Get a bird's-eye view of West Virginia's New River Gorge

By Bob Downing

Akron Beacon Journal

Published: Saturday, Aug. 20 2011 3:00 p.m. MDT

Sandstone Falls on New River north of Hinton, W.Va., drops 10 to 25 feet. The falls are 1,500 feet wide.

Bob Downing, MCT

HINTON, W.Va. — The southern half of the New River Gorge is like comedian Rodney Dangerfield.

It gets no respect.

Everyone loves the northern part of the gorge near Fayetteville with its whitewater rafting, hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, historic sites and spectacular Almost Heaven scenery. It's also where you will find the impressive U.S. 19 bridge over the New River.

The New River Gorge National River was created in 1978. It covers 70,000 acres and stretches 53 miles along the stream that starts in North Carolina and forms the Kanawha River at Gauley Bridge.

But the southern part of the gorge south of the old rail and coal town of Thurmond has its own attractions: especially Grandview, Sandstone Falls and the old rail town of Hinton.

There is also a green or environmentally friendly visitor center north of Hinton: the Sandstone Visitor Center at Sandstone.

Grandview offers, well, really grand views of the gorge.

The views of the New River Gorge are impressive from the three main overlooks at Grandview.

You are atop the gorge and cliffs: about 1,400 feet above the New River.

From the main lookout, you can view seven miles of the gorge, complete with still-active rail lines at the bottom of the canyon.

In fact, you are so high that are looking down on circling turkey and black vultures that are circling below.

In the early spring, the leaves have not yet emerged that increases into-the-gorge visibility.

You can look down to the old town of Quinnimont where the first coal was shipped from the New River Gorge in 1873 and its rail yard.

The North Overlook offers a view of the old Harrah farm and the horseshoe-shaped bend in the New River.

The Turkey Spur Overlook is the northern-most viewing spot at Grandview. It is accessible by vehicles. It is a two-mile drive. There are 150 steps to climb to the top overlook.

The Grandview overlooks are the highest along the New River in the federal park.

Grandview becamepart of the federal national river in 1990 after more than 50 years as one of West Virginia's most popular day-use state parks.

In 1939, the West Virginia Conservation Commission purchased the initial 50 acres for the park from the Admiralty Coal Co. Work on the park began in 1940 by the federal Civilian Conservation Corps.

The 892-acre area is east of Beckley off state Route 9 and about five miles north of Interstate 64. Use Exit 129.

Grandview is also widely known for its colorful-when-blooming rhododendrons.

There is a small visitors center that is open from noon to 5 p.m. daily from June through August, five short hiking trails stretching six miles along the rim, three overlooks, picnic areas and ranger-led walks and talks.

The Little Laurel Trail is two miles one-way and drops into the gorge near Prince. It follows an old road for two miles and goes past an old coal mine at Royal.

The Grandview Rim Trail runs 1.6 miles one way along the canyon's rim. It is the longest trail. It is a moderate hike with several short steep sections near Turkey Spur Overlook.

The half-mile Tunnel Trail offers rocky sandstone outcroppings. It short and offers the most shade.

The Castle Rock Trail is short (0.6 miles) and strenuous with rock walls and exposed coal seams.