Get your hiking boots on, we’re heading to Wild and Wonderful West Virginia for a series of adventures in the New River Gorge National Park area
Established in 2021, New River Gorge is America’s newest National Park (63rd) (It has been a National River and protected area since the 1970s)…the dramatic gorge and heavenly visits have long made this section of West Virginia a mountain lover’s dream. I’ve had it on my bucket list for years and am excited to finally explore Gorge Country.
In spite of its name, The New River is actually one of the oldest rivers in the world. It also is one of the only rivers in North America to flow south (Blowing Rock, NC) north to West Virginia.
Our journey began in Roanoke (VA):
We left Raleigh, NC and headed to Roanoke VA on Friday, October 28th – stopping in Roanoke VA on the way to attend the Titian to Monet exhibit at The Taubman Art Museum before continuing to West Virginia. You can read my post about that adventure here.
John Denver played in the background, setting the mood as my mother and I navigated the twisting, winding country roads from Roanoke VA to West Virginia’s New River Gorge Country.
The splendor of late October dazzled in the light of the noonday sun. Near Roanoke, th e leaves were breathing fire – colors of burnt orange, maple burnt red and golden yellow. The colors were so magnificent I wanted to hit the brakes with every bend in the road to take a picture – even mile was like a postcard from heaven…well ‘almost heaven…’
We crossed the West Virginia state line near White Sulphur Springs – home of the famed Greenbrier Resort and world renowned natural hot springs.
Surrounded by the Alleghany Mountains, The Greenbrier first welcomed guests as far back as 1778 as they sought healing from the natural mineral springs. It has been nicknamed ‘America’s Resort,’ having served a guest list of twenty-eight US Presidents over its 235 year history. While the 11,000 acre resort is opulent and exudes character, I have to admit I was a bit let down when we arrived at The Greenbrier. It is a gorgeous spot, but with hotel prices averaging $700 a night – even my CEO would hesitate to stay at the hotel. I think you need a happy balance between luxury and accessibility.
That being said, as a history buff who loves old hotels there is a certain mystery and magic in the place that would cause even the most prudent traveler to overspend on a night at The Greenbrier.To be transparent I’ve stayed at several luxury historic hotels in Boston to Chicago and Asheville and beyond and The Greenbrier is the one that was just a bit out of my budget. I just couldn’t justify the cost of spending $700 a night on a room. That is a plane ticket to Paris!
The good news is – they are open to the public for tours and lunch and dinner. This is a great option if you want to experience the luxury of Greenbrier without going bankrupt on accommodations. The hotel is known for their Christmas and Easter decor – so if you can visit during the holidays you are in for a treat!
- Fun facts about The Greenbrier:
- One of America’s oldest resorts
- 28 US Presidents have visited The Greenbrier
- Houses an underground bunker designed for protection during The Cold War
- Known for it’s colorful and iconic Draper Decor.
- Known for healing mineral springs
- Pro tip: While an overnight stay at The Greenbrier is a once in a lifetime experience, if you are on a budget, stop in for lunch or dinner – or even by their delicious candy shop. You can enjoy the scenery without shelling out $700.00 a night. (also check with The Greenbrier for any promotional specials throughout the year)
After a brief stop at The Greenbrier, we continued along creeks and rivers, rocks and mountains through West Virginia’s scenic byways towards Babcock State Park, on the cusp of The New River Gorge National Park area.
Words cannot describe the endless miles of gorgeous mountain scenery – each bit of highway hugging ancient rocks, rambling creeks and pastoral farmland.
The area around New River Gorge is a wonderland for adventure from historic sites, rivers, hiking trails, mountain culture,small town charm and more. You can easily spend a lifetime exploring this section of West Virginia…with only a few days we had prioritize a few highlights.
Our first stop in Gorge country – Babcock State Park. Located only twenty minutes from the New River Gorge National Park (Bridge/Canyon Visitor Center), Babcock is a MUST stop on your West Virginia Travels.
Pro tip: I always recommend detours to State Parks because they often provide unrivaled beauty and a window into the culture and history of the area.
West Virginia’s most visited state park, Babcock is the perfect blend of natural scenery, recreation and history. Spanning 4,127 acres of awe-inspiring scenery…the park offers over twenty miles of hiking trails,fifty-two campsites and a America’s most photographed grist mill:
The Glade Creek Grist Mill is a magnet for photographers and artists (myself included). It’s scenic location on the banks of Glade Creek (a tributary of The New River) surrounded by dense forest makes it an icon of the rustic and hearty history of mill life.
I have a soft spot for mill’s as my great-grandfather owned several corn mills in Wake County – I grew up hearing stories about ‘the old mill’ and Lassiter Corn Meal…
We arrived at Babcock just after three, the sun splitting through the sparsely clothed trees; many of the leaves had succumbed to the ground, but a few brilliant reds and orange browns remained clinging to the branches.
I assumed that The Glade Creek Grist Mill was original to the site, but while speaking to the mill tour guide, he explained:
‘The Glade Creek Grist Mill was built by the State of West Virginia from reclaimed wood and parts from three historic West Virginia grist mills. The current mill is a fully functional replica of the original Cooper’s Mill which was originally near the current site on Glade Creek.
The mill is dedicated as a living memorial to the over 500 mills that once operated throughout the state. The Glade Creek Grist Mill is operational throughout late spring through October. The corn mill made in the mill is sold in the gift shop.’
The mill is right on the backs of Glade Creek Falls. Rapids and waterfalls helped power mills with natural energy.
With the Glade Creek Grist Mill’s setting on the edge of waterfalls and surrounded by deep woods – it quickly becomes evident why so many artists make the pilgrimage for a chance to take a ‘shot’ of the mill.
And while the mill and falls are beautiful, my unexpected favorite highlight at Babcock State Park was the scenic overlook drive.
This rambling ascent takes you past the campsites to the top of the mountain with a 360 degree view including the distant New River Gorge.
Almost heaven = this view
Next we’ll travel to equally stunning Hawk’s Nest State Park, overlooking The New River Gorge…