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

At Grandview, you are very close to trailheads that provide access to Glade Creek, a shady trout stream that flows into the New River. A 5.6-mile abandoned rail line runs along the stream with its numerous swimming holes and samll cascades. Check with the National Park Service for updates on trailhead access.

Grandview is also home to Theatre West Virginia that stages outdoor dramas from June through August. Call 800-666-9142 for more information.

The shows include "Honey in the Rock" and "Hatfields & McCoys," plus musicals "The Jungle Book" and "All Shook Up."

They are staged from mid-June to late August.

Tickets are $19 for adults, $17 for senior citizens and $9 for children unhder 12. There are also discounts for being American Automobile Association members.

For theater information, write to Theatre West Virginia, P.O. Box 1205, Beckley, WV 25802,304-256-6800 or 800-666-9142, www.theatrewestvirginia.com.

For Grandview information, call 304-763-3715 or 304-763-3145.

You will find the very impressive Sandstone Falls to the southeast near Hinton.

It is the largest waterfall within the federally designated national river and one of the most-photographed falls in the state of West Virginia.

The north-flowing stream drops 10 to 25 feet at Sandstone Falls. The river is about 1,500 feet wide and divided by a series of islands.

At low water, Sandstone Falls is a series of small waterfall, separated by islands and rocky outcroppings.

At high water, the New River thunders over the cascades and sends a watery spray into the air.

The average flow is about 8,000 cubic feet per second. The highest recorded stream volume was 246,000 cubic feet per second on Aug. 15, 1940.

I visited Sandstone Falls in April at very high water.

It looked and sounded like Niagara Falls. The water was thundering over the drop. It was pretty awesome — even from a distance.

You can only view Sandstone Falls in sections. It's not all visible at once. Sandstone Falls are 8.5 miles north of Hinton.

You can get up an up-high look at the falls from 600 feet above the river on state Route 20. That overlook is 3 miles south of Interstate 64 and 8.5 miles north of Hinton.

To get an up-close look at the falls, you have to travel through Hinton and then head north on River Road (state Route 26). It runs north on the west side of the New River from state Route 20. It is a one-lane road most of the way.

At the falls, you will find an accessible boardwalk that crosses two bridges and leads to observation decks and islands below the falls.

You are a bit closer to the cascades on the west bank. The falls on the east side of the river are a little farther away.

There is a half-mile loop trail that circles the largest island below the falls.

The land around Sandstone Falls was once timbered, farmed and grazed. A grist mill and a ferry operated below the falls.

Today an unusual ecosystem thrives below the falls: an Appalachian riverside flat-rock community.

Floods have periodically swept over the hard, horizontal sandstone. That has carried away soil and vegetation. Only plants that withstand such conditions survive on the rocks.

Sandstone Falls is a popular fishing spot for smallmouth bass and catfish.

It has also been the site of a number of drownings over the years.

The New River is one of the oldest in the world, going back 65 million years to the ancient Teays River. The stream falls 750 feet in 50 miles but its southern section near Hinton is rather placid and calm. There are a few small rapids but it's ideal for beginners.

It was named an American Heritage River in 1998. It is one of 14 streams to be so designated.

Nearby is Brooks Falls offers river ledges and a watery hole. It sits next to the road as you head from Hinton to Sandstone Falls.

From that trailhead, you can access the Big Branch Trail, a streuous, 2-mile loop known for its small waterfalls, wildflowers and old farmsteads.

The National Park Service opened the Sandstone Visitor Center in 2003 in the hamlet of Sandstone.

The facility focuses on the New River watershed, its natural and cultural history and its activities over the years including timbering and coal mining.

It offers educational exhibits on the park, its resources and its heritage.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except a few holidays.

For information, call 304-466-0417.

Nearby Hinton, once a major rail town on the New River, has its own historic district that is on the National Register of Historic Places. A walking tour of the downtown area is available.

For park information, contact New River Gorge National River, P.O. Box 246, Glen Jean, WV 25846, 304-465-0508, www.nps.gov/neri.

For tourist information, contact the Southern West Virginia Convention & Visitors Bureau, P.O. Box 1799, Beckley, WV 25802, 800-VISIT WV, www.visitwv.com.

Also the Summers County Chamber of Commerce, 238 Main St., Hinton, WV 25951, 304-466-5332, www.summerscountychamberofcommerce.com.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.