The New River Gorge is known as the best East Coast climbing destination for a reason: There are more than 1,500 established climbing routes in the area. The stunning views and miles of continuous climbing are all courtesy of the New River, which millennia ago carved out a 1,000-foot-deep gorge near Fayetteville, West Virginia. The area is a mix of rugged and welcoming, which makes for a fantastic getaway.
The cliffs are made of nuttall sandstone, which is great for grip and won’t tear up your fingers. With an average wall height of 75-100 feet and most of the ratings at 5.9 or higher, you probably want to know what you’re doing before venturing here. However, if you’re new to outdoor climbing or haven’t started sport climbing outside yet, you still have options available to you. An adventure in West Virginia brings challenging climbs, a slower pace, and fantastic scenery. Not to mention the tasty grub. Here’s what you need to know.
DIY or hire a guide?
Wanting to go the do-it-yourself route? If you feel good with routes rated 5.10 sport climbing and 5.10 traditional climbing or higher, you should be able to manage going out on your own. If you aren’t sure you can handle this level of climbing on your own, don’t worry. There are plenty of amazing guides who know the area and can show you the ropes — both figuratively and literally. You’ll probably even learn a thing or two while you’re out with them.
One company is New River Mountain Guides, which is run in conjunction with the popular gear shop Water Stone Outdoors. They also offer private instruction where you can choose the time length you prefer. Blue Ridge Mountain Guides also offers a variety of courses or private guiding. You can personalize your trip for exactly the type of climbing you want. Another option is New River Climbing School; it offers two-hour, half-day, and full-day trips, as well as full weekends, family trips, and more.
Water Stone Outdoors is also the best place to get any additional gear you might need and to ask about routes. It’s a cool gear shop nestled in an old house that’s well-equipped for climbing and other outdoor activities. It even has a coffee bar — with a barista — inside, so you can take your time learning about this new location.
Some of the climbing routes
There really aren’t too many beginner routes in the New, but if you are still getting comfortable rock climbing, a good place to start would be Junkyard Wall. Its cave routes and Jumping Jack Flash routes are rated 5.7, which is considered less demanding. You’ll find more challenging routes in the Junkyard area as well, but because it has some of the easier routes, the Junkyard can get crowded.
To crank it up a notch, look into Mrs. Field’s Follies, ranked a 5.8. While the rock face is not as hard as it looks, you do have to contend with an overhang, so only consider this when you’re ready. At the hard end of the spectrum, the Toxic Hueco — where part way up you confront a big hollow, or hueco, and the overhang that follows it — is considered an excellent 5.10 route. Porter for the Recorder is a 5.11 that gets raves from the experienced climbers who tackle it.
Most of the 5.10 to 5.12 routes are for sport climbing, which means the bolts are already in place. Whichever route you take to make it up the wall, be sure to pause for a few minutes to look at the fabulous views of the gorge and the New River Gorge Bridge when you’re at the top.
How to prepare for New River Gorge
Along with all your climbing gear — the essentials being climbing shoes, helmet, harness, rope, belay device, and, arguably, a chalk bag — there are several things that will help you enjoy your trip to New River Gorge. First, bring a guidebook. We recommend the Falcon Guide or, for a more comprehensive look at the area, get the New River Gorge Rock Climbs by Mike Williams.
Additionally, pack clothing for all seasons because New River Gorge seems to have its own microclimate. It can rain unexpectedly or cool down more than was forecasted. Try to layer up, and bring waterproof footwear. Also, make sure you have enough water. If you need to fill your bottles, head to nearby Canyon Rim Visitor Center.
Where to stay and the best time to go
If you’re interested in camping, you can stay in a primitive campground in the park, but these are all first-come, first-served. Otherwise, the American Alpine Club campground has hot showers and allows reservations. And the Chestnut Creek Campground is among the many well-rated camping spots in the area. If you’re looking for a real bed, there are several hotel and inn options in historic Fayetteville or nearby Beckley.
The best time to visit is September to October, but you’ll have company. You can climb all year, but since spring brings lots of rain and summer carries high temperatures, people flock to the New during the early fall months.
If you go during peak season, expect to share the space with other climbers. The goods news? Because there are so many routes in the area, it doesn’t feel suffocating. You might have to hop on a different climb than you originally planned, but other climbers are generally respectful of not staying on a route for hours if they know you’re wanting to give it a try.
Where to hang out when you’re not climbing
Fayetteville and surrounding areas have many places to relax after a hard day of climbing. If you just want to stretch your legs and take in the views, head to Long Point Overlook. It’s an easy-to-moderate hike that’s about a mile and a half out to the overlook. Expect gorgeous views of the impressive New River Gorge Bridge.
Before you climb, don’t miss a drive-thru breakfast on your way to the crag from Tudor’s Biscuit World. The biscuits are heavenly. If you’re looking for lunch, check out Secret Sandwich Society. The scrumptious sandwiches are named after US Presidents like Van Buren and McKinley. Also, they serve craft beer and have a happy hour throughout the week.
For dinner, head to Pies & Pints. They have all the pizza you could eat, with lots of vegetarian options. They also have plenty of an array of craft beer on tap. If you prefer easy access to some nightlife, head to Adventures on the Gorge — a cabin-and-campsite resort with several restaurants and bars that often feature live music.
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