Park Road Trip: North Carolina, West Virginia, and Virginia


Story and Photos by Steve & Karen Wilson, aka “Mr & Mrs Wild”


ON BIG BLEND RADIO: Steve & Karen talk about their road trip as described in the article below, plus we chat with Sarah Edwards from Free Folk Brewery. Listen, to the podcast below.


New River Gorge National Park
The New River Gorge was given protection as a national river in 1978 but was designated the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve in 2020. The park stretches over 70,000 acres of land along 53 miles of the New River from Bluestone Dam to Hawk’s Nest Lake. The New River is among the oldest rivers on the planet. It is a rugged, whitewater river flowing north through deep canyons and has carved the deepest and longest river gorge in the Appalachian Mountains. 

Fun fact: New River Gorge National Park and Preserve is the newest national park and is the 63rd official park managed by the National Park Service.

Canyon Rim Visitor Center and Overlook – As one of the most photographed attractions in West Virginia, one of our must-do stops was at the Canyon Rim Overlook. A fairly easy quarter mile out and back from the Canyon Rim Visitor Center parking lot. The trail is easily accessible to the first overlook and a couple hundred steps to the lower overlook. The view of the bridge and gorge is not disappointing.

A short jaunt down the road and you will arrive at Canyon Rim Gifts. It’s a large shop and a great place to pick up souvenirs, hand-dipped ice cream, or homemade fudge. The great selection of fudge and ice cream made it difficult to decide what to choose but, in the end, we opted for ice cream on a warm day.

Hiking Long Point Trail – This is an out-and-back 3-mile hike that rewards you with some of the best views of the New River Gorge Bridge and the river below. I would rate this trail as an easy trail for most hikers and takes approximately 2 hours at a relaxed pace. The beginning of the trail offered some pretty wildflowers and a wildlife viewing platform overlooking a large field. There were a few goldenrod blooms in this first section of the hike but the fields of them in early Fall must be spectacular. The trail from that point is mostly shaded and passes through rich forest with diverse flowers and plants. There will be a rhododendron tunnel which must be beautiful when in full bloom in June. The last section of the trail will be a little steep but still easy to manage. Keep in mind, this is one of the more popular trails so plan to arrive early in order to get a parking spot and be patient to get your photo with the bridge in the background.

Hiking Endless Wall Trail – This is a 2.4-mile moderate hike that takes you through a hemlock forest, across a creek, and along the cliff edge. I would rate this trail as easy for most hikers and will take approximately 1 1/2 hours at a relaxed pace. This trail can be taken as a loop, but also as out and back, to and from the overlook. About a mile from the parking area, there will be a well-marked short trail that leads to Diamond Point Overlook. Here is where you will find amazing views of the sandstone cliffs and where the gorge drops about 900 feet to the New River. This is a great viewpoint to watch the whitewater rafts bouncing through the river and rock climbers scaling the cliffs. This trail is another very popular trail so plan to start early to avoid the crowds. 

I enjoyed both hikes for different reasons but if I had to choose just one, I would probably opt for the Long Point Trail. There were some pretty wildflowers at the start of the hike, a lush forest, and then the rock outcropping with views of New River Gorge Bridge. As a nature lover, this trail offered more rewards to see, at least in the summer season.

Thurmond (ghost town) – I knew the ghost town of Thurmond was a place we had to visit even though the majority of our time would be spent in the northern part of the New River Gorge National Park. After all, this is the only national park to have a ghost town as part of the park.

The town remains untouched by modern development and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In the early 1900s, it was a booming town with huge amounts of coal moving through from the mines in the area. Fifteen passenger trains a day came through town and the depot served as many as 75,000 passengers a year.


Fun fact: Thurmond has the smallest population in the state of West Virginia. According to 2020 census data, the population of Thurmond is only five people. 80% of the town is owned by the National Park Service.

Cathedral Falls is one of the highest waterfalls in West Virginia. Located just outside of New River Gorge National Park & Preserve in the town of Gauley Bridge, this 60-foot natural beauty drops over a rocky ledge of sandstone and shale. It is easily accessed and viewed from the small parking lot right off the road. There is also a paved path to a bridge and a short dirt trail that leads you closer to the falls.

Fun fact: West Virginia has an official Waterfall Trail. You can download the mobile Waterfall Trail Passport and check in at waterfalls on the list to earn prizes.

Concho Overlook – From the first time I saw a photo of the Concho Overlook, I immediately fell in love with the unique view. This overlook is simply awesome as it gives a panoramic view of the horseshoe bend of the New River. The historic town of Thurmond is below and surrounded by green, lush mountains and rail tracks. It is one of the best viewpoints of the New River Gorge. This overlook is owned and maintained by ACE Adventure Resort in Oak Hill, West Virginia but it is open to the public. We recommend checking out this overlook before or after visiting the town of Thurmond. We were fortunate to share this special spot with only a family of deer. We watched birds fly over the gorge, listening to the rushing water of the river, and the occasional horn of a train echoing as it goes around the mountain. This overlook provided us with the beauty of nature and moments of peace and relaxation that together we will cherish. 

The Overlook trail provided a nice walk in the woods with some pretty wildflowers but not as exciting as the overlook itself.

Hawks Nest State Park
This park provides a scenic bird’s eye view of the rugged New River Gorge National Park below in the heart of whitewater rafting country. This State Park is a 270-acre recreational area with hiking trails and one of the most challenging whitewater rafting runs in the U.S. There is also a nature museum, aerial tramway (currently closed in 2023 for renovation), and jetboat rides. Unfortunately, we did not have time to explore this park more than the overlook but definitely plan to come back for the excitement of the jet boat tour, aerial tram, and hiking.

Fun fact: Hawks Nest State Park gets its name from the hawks that ride the thermals between the high cliffs.

Babcock State Park (Glade Creek grist mill)
As avid shutterbugs and after seeing many photos of this grist mill, The Glad Creek grist mill was on our must-see list. We just had to photograph this weather-beaten mill set on a mountain stream. 

Hundreds of mills once dotted the landscape in West Virginia. The highlight of Babcock State Park is the Glade Creek Grist Mill, the most photographed mill in the United States. Not only picturesque, but it is still also a real working mill. You can tour the mill and learn about the process that grinds corn into cornmeal. 

Built in 1976, the Glade Creek Grist Mill is a replica of the original Cooper’s Mill that was located nearby. Recreation at this state park includes hiking trails, fishing, and boating.

Fun fact: The “Almost Heaven” swing at Babcock State Park is one of nine swings throughout West Virginia that are photo-worthy spots with the best scenic views in the state.

New River Gorge Bridge Walk
Advertised as the “walk of your life,” it sure did not disappoint. The guided tour lasted approximately 2 hours as we walked 3,030 feet from one end of the bridge to the other on the catwalk 25 feet beneath the bridge. We are “Mr and Mrs Wild” for these types of exhilarating adventures, so of course, afraid of heights and all, we knew that this was another must-do. We were securely fastened on a safety cable before the walk started. Our guide provided us with interesting facts and history about the bridge. I must say my favorite parts of the tour comes down to two things. First, the shaking you feel from the traffic above made it creepy, yet exciting. The adrenaline was definitely pumping as we were looking down 876 feet below at the breathtaking gorge and whitewater. Second, the opportunity to sit on the catwalk and hang your feet over the edge. I wasn’t sure if I could do it, but we are both always up to a challenge and facing our fears. Sitting on the catwalk intensified the vibrations of the bridge and made it a bit more unnerving. However, it made for even more of an adrenaline rush and a fun and unique photo opp. We highly recommend making the time to take this tour for a different perspective of the bridge and gorge while enjoying a new sense of adventure.

Fun fact: The New River Gorge Bridge is the longest single-arch bridge in the Western Hemisphere. It is also the second-tallest bridge in the United States.

Eat & Drink
Our favorite place to eat was Cathedral Cafe. This quaint, turn-of-the-century church is now a cool little artsy cafe. It is located in the heart of the historic town of Fayetteville, West Virginia, and is a local favorite for breakfast and lunch, coffee, and espresso. The food was incredible, and the setting of cathedral ceilings and beautiful stained-glass windows added to the charm and ambiance. Cathedral Cafe offers homemade foods that are sourced locally and responsibly. 

I had a delicious bacon, egg, and cheddar Asiago bagel while Mr Wild had a carnivore frittata. They serve breakfast, and lunch and have a full bar.

Free-spirited beer for free-spirited people is the perfect way to wind down after a full day of outdoor adventures. With 9 beers on draft and a varied menu with something for everyone, we visited Free Folk Brewery. Drink Freely is the motto here and it is a taproom with lively artwork and murals, an outdoor beer garden with fire pits, and an outdoor stage with live music. We were lucky enough to spend a little time talking with Sarah Edwards, co-owner of Free Folk Brewery, over a couple of their delicious beers, the Haller Blackberry Sour for me and the Moon Dog Blonde Ale for Mr Wild. Although Free Folk Brewery has only been operating for a few years, they have a great place with great beers, great food, and great people. They have a newly opened Brewhouse and Tasting Room that is their production facility complete with a full tasting room, 8 beers on tap, and a permanent BBQ food truck. We look forward to returning to check out this location and take a brewery tour once they are available later this year.

Fun fact: Why is West Virginia called Almost Heaven? The words are taken from John Denver’s famous song, “Take Me Home Country Roads” which has been an unofficial West Virginia anthem since 1971.

7 Dogs Brewpub is a cute, small brewpub named after the rescues the owners have adopted. We absolutely loved the story and dog theme, so we had to stop in for a bite and a beer. The food pairs well with their beer choices and the biergarten is the perfect spot to enjoy the outdoors with your fur babies. They even have a pup menu, so our boys were lucky enough to share a burger patty made just for them. My fish tacos were delicious and Steve’s bacon burger was good as well.

Grayson Highlands State Park – Our goal at Grayson Highlands was to see the wild ponies. From the time I read about the ponies, this park has been on my radar. Starting at Massie Gap, we chose to take the Rhododendron Trail to Wilburn Ridge in hopes of finding some wild ponies. After a couple of miles up to the ridge with some detours to rock outcroppings and views of the “balds,” we, unfortunately, did not find any ponies up there. It was such a picturesque spot, but we were not lucky enough to get the money shot of a pony grazing the highlands. We took a portion of the Appalachian Trail back down the ridge figuring we would at least get a better hike if we did not come upon any ponies. Just as we were getting closer to finishing up our five-mile search, we happened across a pony. This four-foot-tall beauty was grazing in front of a field of wildflowers, and it was magical to share a few minutes watching him.

Coming down the mountain, we drove along the Virginia Creeper Trail. This trail starts in Abingdon, VA, and ends near the NC border 33 miles later. It is a very popular trail with mountain bikers too.

The Damascus Brewery is a short distance down the road from Grayson Highlands State Park. Great local spot to cool off with a beer after hiking in the park. I had the Honey Mango Sour which was an easy-drinking, subtly tart and fruit sour. Steve had the Sweet Beaver Apricot Hefeweizen which was excellent!

The last day we hit the road back towards Asheville. We decided to make a little stop in the town of Bristol, VA/TN. This town straddles the VA – TN line and is a nice place to stop for lunch or just stroll around the little downtown area. We made a stop at Michael Waltrip’s Brewing Co. You might think that this place would be your typical tourist trap. Not so. They brew their own beers, and the inside is not gaudy or cheesy at all. The beers are very good and so is the food. We stayed on their outdoor patio which is nice and spacious. Afterward, we headed downtown and took the boys for a walk. Of course, we did take the typical tourist picture of us straddling the state line. How can you not

After we got our fill of Bristol, it was back to the road and home to Asheville. If you get the chance to take this road trip, do it!

Steve and Karen Wilson, aka “Mr & Mrs Wild of Asheville,” own and run The Lion and the Rose Bed & Breakfast, a stunning pink lady Victorian Mansion in the heart of the Montford Historic District, known for its over 600 historic homes. This 1898 residence is in a quiet residential neighborhood within walking distance to downtown Asheville and its many attractions. The Blue Ridge Parkway and Biltmore Estate are just minutes away. Plus, on your arrival, you are invited to enjoy a glass of Steve’s popular homemade craft brew, and to meet the inn mascots, Shih Tzu pups Ozzy and Oreo!  Steve & Karen also cohost Big Blend Radio’s 1st Tuesday “Adventures in Asheville” Podcast.



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