West Virginia’s Fayetteville combines small-town Americana charm and outdoor splendor near America’s newest national park

Every autumn, "Bridge Day" brings adventure seekers to the New River GorgeEvery autumn, “Bridge Day” brings adventure seekers to the New River Gorge — Photo courtesy of West Virginia Department of Tourism

It’s impossible not to have John Denver’s voice crooning “Take Me Home, Country Roads” echoing in your head as you weave your way along West Virginia’s winding roads and tree-topped ridges.

West Virginia also happens to be home to the country’s newest national park: New River Gorge National Park & Preserve was declared America’s 63rd national park in 2020.

Any time of year offers a wonderful excuse to explore its 70,000 acres of natural beauty, and there’s no better home base from which to do just that than the small town of Fayetteville. This low-key destination, easily accessible by Route 19 and I-64, combines small-town Americana charm and outdoor splendor, including a compact “downtown” anchored by a charming Main Street.

Best places to eat

Pints with a view prove the perfect way to wind down after an active day of exploring naturePints with a view prove the perfect way to wind down after an active day of exploring nature — Photo courtesy of West Virginia Department of Tourism

In Fayetteville, begin the day at hip Wood Iron Eatery, where local artists’ work adorns the walls, or Cathedral Cafe, a 107-year-old building turned quaint hangout that serves juices, lattes, breakfast sammies, make-your-own omelets, and pancake stacks to prepare for the day’s explorations. Don’t miss the tasty pints and food trucks that make Freefolk Brewery a popular hangout for visitors and locals accompanied by their four-legged friends; the sensational, elevated sunset views that mark Smokey’s on the Gorge; and the neighborly banter and live music sessions that welcome passers-through to a local scene at Southside Junction Tap House. Nearby Summersville’s Gad Dam Brewing proves a family- and pet-friendly hangout for pub food, pints, coffees, and smoothies, plus social gatherings like trivia nights and music bingo.

Best place to stay

Country Road Cabins offers comfortable cabins, yurts, and treehouses just a short drive from the national parkCountry Road Cabins offers comfortable cabins, yurts, and treehouses just a short drive from the national park — Photo courtesy of Country Road Cabins

Country Road Cabins, located just minutes from the New River Gorge Bridge and Fayetteville’s cluster of welcoming eateries and bars, features cozy cabins, yurts, and fantastical treehouses that come with a fully-equipped kitchen, satellite TV, deck with hot tub, and gas grill.

The site’s newest glamping experience, the “Moonshiner Tree Dome,” is a secret hideaway showcasing locally sourced rustic wood wall coverings, a whiskey barrel sink, mason jar light fixtures, and a copper-clad shower, in addition to all of the other offered amenities.

Debriefing on the day’s adventures — under the stars and while mesmerized by the glow of an evening campfire — quickly becomes a daily ritual after settling into the wooded property.

The best things to do in any season

You'll come across incredible views hiking around New River GorgeYou’ll come across incredible views hiking around New River Gorge — Photo courtesy of Brian Evans / Getty Images

Each month brings enticing new ways to savor the great outdoors and to watch the seasons unfold in mysterious and magical ways throughout New River Gorge National Park. Activities range from biking, climbing, and ziplining canopy tours to fishing and backpacking.

Thrill seekers will get a rush on the Bridge Walk while learning fascinating facts about the impressive structure — an iconic steel arch bridge that was once the longest in the world. Participants remain attached to a safety system via a harness throughout the entire stroll along the two-foot-wide catwalk, though they should be prepared to walk a total of 1.25 miles on inclined trails and decks.

Every third Saturday in October, loyal enthusiasts convene for the much-anticipated Bridge Day — West Virginia’s largest single-day festival and one of the world’s biggest extreme sporting events. Each year, thousands of spectators walk across the bridge for up-close views of serious BASE jumpers soaring 876 feet into the gorge below as brave rappellers ascend and descend from the catwalk.

Every season offers a bounty of outdoor activities at New River GorgeEvery season offers a bounty of outdoor activities at New River Gorge — Photo courtesy of West Virginia Department of Tourism

To gain other perspectives of the stunning New River, said to be the second oldest river in the world, paddle atop it in summer months — or hike alongside it in almost any season. If you luck out, you may just glimpse bald eagles and peregrine falcons from scenic overlooks while traveling pathways like Endless Wall Trail. Or, you can drive down to the bottom of the gorge by car via Fayette Station Road.

In September and October, experience what locals deem 23 days of the best whitewater in the world during “Gauley Season,” which is when scheduled water releases from the Summersville Dam to create unbelievable whitewater on the Gauley River. (More mellow options are available in this region, too.)

Check out other regional events throughout the year, like the Thurmond Ghost Hunt that takes place in a once-prospering coal town that now showcases abandoned buildings and the eerie remains of a bygone era. Stargazers also often descend upon West Virginia to experience the mystique of one of the largest and darkest skysheds on the East Coast.

No matter the season you choose to visit or the activities that pique your interest, it’s likely you’ll leave craving a return trip soon to explore this complex, multilayered, and beautiful mountainous state.

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