One of America’s newest national park resides in the mountains of West Virginia: the New River Gorge. Visitors can learn about the rich history of indigenous people, pioneers, railroaders, coal miners, and loggers. New River Gorge is also a spectacular destination for outdoor enthusiasts, with opportunities for climbing, biking, hiking, whitewater rafting, fishing, and camping. We have enjoyed visiting this area since before it was a national park and would encourage anyone to spend some time there.
Let’s look at seven of the best spots for New River Gorge camping inside and outside the park. Then you can start planning your next adventure to the Mountain State!
Where Is the New River Gorge?
New River Gorge is east of Interstate 77 and north of Interstate 64 in southern West Virginia in the Appalachian Mountains. Beckley is the nearest city. The Canyon Rim Visitor Center is at the northernmost end of the park, sitting off Highway 19. The Thurmond Depot Visitor Center is the next location as you travel south along the park’s main road.
As you reach the southern half of the New River Gorge, you’ll find the Grandview Visitor Center between the Army Camp Campground and the Glade Creek walk-in sites. Finally, at the far southern end, the Sandstone Visitor Center sits off Interstate 64. Thurmond and Grandview are only open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. However, the two main visitor centers, Canyon Rim and Sandstone are usually open daily.
The park is open year-round, 24 hours a day. There is no entrance fee. Within the New River Gorge, guests have access to primitive camping, rafting, rock climbing, hiking, and more. However, there are no full-service campgrounds within the park’s boundaries.
When Did New River Gorge Become a National Park?
The New River is famous for its fishing and whitewater boating. In 1978, Congress designated the New River a national river, protecting the rare plants that live here, the free-flowing nature of the waterway, and the countless recreational opportunities in the area.
On December 27, 2020, President Trump signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which included the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve Designation Act. It redesignated this national river as a national park and preserve.
The New River Gorge National Park and Preserve protects 53 miles of the New River and over 70,000 acres of the gorge that this river created. As the longest and deepest river gorge in the Appalachian Mountains, the New River Gorge is home to native fish you’ll find nowhere else. The forests, cliffs, rimrock, wetlands, and abandoned mine portals are habitats for the endangered Virginia big-eared and Indiana bats, the endangered eastern hellbender, the black-bellied salamander, the cave salamander, and the Allegheny woodrats, a species of special concern in West Virginia.
Popular Things to Do At New River Gorge National Park
The beautiful scenery and abundant wildlife are two significant features of the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. But there are also many outdoor recreational opportunities. When you visit, plan on spending a few days enjoying your mountain escape.
There are over 1,400 established rock climbs to experience while camping at New River Gorge. The 30- to 120-foot sandstone cliffs of the Lower New River make this area one of the most challenging rock climbing locations in the east. Although rock climbing can occur at any time during the year, late spring and mid-September to late October are the best months. To read more about climbing regulations, visit the New River Gorge website.
If you prefer to stay on the ground, mountain biking is a trendy activity. Due to the mountainous terrain, the New River Gorge is one of the most popular destinations for mountain biking trips in the eastern U.S. You’ll also find outfitters providing bike tours. It’s crucial to note that traditional bikes are welcome on many trails, but they only permit e-bikes on park roads open to motor vehicle use and the Stone Cliff Trail.
Pro Tip: Bring your mountain bikes on your adventure by installing one of these Best RV Bike Racks on your rig.
Trails within New River Gorge National Park and Preserve range from 0.25 to 7 miles long. There’s a hiking trail for everyone! You’ll find flat, paved walking trails and steep, challenging trails. You can find more information on all the trails within the park on the park’s website. You’ll also want to pick up a park map at a visitor center or talk to a ranger about suggestions for hikes by your ability and experience.
If you want to get into the water while camping, whitewater rafting is one of the best ways to experience New River Gorge. The 53 miles of the protected free-flowing New River begin at Bluestone Dam and end at Hawks Nest Lake.
The southern part of the river contains easier rapids, up to Class III. Fishing and primitive camping are also trendy activities in this area of the park. New or beginner rafters should plan a trip here.
The northern section of the river contains Class III to Class V rapids. These are some of the biggest rapids in the eastern U.S. They’re powerful, huge boulders obstruct them, and they travel over hazardous rocks. Only experienced rafters should take on this section of the New River. You’ll find information about commercial outfitters licensed by the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources on the park’s website.
Pro Tip: Make a splash on one of these 10 Best Whitewater Rafting Trips in the US for Beginners.
Finally, your visit to New River Gorge National Park and Preserve isn’t complete unless you cast a line. There are numerous public river access points within the park. As water temperatures transition between the cold winter to the warm summer during the spring and fall, the fish are more active, making these months prime fishing season. Popular species include smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, striped bass, walleye, muskellunge, crappie, bluegill, carp, flathead catfish, and channel catfish. Everyone must have a West Virginia fishing license. You can purchase a year-long or 3-day tourist license at a local sporting goods store or bait shop.
Is New River Gorge Good for Camping
Primitive camping is available at New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. However, there are also full-service campgrounds in the gateway communities surrounding the park. New River Gorge camping areas sit along the river and have no drinking water, no hookups, and limited restrooms.
Sites are first-come, first-served; they don’t accept reservations. If you experience New River Gorge camping, you’ll enjoy the beautiful scenery, the sound of the rushing river, and the chance to see various animals.
Camping within the park is free, and they limit stays to 14 days in the same area. If you want a mountain camping getaway, the New River Gorge is an excellent option.
7 Best Spots for New River Gorge Camping
Below are the top four ranked campgrounds in the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve and three highly-rated nearby campgrounds. There are nine primitive camping locations within the park. If you want to check out all the options, look at the park’s website, which also gives camping regulations and information about backcountry camping.
1. Army Camp Campground
The national park service Army Camp Campground is in the central to southern part of the park near the Grandview Visitor Center. The campground is right along the new river. You’ll follow an unmarked dirt road, off Route 41 near Prince. There are 11 tent and RV sites suitable for smaller RVs (less than 25′) but no amenities. Composting toilets are available year-round. Like all New River Gorge camping spots, there are no reservations and no fees at the Army Camp Campground.
2. Glade Creek Campground
Farther south on the other side of the Grandview Visitor Center is the Glade Creek Campground. You’ll follow Glade Creek Road for six miles off Route 41 to the campground. There are six walk-in tent sites and five drive-in sites. Big rigs shouldn’t attempt to camp here. Sites are for small or medium RVs (25′ or less). Like the Army Camp Campground, there are no services, but there are composting toilets year-round.
3. Meadow Creek Campground
The Meadow Creek Campground is for tent camping only. You must cross over railroad tracks that are dangerous for RVs and longer vehicles. It’s about a mile north of the Sandstone Visitor Center at the southern end of the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. There are 26 sites and composting toilets.
4. Grandview Sandbar Campground
The Grandview Sandbar Campground is north of the Grandview Visitor Center. Ten sites will accommodate tents or small-to-medium-sized RVs, six walk-in tent sites, and two accessible sites by the river. Like the previous four spots for New River Gorge camping, Grandview Sandbar Campground has no amenities, and sites are first-come, first-served.
5. Arrowhead Bike Farm
For outdoor enthusiasts who plan on biking during their camping trip to New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, the Arrowhead Bike Farm is an excellent option. Sitting about five miles from the Canyon Rim Visitor Center at the northern end of the park, the Arrowhead Bike Farm is convenient to biking and hiking trails within the national park, Arrowhead Trails, Fayetteville Park, the Kanawha State Forest, and Little Beaver State Park.
RV sites are around $45/night and come with a 30 amp hook-up and a picnic table. These sites can accommodate RVs up to 28 feet long. There’s a bathhouse and a water fill-up station but no dump station on the property.
6. Rifrafters Campground
The only spot for New River Gorge camping with full hookups is Rifrafters Campground. There are full hookup sites, partial hookup sites, tent sites, cabins, laundry, restrooms, a dump station, and a playground onsite. This campground is also the only option for big rigs near the national park. It’s only about four miles from the Canyon Rim Visitor Center.
The nightly rate is around $45-48, but they accept military discounts and Good Sam member discounts. The rate is good for two people. Children aged 6-17 are around $5 per night. Rifrafters Campground also offers weekly and monthly rates.
7. Little Beaver State Park
About 13 miles from the Sandstone Visitor Center at the southern end of the national park is Little Beaver State Park. This is an option for visitors who need hookups but prefer the more natural state park camping experience over a resort-like campground. Not only does this state park offer proximity to the trails and activities at the national park, but it also has 20 miles of trails and an 18-acre lake of its own.
The campground is only open from spring through fall. It offers 16 sites with water hookups and 30 sites with electric and water hookups. Other campground amenities include a bathhouse, laundry facilities, a dump station, picnic tables, grills, firewood, and ice. Non-electric sites start at around $37/night, while electric sites start at approximately $50/night.
Is Backcountry Camping Allowed in New River Gorge?
If you prefer backcountry camping to campground camping, there are options in the New River Gorge. Most areas suitable for this camping type are close to trails or along the river. However, they prohibit camping within 100 feet of developed trails, state roads, parking lots, boat launch areas, the visitor center, park structures, the top or bottom of cliffs, and historic areas.
When you arrive at a visitor center, you don’t need a permit. But you should discuss your camping plans with a ranger and get the latest information about weather, wildlife sightings, and river levels. Always use existing sites if possible and follow the Leave No Trace principles.
Enjoy America’s Newest National Park With New River Gorge Camping
New River Gorge camping can be a relaxing way to enjoy the West Virginia landscape or an adventure with biking, whitewater rafting, and rock climbing excursions. But if you want to camp with hookups or have a larger RV, you’ll have to stay outside the park. Even then, there are still options for a comfortable and convenient camping experience.
Have you visited America’s newest national park? Tell us about your experience in the comments!
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