The New River Visitor's Center can only give you a background on the river. To really experience it you should get down and into a boat -- white water rafting for instance. Or fishing from the banks of the river.
Since we didn't have time to fish, and it was too cold to get into a raft, we drove up to the Sandstone Falls Overlook. The falls are 25 foot high and are located 8 miles north of the town of Hinton on State Route 26. Parking, picnic tables, and portable toilets are available at the falls. You can walk the can walk the ¼ mile handicapped accessible boardwalk to view the falls and a one-mile loop trail around the island. You can access this spot by following the New River Auto Tour (URL below)
We didn't even do that. We just went to the Overlook on the winding Route 20. From high above the river, you have views of the falls which stretch across the river. In the winter is is more visible because of no leaves on the trees. It's hard to imagine how big the falls are though when you look at them from above.
There are picnic tables near the parking area. (photo 3) I walked a little way down the trail. While we were there a couple of bikers stopped by to use the portapots (photo 5).
Like most National Park Visitor's Centers, there are appropriate information and park related materials for sale. If you miss the chance to buy when you are there, you can buy on the internet.
What to buy: Generally speaking the kinds of things are in six categories
Maps, Posters, and Prints
Games and Collectables
Pins and Patches,
Audio and Video, and
What to pay: Pictures and prints from $3 to $40.00
Games (Bioviva and Birdwatching) $33-35.00
New River Pin or Patch ($2.95), or Video ($9.95)
Books - $5 to $50.00
According to websites (because I have not kayaked) the Upper New River place for frst-timers to learn to kayak.
The Lower New River features bigger rapids, rocks and drops.
American Whitewater Affiliation Scale of River Difficulty:
Class I: Easy. Fast moving water with riffles and small waves. Few obstructions, all obvious and easily missed with little training. Risk to swimmers is slight; self-rescue is easy.
Class II: Novice. Straightforward rapids with wide, clear channels which are evident without scouting. Occasional maneuvering may be required, but rocks and medium sized waves are easily missed by trained paddlers. Swimmers are seldom injured and group assistance, while helpful, is seldom needed. Rapids that are at the upper end of this difficulty range are designated "Class II+".
Class III: Intermediate. Rapids with moderate, irregular waves which may be difficult to avoid and which can swamp an open canoe. Complex maneuvers in fast current and good boat control in tight passages or around ledges are often required; large waves or strainers may be present but are easily avoided. Strong eddies and powerful current effects can be found, particularly on large-volume rivers. Scouting is advisable for inexperienced parties. Injuries while swimming are rare; self-rescue is usually easy but group assistance may be required to avoid long swims. Rapids that are at the lower or upper end of this difficulty range are designated "Class III-" or "Class III+" respectively.
Equipment: The New River Gorge National River is the most popular whitewater river on the East Coast, .. for the variety of boating trips available along its 53 miles in West Virginia. The Upper New River is perfect for easy-does-it float trips and splashing in duckies with the kids. For the more adventuresome, the Lower New River rages with big time Class III-V rapids, with most whitewater trips finishing beneath the massive New River Gorge Bridge.
From one of the 20 some outfitter's website:
The basic rental fee includes the use of either a canoe or kayak; paddle(s); personal flotation device(s); maps; drybag; and shuttle service. An extra paddle will be supplied for each canoe during overnight trips. Helmets and spray-skirts can also be provided.
Things to Bring:
1. Bathing suit or shorts & T-shirt.
2. Old tennis shoes, water shoes, or sandals - NO FLIP FLOPS!
3. Sun screen and a hat.
4. If you wear glasses, a retainer strap is recommended.
5. Towel and dry clothes for after the trip.
6. In cool weather, you should wear wool clothing and a windbreaker or a rain jacket.
7. Please do not bring along any jewelry or other valuables.
8. Plenty to drink!! Cold drinks for hot weather and warm drinks for cold weather. (You can even pack a picnic.)
9. Valid Virginia Fishing License is required for all persons age 16 or older planning to fish. If you are a non-resident of Virginia, you are required to have a permit if you are 12 or older.
Things to Remember:
1. Show up ON TIME...other customers may be on your shuttle and do not want to wait for you and YOU MAY BE LEFT BEHIND!
2. No glass containers or Styrofoam coolers.
3 . No pets.
4 . No littering.
5 . Drugs and alcohol have no place near a river.
6 . Age, height, and weight requirements vary by activity. Please call for details.
7 . Trips run rain or shine. We reserve the right to cancel or postpone any river trip due to unfavorable river levels and/or weather conditions (your choice of a refund or a voucher).
8 . Deposit is forfeited in the event of a "no show."
As with most National parks, there is a movie about the park - most of the time these movies are free and it is always a good idea to watch it. At this park the visitor's center has two videos; One on the construction of the New River Gorge Bridge, and the other on how the forces of nature created the massive V-shaped gorge.
Fondest memory: You can see some of what the movie/video shows on uTube 26:47 Upheaval ,The Story of the New River Gorge
The first of two half-hour presentations, "Upheaval: The Story of the New River Gorge" explores the history and controversy of a region formed over millions of years as the ancient New River -- now federally protected as a national river -- carved its way through the Appalachian Mountains, following a violent collision of continental plates. West Virginia Public Broadcast produced "Upheaval" in partnership with the National Park Service. The natural resources of the New River Gorge fueled the Industrial Revolution and spawned the legend of steel driver John Henry.