We were in the area of the New River Gorge National Park for our weeklong vacation. We wanted to see everything that the area had to offer. We had a list of things that we definitely wanted to see. But we also had a list of places that would be ‘nice’ to see if we were able to work it into our week. The Sandstone Waterfalls were one of the items on the it would be nice to visit list.
Sandstone Falls is the largest waterfall in the New River Gorge National Park. It has a drop of about 15-20 feet. This waterfall spans the width of the New River, a width of 1500 feet and is divided by some islands. Located in the southern region of the New River Gorge National Park, Sandstone Falls would be easily to overlook. Many people associate the New River Gorge National Park with the New River Gorge Bridge and that would be an apt description. However, this National park offers so much more. There is hiking, abandoned towns, history and multiple waterfalls. The park is spread out over quite a few miles making some of the points of interest quite a distance away. The drive from the New River Gorge Bridge to Sandstone Falls took about an hour. It was a drive through gorgeous mountains and the last portion of the drive will take you along the edge of the New River. There are some places to pull off and take in the view of the river. We did this and as always the power of the New River blew our minds. One could just sit on the edge of the river and let the rumbling sounds of the rushing water soothe all worries.
The parking lot at Sandstone Falls is adequate and we had no difficulty finding a parking spot. We could hear the rumble of the falls and we were ready to get our first glimpse of natures glory. So we headed off to the trailhead. This trail is actually a boardwalk that will carry you across channels and over islands to various overlooks. It is a super easy hike and just what we needed after the awesome but intense hike down and back up Kaymoor Miners Trail to the abandoned coal mine. The boardwalk is handicap accessible and is only a quarter of a mile long, making it something that can be completed and enjoyed by anyone with any skill level. The level boardwalk was recently redone and was awesome! Periodically along the boardwalk path there were larger areas that offered vantage points where we could stop and see various areas of the Sandstone Waterfalls. We stopped at each area and took in the beauty. It is awe inspiring and we allowed the nature to wash over us at each overlook.
Along the boardwalk there are steps down onto the islands so that a visitor can actually access the waters edge. Of course we went to the rivers edge. We did not get into the water, but there have been multiple accidents here at the falls over the years, so use precaution. One of the areas that allow you to step off of the boardwalk is the Island Loop Trail.
Island Loop Trail
I would highly recommend this trail if you are in the area. This trail will take you on journey around one of the island at the Sandstone Falls. This one half mile trail is level, there will be little to no inclines. There will be some rocky areas, but they are easily navigable. What you will get in return is close up view of the river and a walk through an island that once had a grist mill and was farmed. Sadly, we could see no evidence of that history and instead you can see how nature is reclaiming the island. It was still an amazing hike because of that abundant nature. The beavers were doing their job quite well as we saw quite a bit of evidence of their hard work and we could even spy a beaver dam in on of the channels between islands.
A drive to Sandstone Falls might be a bit longer than you are planning but if you are visiting New River Gorge, the trip is well worth it! For us, it was the perfect recovery day after a few intense days of hiking. The easy boardwalk made it an enjoyable retreat to a powerful piece of nature.
I have heard so much about the New River Gorge Bridge! Jason had always wanted to see the the bridge and I had grown interested through hearing about him talk about this bridge. We were in Western West Virginia to visit the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum and realized that the New River Gorge was only an hour away. We had to go! Completed in 1977, The New River Gorge Bridge opened as the worlds longest single span arch bridge. It held that record for 26 years. Even now, it remains the fourth largest single span bridge. The bridge was built as a means of traveling from one side of the gorge to the other. Before the completion of this bridge traversing from one side to the other required a 40 minute trip down to the bottom of the gorge and back up the other side. The new bridge reduced the travel time to roughly one minute.
National Park Service Visitor Center
We arrived at the new river gorge around lunch time. We couldn’t wait to lay our eyes on this bridge that we had heard so much about! We immediately headed to the National Park Service Visitor Center parking. I knew that the actual visitor center was closed due to the pandemic, but the website had indicated that the boardwalks and overlooks were open. While it would have been nice to be able to see and learn more about the bridge , I was grateful that I would still be able to visit the overlooks. After all, that was what I came for! We parked in the parking lot at the National Park visitors center. We were ready to get our first taste of the New River Gorge Bridge!
There were signs that indicated the direction to the overlook. The path quickly turns into a wooden boardwalk. The walk is easy and in just a few short moments you will come to the first overlook. We could see the bridge and we stood in awe for a bit.
AThis boardwalk trail was not over though. There are a series of steps that head down to a second overlook. We didn’t have to ponder long. Although as we headed down there was a bit of trepidation about the return climb up the steps. Halfway down the steps there is a nice area that includes some benches if you need a break. We reached the bottom and the view was spectacular. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized exactly how deep this gorge is and how utterly mammoth this bridge really is.
The hike back up isn’t too bad. We were out of breath but it only took a few minutes. We decided to walk a bit around the visitor center area and we came to a second overlook. This on also had some neat displays showing information about the bridge.
After we had explored all we could see we headed out. It wasn’t until the next day that we explored the bridge more fully.
Fayette station road
The road that up until 1977 had been the primary means to get from one side of the gorge to the other is called the Fayette Station Road. It is still open and the visitor center offers audio tours of this road. I knew from my pre-trip research that we could stream the audio tour in lieu of going into the visitor center (which was closed). Perfect! We happily headed on this tour. The audio tour is well done. It gives the history and background of this road that winds down and then back up the mountain utilizing switchbacks while carrying you by sheer rock walls and waterfalls.
Along the way there are ample opportunities to stop to view the New River Gorge Bridge. Each different view and angle only reinforces the mammoth proportions of this bridge. At the bottom of the gorge there is camp/day use area with plenty of parking. This allowed us the chance to view up close the river that runs through the gorge. We saw kayakers drop into the water, fisherman fishing and swimmers enjoying the cool temperature of the water on a hot day. We took the opportunity to walk back to the bridge that spans the water at the bottom of the gorge. It was here that we were given a full view of the bridge.
andThe Fayette Station Road has a few pull offs that are at trailheads. We hiked one of the trails for a bit, enjoying the flowing water of streams and the gushing waterfalls that the trail took us too.
The overlooks located at the visitor center and the views of the new River Gorge bridge from the Fayette Station were spectacular and made the bridge experience a most amazing part of this trip! The new River Gorge is definitely a must see location!
For More West Virginia travel, visit the Museum of American Glass in Weston, WV and Thurmond and abandoned town in the New River Gorge Area.
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