Visiting the New River Gorge Bridge Overlook (Canyon Rim Visitor Center)

New River Gorge Bridge from Overlook

Thirty–nine years ago, what we locals now call “the old way” was still just the way.  The prehistoric New River Gorge dissected Fayette County, West Virginia, forcing travelers of Route 19 to traverse a narrow and winding mountain road if they wanted to cross the gorge.  Not only were the bends and landslides on the road treacherous – particularly in the winter, the drive was also hazardous due to the countless logging and coal trucks barreling up and down the mountains.  Driving these roads thirty–nine years ago, 1976, America’s bicentennial, and the year before I was born was probably made even more dangerous due to drivers no longer looking at the road.  Instead, they were looking up at the massive expanses of iron and concrete that were now filling the sky between the mountains.  In less than a year, the New River Gorge Bridge would be finished, and the trip across the gorge – a trip that until then took nearly forty minutes – would take less than sixty seconds.

At 876', the New River Gorge Bridge towers over the river below.

At 876′, the New River Gorge Bridge towers over the river below.

Growing up just a few miles from the Gorge, I, like most locals, often took this magnificent feat for granted.  If I were traveling across the bridge, I’d typically look out across the expanse of mountains and down at the ancient New River below, but I didn’t put much thought into the bridge or how important it has been to this area of West Virginia.  I attended several Bridge Days (we have a day in October each year where we close the bridge and allow pedestrians to walk the 3,030’ across the gorge and to parachute down to the river below) as a child and a few as an adult.  As a schoolboy, I visited the New River Gorge Visitor Center and Overlook.  But as an adult, I put little thought into visiting the overlook.

Just a few days ago, while trying to find something to do for an afternoon, I decided that it was time for my family and I to visit the overlook and to appreciate the magnitude of the bridge and the gorge below.

View of the New River Gorge from the Canyon Rim Visitor Center

View of the New River Gorge from the Canyon Rim Visitor Center

We arrived early and decided to start with the visitor center first.  Inside, we found a variety of trinkets, books, and mementos available for those wishing to part with their cash.  Just as we do with every other location we visit, we limited our purchases to a single magnet which will accompany the hundred or more other souvenir magnets on our refrigerator.  After the money trap, the visitor center is a surprisingly nice place to visit.  The Park Service has collected quite a few historic photos that capture the process of building the bridge, the history of us gorge–dwelling mountaineers, the coal and timber industry, and the natural wonders of the area.  My favorite part of the visit was a collection of natural items found within the gorge.  I watched as my children touched snake skin, a turtle’s shell, several types of wildlife tracks, and a variety of leaves.  I have often complained that the skill I lack the most as a woodsman is tree and plant identification, but I am proud to say that I could identify nearly every leaf they had in the exhibit.

After leaving the visitor center, we walked to the first overlook, a site just a hundred or so yards from the building.  The walk is easy, and the view is spectacular.  From this viewpoint, you can look onto the bridge to watch the cars and tractor–trailers drive over the gorge and you can look down into the gorge itself.  From this angle, you get a true appreciation of how high the bridge (and how low the gorge) actually is.  The New River Gorge Bridge towers 876’ above the New River.  To put that number in perspective, you could stand the Washington Monument, two Statues of Liberty, and three SmoothingIt.com bloggers under the bridge and still have nearly two feet above my head.

178 Down. 178 Steps Back Up!

178 Steps Down. 178 Steps Back Up!

Kids at New River Gorge Bridge Overlook

All four children loved the visit to the Canyon Rim Visitor Center!

After the first overlook, we decided to traverse the walkway down to the second overlook.  I found this adventure much more interesting.  The wooden walkway carves around trees, cliffs, and massive stones down to a lower platform where visitors can look out and see the bridge from a side view.  Following the boardwalk down 178 stairs is an easy and pleasant task, but the trip back up those 178 stairs is quite daunting.  After my family and I stared off into the vastness of the gorge for a few minutes, I gathered the kids around me and explained, “there’s only two rules.  First, you have to be courteous and respectful to the other visitors.  Second…”  I stepped toward the first stairway, “anyone who beats me to the top gets a dollar!”  I bolted up the first stringer of stairs and looked back to see all four of the children running with all of their might.  After the first twenty or thirty stairs, my legs fatigued, my lungs ached, and my throat grasped for air.  I looked back to see that three of the four children had either given up or were far enough behind that I didn’t feel threatened by them, but my oldest daughter was trailing just behind me and had no intention of surrendering to her old man’s enthusiasm.

I reached the top and stumbled to a bench shaded from an oak tree’s branches.  I felt miserable and fantastic in the same moment.  The trip up the boardwalk is difficult, but enjoyable.  And I didn’t have to pay out a single dollar bill!

Wildlife!

Wildlife!

We left the overlook in pursuit of other outdoor adventures, some of which I’ll probably detail here on SmoothingIt.com.  We didn’t get an opportunity to drive the mountain pass below the bridge on this visit, but I’m sure that we will during our month–long adventure in the mountains.  When we do, I’ll publish some pictures and a post about the adventure!

The New River Gorge Bridge from the Canyon Rim Visitor Center Boardwalk.

The New River Gorge Bridge from the Canyon Rim Visitor Center Boardwalk.

Overall, I consider the visitor center and overlook (or the Canyon Rim Visitor Center if you want to get technical) a great place to spend an afternoon.  Adults and children alike will find it interesting, educational, and spectacular.

I recognize that the blogosphere has no geographic boundaries.  I have followers from all over the United States and all over the world, but I’m curious whether any of you have had a chance to visit the New River Gorge Bridge.  If so, I’d love to hear about it!  If not, what are you waiting for?

Advertisements

15 thoughts on “Visiting the New River Gorge Bridge Overlook (Canyon Rim Visitor Center)

    • Thank you! The bridge is probably the first or second most photographed location in the state.

      I enjoy viewing the bridge from the river as well. I hope to visit Fayette Station (the area below the bridge) during this month–long mountain adventure. If I do, I’ll be sure to post the story and some pics from that trip too.

      Thanks for visiting and thanks for commenting! I sincerely appreciate it!

  1. Really enjoyed reading this. What am I waiting for?! A chance to visit without Junior – at 19, she’d be taking a dollar from her old man. I’m still quicker on xc skis though…
    What a wonderful post. Excellent photos and writing has me wanting to visit this place, it is quite the spectacular feat of engineering.
    Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks for the compliments, my friend. If you’re ever down this way, I’ll give you the five–dollar tour – free of charge, of course!

      I’m sure my oldest daughter will be passing me up soon enough. Until then, I’ll hang on to that cash!

      A bit off topic, but I’d love to cross–country ski. I’ve never been but think I would absolutely love it.

      Thanks again for visiting and for commenting!

  2. I’m originally from Summersville, so this is an area I’m quite familiar with. Had a chance to visit the center last summer. I love getting out there!! Next week I’m heading home – I hope I get a chance to get over that way. If you are still in the area I have to recommend a breakfast or lunch at Cathedral Cafe or dinner at Pies & Pints in Fayetteville. Cathedral is probably my favorite. Great post, makes me even more excited for my trip home!

    • Thanks for the comments!

      My wife and I love the Summersville area (and pretty much all of Fayette and Nicholas County.)

      We’ve yet to visit the Cathedral Cafe but we were early customers of Pies & Pints – back before they branched out to three locations. We’re glad to see that a local business is doing well! Hopefully, they will continue to grow and help support the struggling West Virginia economy!

    • Thanks for visiting and commenting! I agree that the scenery and the engineering are spectacular. I actually have an original print of an engineering magazine from 1977 (when the bridge was built) that detailed the building process. I always enjoy browsing through the pages and “watching” the bridge take shape!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s