We spent the 4th of July weekend at New River Gorge National Park, staying at Little Beaver State Park at the south end of the National Park, near Beckley, WV. We got there Thursday, with two college buddies and their partners arriving on Friday. So it was a camping trip / college reunion.
Little Beaver is a fabulous State Park, even if we didn’t see any little beavers at the on site lake. There are 45 sites, of which 30 are W/E. They are all spacious, many are heavily wooded, and nobody is particularly far from the centrally located bath house. A+++++ - would stay there again.
We started Friday morning by driving to the north end of the park where the famous bridge is. After checking out the visitor center and the overlook, we followed the windy 8 mile barely one lane road down to the old bridge. When they built the new bridge, it reduced the time to cross the river from 45 minutes to about 4.5 seconds. We had a picnic lunch at the old bridge and spent some time checking out the shoreline of the river. Then we followed the road back up to the top and headed south to the next visitor center at Thurmond, WV.
Thurmond was a boom town 100+ years ago, with uncountable tons of coal flowing through town and over 100,000 rail passengers annually. It was the busiest train stop on the line. Today it’s not quite a literal ghost town, with the remnants of the brick downtown buildings framing the still active train tracks, and evidence of inhabited houses in the hills above town. The train station is still an active Amtrak stop too, with 2 or 3 passengers a week headed towards either Chicago or DC. Fun fact - you can take Amtrak from Thurmond to Lafayette, IN. Always chat with the park rangers folks, they know stuff.
After chatting with the ranger, exploring downtown, and walking the rail lines like a hobo, we headed on to our third stop of the day, the Grandview Visitor Center, located near our campground. As you might expect from the name, it features a grand view. We also did a short hike there. After that, we headed back to the campground as our friends were due in around dinner time. The evening featured some quality campfire, beer, and conversation as we reminisced about the good old days in college.
We woke up Saturday to a day of hit-or-miss thunderstorms. We took our time getting out of camp, finally heading over to the one visitor center that we didn’t get to on Friday. The Sandstone Visitor Center is 1.6 miles from Sandstone Falls, but it’s 1.6 miles as the crow flies. That is a 45-minute drive because of the lack of bridges over the river. It’s worth the effort, though, as the ½ mile walk from the parking area is loaded with scenic waterfalls. The drive parallels the river for a few miles, where you’ll get to a view numerous, probably immobile RVs permanently parked on the river. But hey, they have riverfront property and amazing views, so no judging here. We sampled the Beckley brewpub scene that evening, hitting Dobra Zupas. They have a two barrel brewery and a full service restaurant. I had the Irish Red Ale and one other that I’m blanking on. Both were solid beers. Those of us that ordered lower priced fare from the sandwich side of the menu greatly enjoyed our meals. Those that ordered off the pricier entrée list we not as enthusiastic. Saturday night was a repeat of Friday night, beers, campfires, and great conversations.
Sunday, we woke to pretty solid rain that let up around 11 AM, which was nice since we had a whitewater rafting trip booked that afternoon. The guys and one spouse headed out to go rafting after lunch, and by the time we were in the water the weather had cleared to blue skies and sunny. I’ve been whitewater rafting once, about 15 years ago with the Boy Scouts. It seemed exciting at the time, but looking back, they gave us 5 minutes of instruction and pushed us into the river with two adult scout leaders and 6 or 8 12-year-old boys in each raft. So it had to be a rather tame float. If they had done that on Sunday, my wife would be planning my funeral today. The lower New River trip we took was 3 hours on the water, and we traversed about 15 class III-V rapids. In the second rapid we hit, our river guide and ½ the boat got tossed into the churning whitewater. At that moment I was questioning my recent life choices, but we got everybody back into the boat and were able to navigate the much more difficult rapids ahead of us well, and had a great time doing so. But there is no way in hell that could happen without the experienced river guide steering and yelling paddling instructions to us. We ran into her in the bar afterwords and bought her a drink. She earned it. Then she told us that was only her 5th time guiding this particular trip. We bought her another drink.
Sunday night was a repeat of the previous nights, campfire, beer, good conversation.
We drove home on the 4th, with zero traffic issues.