Wild and wonderful West Virginia: New River Gorge National Park – Sandstone

October 30th, 2022:

My mom and I started our New River Gorge adventure in the national park’s southern tip, Sandstone Falls.

Quick tip;

The New River Gorge spans 70,000 miles and is takes longer than you’d expect from point a to b given the fact you have to cut through backroads to ‘portage’ across the Gorge and reach rugged access points.

So take your time and enjoy the views – the good news is each byway from various access points offers heavenly views on scenic backroads.

The hour long drive from Beckley to the Sandstone Falls rambled through gorgeous forests, sweeping vistas. Highway 20 is a true mountian road, with winding switchbacks, curves and panoramas of the area.

We lucked out with the weather – at around sixty degrees and mild clouds. The overcast sky with streaks of blue, brought out the rich colors of the rusting leaves – their final hurrah before the impending frost of the coming weeks.

Sandstone Falls lies at the southern boundary of the New River Gorge and is a MUST VISIT in the park –

Sandstone Falls is the largest waterfall on the New River, spanning the river where it is 1500 feet wide. Divided by a series of islands the river drops 10 to 25 feet creating a series of mesmerizing waterfalls.

Sandstone Falls was forged by the powerful flow of the New River eroding the soft conglomerate rock layer that lies below the hard sandstone layer. Over millions of years as the river washed away the conglomerate beneath the harder standstone, the preciple of the falls and the great boulders below were created.

Sandstone Falls marks the transition zone of the New River from a broad river of large bottomlands, to a narrow mountain river roaring through a deep boulder strewn V- shaped gorge. The falls form the dramatic starting line for the New Rivers final rush trough the New River Gorge to its confluence with the Gauley River to form the Kanawha River.

A journey to Sandstone Falls provides a rare riverside scenic drive, the beautiful falls, and the dramatic interface of the New River’s transformation from a broad mountain stream into a raging whitewater gorge in its final descent through the Appalachian Mountains.

This is a crossroads as the New River transforms from wide mountain river into a raging whitewater gore in it’s final descent through the Appalachian Mountains.

As you drive to the falls you’ll hug the edge of banks of the New River – rapids rushing over strewn rocks. Trees and ferns find a home on the riverbank. This area is home to unique plant species, many that migrated from North Carolina up the New River.

Exploring Sandstone Falls:

  • There is an easy .5 mile out and back accessible boardwalk that takes you through lush forests along the banks of the river by the rushing rapids and water falls. I spent thirty minutes on this trail immersing myself in the beauty.

The boardwalk provides amazing views of the riverfront and falls – but if you are eager to venture into deeper backcountry Sandstone has several trails into the backcountry. Click here to learn more.

After exploring the falls, we stopped at the Sandstone Visitor Center – an excellent resource to learn about the park’s history, geology and recreational opportunties. The state of the art visitor center is LEED eco certified and the ground show a native garden.

The native garden surrounding the visitor center showcases local species alongside of native grassland. Native grasses and wildflowers provie habitats and food for native wildlife while helping to contribute to resource conservation. Milkweed attracts monarch butterflies . Worldwide, monarch populations are declining due to habitat loss; something as simple as a milkweed in your garden helps save the butterflies.

While in the Sandstone area, be sure to grab something to eat in the historic rail town of Hinton. I recommend The Market on Courthouse Square for great local eats.

Next up we’ll be heading north to the famed New River Gorge Bridge…

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