Article by: Keith Doherty
We already know that once you get to Wild Rock you don’t have to go far for adventure: whitewater rafting, rock climbing, mountain biking, zip lines, high ropes courses, along with all of the great restaurants, music venues, and bars.
Adventures on the Gorge and local outfitters can offer you all the guided adventures that you crave. But what if you want to get out for the day or even an extended overnight trip on your own?
Not only is Wild Rock and the New River Gorge a spectacular vacation destination, but it can also serve as central hub and basecamp for some amazing one-tank trips to explore other hidden gems in West Virginia.
Below is just a sampling of the options within a short drive from Wild Rock.
A Side Note- These summaries are written from the perspective of when things get back to normal- think pre and post Covid-19. Check ahead and note any procedural changes from each venue and location as the state continues to slowly open back up for business.
Lewisburg/ White Sulfur Springs, Greenbrier County- 52 miles from Wild Rock
Charleston- 52 miles from Wild Rock
A smaller city, but a city, nonetheless. And a nice one too. With a population of just over 47,000, Charleston traffic isn’t overwhelming, and still offers many of the amenities we associate with city-life.
There are certainly several dining and food options in Charleston. Capitol Market is a must-see if you are there during the daytime hours.
Live music particularly stands out in Charleston with Mountain Stage leading the way. Check their schedule in advance as they consistently host world-class performers from all genres and disciplines. Mountain Stage typically records their live performances on Sunday evenings, and they will broadcast the edited shows on NPR at a later date. Most often it’s hosted in the Cultural Center in Charleston, but sometimes they take the show on the road, or play in the Clay Center just down street.
The West Virginia Symphony also calls the Clay Center home. Aside from their scheduled performances, the Clay Center hosts several concerts and plays each year. In addition, there’s an art museum, a science museum, and a planetarium & theater.
And if the outdoors is still calling you, Kanawha State Forest has some excellent mountain biking and hiking trails. Furthermore, Coonskin Park is a great location for sports, picnics, or swimming at the pool.
Richwood & the Cranberry Wilderness- 50 to 68 miles from Wild Rock
A scenic drive from Wild Rock, you’ll drive through beautiful, wooded countryside and cross over Summersville Lake, the Gauley River, and the Cherry River along the way to Richwood. A historic logging town, Richwood has some hidden secrets and one of our absolute favorite restaurants called The Whistle Punk. Definitely plan on eating here.
Just past the town, you will enter the Monongahela National Forest and the Cranberry Wilderness. Right about where your cell phone cuts out is where the magic begins. Miles and miles of hiking and biking options, both single and multi-day. You can camp alongside the Cranberry River or other nearby spots.
There are also excellent fishing and hunting opportunities depending on the season. We recommend Four Seasons Outfitters for the local beta. You can even buy ramps there, a tasty wild leek that is famous to the region.
The Cranberry Glades Botanical Area is a beautiful spot with a short easy and hike. A constructed boardwalk leads you out into the bogs, where you’ll find a much different landscape then you’ll see in the rest of the state.
Summersville Lake- 18 miles from Wild Rock
Summersville Lake is quite simply one of the most beautiful lakes in the Mid-Atlantic, and it’s also West Virginia’s largest. With 28,000 acres of water and 60 miles of shoreline, pick your activity of choice and go have a blast.
It will support just about any watercraft, motorized or muscled. With plenty of wake and non-wake zones, there’s enough room for the fishermen and the speed demons. Wakeboarding, water skiing, tubing, canoes, kayaks, WaveRunners- you name it, it’s allowed. And stand up paddleboarding just gets more and more popular. Contact Mountain Surf Paddle Sports if you need to rent a board.
The lake is deep enough to be a popular diving spot as well. Long Point boasts some cool rock features down below the surface, and if you get with the right folks, you can even find a sunken vessel out there. Contact Sarge’s Dive Shop for any diving questions or equipment needs.
Summersville Lake is also a well-liked spot with the rock climbers. There are several bolted areas listed in the climbing guidebooks, and some additional routes that can be accessed by pontoon boats. The awesome crew at Water Stone Outdoors can point you in the right direction.
The water quality of Summersville Lake is incredible, which makes the swimming fantastic. It can be little chilly in the spring, and it’s just about perfect in the summertime. If you simply want to access the beach and swim in a designated spot, go to the Battle Run Campground area. You can obviously camp there as well on some very nice sites.
There are several other campgrounds at the lake- some right on the water and others nearby.
On the interior of the lake, there are many miles of outstanding mountain biking and hiking trails. There’s also a Wildlife Management Area that provides some excellent hunting grounds.
Babcock State Park/ Clifftop- 19 miles from Wild Rock
Babcock State Park is probably the most photographed location in West Virginia. Similar to being able to hear John Denver’s Country Roads being played in countries around the world, pictures of Glade Creek Grist Mill and its stunning waterfall can be seen hanging on walls in the most random places around the globe.
Many visitors don’t get more than a thousand feet from the parking lot, but the park has a ton more to offer than an iconic view. Up top, there is a beautiful lake suitable for paddling. There are also extensive trails for hiking and biking depending on their user-group designation. Glade Creek is also a popular spot for fishing.
There are numerous cabins placed on both sides of the creek that are available to rent, as well as several picnic shelters and a tennis court with an amazing view.
Just down the road is Camp Washington Carver at Clifftop. This was the first 4-H camp for African Americans in the United States.
Today, it is most famous for hosting the Appalachian String Band Festival, a five-day gathering at the end of July of musicians and friends playing some of the most incredible music you will ever hear. While the stage performances are always inspiring, the music coming from the campgrounds will fill your soul.
Hawks Nest State Park- 6 miles from Wild Rock
This one is so close, it might be hard to consider it a day trip, but once you get to Hawks Nest, you’ll feel you’ve reached an entirely new destination.
At the top of the park is the 31-room lodge, which includes a nature museum, multiple conference and meeting areas, and a restaurant with a spectacular view. There are several overlooks on or near the property, which highlight a cliffside view of Mill Creek, the New River Gorge, and the Hawk’s Nest Dam.
An aerial tramway takes visitors from the lodge to the confluence of Mill Creek and the New River. From there, visitors have the option of hiking along the Mill Creek Trail. If you’re lucky and the water levels are right, you might even get to see some whitewater kayakers run the 18-foot waterfall amongst the other numerous challenging Class V rapids. This creek is also suitable for fishing when the water levels are low and steady.
Another option from the bottom is to jump onboard with New River Jetboats and head upstream to the last whitewater rapid of the New River Gorge to get a completely different perspective of the New River Gorge Bridge.
Beckley, WV- 25 miles from Wild Rock
Beckley is the largest city in southern West Virginia and the ninth largest in the state with a population around 16,000. You can find all the amenities you’ll need here, including some outstanding restaurants.
From a Wild Rock perspective, there are three spots that really stand out in Beckley.
The first is Tamarack, branded as The Best of West Virginia, and it is. That being said, once you get past the incredible artwork and displays, head straight to the cafeteria and order the trout prepared by chefs from The Greenbrier.
The Galleria 14 Movie Theater is by far the nicest spot to catch a film in the area. It has modern stadium seating, a great sound system, and in the summertime, the air conditioning is spot on.
However, the real underrated attraction in Beckley is the Exhibition Coal Mine. Tour an underground mine with an entertaining veteran miner as your tour guide- full of facts and fantastic stories.
Also located on the property are the Coal Camp, the museum & gift shop, the Coal Company House, the Superintendent’s Home, the Pemberton Coal Camp Church, and the Helen Coal Camp School.
It’s a very unique tour, great for all ages, and with a consistent 58-degree temperature inside the mine, it’s also a great way to beat the high summertime temperatures.
Grandview & Little Beaver State Park- 37 miles from Wild Rock
What’s in a name? Grandview is just that.
Overlooking a dramatic horseshoe bend, the sandstone platforms crest 1,400 feet above the New River. Maintained by the National Park Service, the park is a great spot to hike, picnic, and gaze from beautiful vistas.
The park is also home to Theatre West Virginia, which features impressive musicals and dramas in a wonderful outdoor amphitheater from June to August.
Just down the road from Grandview is Little Beaver State Park, a 562-acre park that packs a lot of recreation into its footprint. It has over 20 miles of trails, including some of the most fun and technical mountain biking to be found in southern West Virginia.
The 18-acre lake provides a beautiful spot for fishermen year-round. All paddle sports are welcome, and rentals are available seasonally.
Little Beaver also has several nice picnic shelters that you’d come to expect from a West Virginia State Park.
Webster County & Holly River State Park- 60 to 86 miles from Wild Rock
(Country miles; give yourself two hours each way for this one.)
Webster County in general is a hidden treasure of West Virginia. It has all the wonder of Pocahontas County, but it’s just off the beaten path, so it doesn’t get quite as much attention. Those who venture there for the first time immediately fall in love.
Steep terrain, wild rivers, windy roads, and beautiful landscapes provide for a scenic ride. You’ll be sure to pass many historic buildings and old cemeteries along the way.
Holly River State Park is the second largest park in the state system. It provides outstanding campsites with a beautiful creek and numerous hiking trails. The more you explore the area, the more you will find unbelievable swimming holes and scenic overlooks.
Webster Springs is known for hosting some exceptional festivals featuring food and fun. One of our favorites is the Woodchopping Festival, highlighting a wide array of lumberjack events. They host ramp dinners, of course, and many events that feature the Elk River.
It’s all seasonal, so you may need to check the calendar ahead of time to get in on the fun. You won’t regret a trip to Webster County.
The Highland Scenic Highway, Tea Creek, and the Williams River- 69- 80 miles
Watoga State Park- 81 miles from Wild Rock
Right on the edge of Pocahontas and Greenbrier counties, Watoga State Park is the largest park in the state system with over 10,000 acres of land. It has beautiful campsites, both primitive and electric. Sprinkled around the park are 34 cabins that range from modern to those built by hand by the CCC. The scenery all around is stunning.
The park has 40 miles of trails and a beautiful lake as well. You name the outdoor activity and you can find it here. Boating and paddle sports are encouraged. The lake is also part of the Division of Natural Resources stocking program, so bring your fishing pole.
Beartown & Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park- 74+ miles from Wild Rock
Town of Hinton, Sandstone Falls, & Bluestone Lake- 62 miles from Wild Rock
Thurmond- 20 miles from Wild Rock
The historic town of Thurmond was another boomtown from the railroad and coal era of the early 1900’s. Many of the historic buildings remain, and walking around the town is a trip into history. The National Park Service began repairs and restorations in 2003 to preserve the buildings.
NPS restored the Thurmond Depot as a visitor center. It also serves as an active platform with a shelter for the Amtrak that travels the gorge.
In addition to the buildings, the train depot, and the bridge that crosses the New River, there is a significant 7-mile path called the Southside Junction Trail that goes all the way to Cunard or vice-versa. Suitable for hiking and biking, it can be traveled round trip or with shuttle.
Plum Orchard Lake- 21 miles from Wild Rock
A few of our favorite places.