The best of mountain beauty in the National Parklands

3 vast, protected National Parks Service landscapes stretch across Southern West Virginia— each stunning, full of history and abound with adventure.

The New River Gorge National Park, Bluestone National Scenic River and Gauley National Recreation Area are rugged mountain playgrounds, marked by a wild river and rugged, beautiful terrain.

Bluestone“Each of our parks has nuances,” said Trish Kicklighter, superintendent of the parks. “For example, the Bluestone is quiet and peaceful. There’s a solitude when you stand on the rim of the gorge. There are no roads through it, so it’s very unfragmented.”

The second most remote park is the Gauley, with a steep, tangled gorge so reclaimed by nature, the best way to explore it is by boat.

“The Gauley is known for its wild water,” Trish said. “The canyon is relatively inaccessible. Huge boulders really define the river and the whitewater.”

For a few weekends in the fall, the Gauley becomes one of the World’s Top 10 Whitewater Rivers. Water is released from the Summersville Lake, pouring a roaring rush of recreational waves over the jagged riverbed. Paddlers travel in from across the globe to raft the famous “Big 5” rapids, which end with a drop down a 14-foot waterfall.

Another whitewater river flows through the New River Gorge, home of the state’s iconic steel-arch bridge. Once a year, BASE jumpers leap 876 feet into the canyon for Bridge Day, the largest adventure festival of its kind in the world. The festival is right at home in the New River Gorge, where adventurers flock year-round to boat, climb the jagged sandstone cliffs, bike the hundreds of miles of rugged mountain trails, zipline, fish, ski and more.

“The New River Gorge has a more varied story to tell, including industrialization,” Trish said. “That is where you really get into the coal history. But it’s still very remote.”

“I personally find comfort in knowing when you go to these National Parks, those resources are going to be the same for your kids."

Trekking into the forests of the Gorge, among the natural wonders like tucked-away waterfalls, you can uncover forgotten coal town ruins. These once bustling mining villages are a lingering testament of industry, with gaping mouths of coke ovens, towering tipples and abandoned houses.

“I personally find comfort in knowing when you go to these National Parks, those resources are going to be the same for your kids,” Trish said. “I collect antique park photos. When you look at the ones from different times, you can recognize the same trees and rocks from one to another.”

It’s really the convergence of all the area’s assets that make the destination The Great American Vacation: 3 parks, natural beauty, rich history and more outdoor recreation than anywhere else in the East. And it’s tied together with affordable, unique places to stay, dine, shop and explore.

Here’s an overview of some of the best the parks have to offer:


New River Gorge Bridge & raft



  • The New River has whitewater rafting sections suitable for children as well as exciting rides for families. The Gauley River is one of the Top 10 Whitewater Rivers in the World.  
  • The Endless Wall Trail was named the #1 National Park Trail in the country by USA Today
  • Unique adventures in the New River Gorge include stunt rides in a WWII biplane and a Bridge Walk on the iconic span’s catwalk.


  • Fayetteville, with 10+ unique local restaurants and a host of quirky shops, this Budget + Travel “Coolest Small Town in America” is an artist and adventurer haven.
  • Hinton, bustling with new businesses as their historic district is revitalized, is full of unique rail history.  
  • Summersville is a serene place to relax on the lake, or at the local farm winery and distillery.