook to get our first look at the New River Gorge.  Wow, impressive!  It is grand.  We hiked a short, easy Tunnel trail and then headed out on the more strenuous Grand View Rim Trail. Beautiful hike.  Peaceful, lots of shade and birds singing everywhere.  Surprise! When we made it to the end of the trail at Turkey Spur Rock, we still had to climb 150 steps to the top to enjoy the amazing view.  It was worth it.  Of course, then we had 150 steps back down and the return hike to the truck.  It was all good!   Another wonderful day enjoying God’s creation in places we had never visited and we get to add West Virginia to our map.

TN-VA-WV: Stop 2, Draper, VA

Monday, July 5, 2021

Saturday morning we left Crossville, TN driving east on I-40 and then north on I-81 to Draper, Virginia.  A new state for us.  We don’t fill in a state on our RVing map until we have spent the night in the RV there.  Saturday night qualified us to count Virginia.  Draper is a tiny little community just off I-81.  Draper Mercantile is a Harvest Hosts (HH) site and was a delight.  We wanted to get there before it closed at 3:00 pm because they announced after we made our arrangements that they would be closed on Sunday for Independence Day, and we wanted to visit all the shops and restaurant.  We arrived about 1:00 which gave us time to have a quick lunch at the Mercantile restaurant and then explore.  We each had hot sandwiches which were very good and added some of their chocolate/caramel/pecan fudge for dessert.  We love to find out of the way, interesting places that we would have never known about.  Harvest Hosts is a great resource for finding those locations.  Of course, most of the hosts have shops where you can purchase some of their products – produce, jellies, alpaca wool socks etc. and we always like to support the local small businesses so for us it’s really not free camping. Here we bought some fig jam and some of their branded salsa.  We parked at the Merc Farm about ¼ mile from the restaurant and shops.  At the farm there was a labyrinth, a fish pond surrounded by wonderful Adirondack chairs for relaxing, and some chickens that provided us some fresh eggs.  The farm sits up on a hill and the views from there are so beautiful. The people were all so welcoming and fun. Sunday morning we visited the Draper UMC and have never received a more warm welcome and from a church with less than 20 in attendance.  Sunday was also their first Sunday with their new pastor.  We had a great time visiting with the mostly elderly congregation and meeting their fairly young new preacher.

After lunch, we got our bikes out and road 8-9 miles on the New River Trail State Park.  This is a 57 mile rails-to-trails Virginia State Park.  The park goes right through Draper.  We rode from the farm less than ¼ mile to the trail.  The section we road runs along the bank of the New River for most of the way.  It is a mostly smooth crushed gravel surface that is shaded almost all the way. Very clean and well maintained.  It may be our new favorite rail trail.  Really nice ride!  What a fun and relaxing time we spent in Draper.  We do hope to return one day.