The U.S. Just Got a New National Park — and It’s a Rock Climbing and Whitewater Rafting Paradise

scenic landscape of the New River Gorge

A popular rock climbing and whitewater rafting destination in southeastern West Virginia has officially become a U.S. national park, thanks to the latest COVID-19 stimulus package.

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve is known for its 53 miles of free flowing whitewater that cuts through sandstone cliffs towering as high as 1,000 feet in the air. It boasts class III through V rapids and plenty of boulders to keep even the most experienced rafters engaged. The upper part of the river is calmer and more welcoming to new rafters. The area also boasts more than 1,500 climbing routes, as well as a 12.8-mile system of mountain bike trails built by the Boy Scouts.  

Outside describes the New River Gorge area as an "underrated adventure hub," and sees the designation as the park finally getting the recognition it deserves.

"Being a national park is a gold stamp of approval and excellence," U.S. Senator Shelley Capito said in a press conference covered by West Virginia Public Broadcasting. 

Senator Joe Manchin, another West Virginia lawmaker, described New River Gorge as "one of West Virginia's most treasured playgrounds and largest tourist attractions."  

New River Gorge is about an hour's drive from Charleston, South Carolina. It encompasses about 7,000 acres marked with trailheads and visitor centers, and another 65,000 for backcountry hunting. White-tailed deer, river otters, and bald eagles are among the wildlife regularly spotted here.  

The gorge itself is the largest in the Appalachian Mountains. 

Meena Thiruvengadam is a Travel + Leisure contributor who has visited 50 countries on six continents and 47 U.S. states. She loves historic plaques, wandering new streets and walking on beaches. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

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