Climbing Destination Guide: New River Gorge, West Virginia

New River Gorge Overview

It’s only a few hours from the Red River Gorge, but the sandstone at the New River Gorge feels completely different: think sharp crimps, mail slots, and massive slopers, instead of juggy pockets. While the routes are equally demanding, there is a steep learning curve, and climbers fresh off a sending spree at the Red frequently get shut down as they adjust.

The characteristic style includes big reaches between edges and rails, with lots of tiered roofs and mantels. The movement is seldom straightforward, and the routes vary widely throughout the area. There are classic slab climbs, tricky faces, lots of blunt arêtes, and steep jug hauls as well.

New River Gorge Interactive Map

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The New is located about 5 hours from D.C. and 4 hours from Pittsburgh, so it’s a popular destination for road-trippers along the east coast. The rock is nuttall sandstone, and the area boasts thousands of sport and trad lines, as well as hundreds of newly established boulders. Although the New River Gorge refers to a smaller area, including Endless Wall, Bubba City, Kaymoor, and a few other crags, the Meadow River Gorge and Summersville Lake areas are only a few miles away.

Additionally, the New River and Summersville Lake provide stunning scenery and fun rest day activities, from white-water rafting to swimming or mountain biking. Though the lake is popular for deep water soloing in the summer, swimming or cliff jumping without a boat is illegal and can lead to hefty fines.

Specific description of climbing style

The New has everything! It’s best known for sport and trad climbing, but a bouldering guide was published recently, and the area is gaining notoriety as a prime bouldering spot. No matter which style you prefer, it’s easy to fill a week or even a season ticking classic climbs here.

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Best season

Spring and fall are the best seasons to spend at the New. Typically, September through November and April and May are the best months. The fall generally yields cool, crisp days, and the foliage is spectacular. Summer highs can reach into the nineties, and with the high humidity common in the region, climbs feel several grades harder.

On colder days, check out Endless Wall, which sees direct sunlight all day. When it’s warm, shady crags such as Butcher’s Branch will stay cool. To stay dry in the rain, check out Rico Suave Buttress, which has several routes that will always be dry. The Cirque is also a good go-to rainy day crag.

However, weather can be unpredictable, and the New tends to see a lot of rain in the late spring.

Climbing grade range

The best sport climbs at the new fall into the 5.10-5.13 range. The New has hundreds of options for anyone comfortable leading 5.10. While there are a few areas that boast bolted 5.8s and 5.9s, they tend to fill up fast on weekends. If you’re open to trad or top-roping, there are climbs of any level. For sport climbers, however, few of the crags have many options below 5.9.

The bullet-hard New River Gorge sandstone might feel tough at first, especially if you’re coming from the endless pockets at the Red. Grades definitely vary, and their stiffness is heavily dependent on the first ascensionist. However, after a few good sessions, the moves will start to make more sense, and the grades will begin to feel fair.

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Top climbs in the area

Sport:

  • Flight of the Gumby (5.9+): This climb definitely earns its +! It’s a must-do for anyone solid on the grade: interesting moves on a blocky start, then a tricky and exposed crux high off the deck
  • Strike A Scowl (5.10b): Thin climbing up a gigantic flake leaning against the wall. The view from the top of this climb is phenomenal, and it’s a fun warm up for the harder routes nearby
  • Legacy (5.11a): Big moves on jugs with several roofs
  • Scenic Adult (5.11c): Cruxy, varied, and exposed. Definitely a must-do!
  • Psycho Wrangler (5.12a): This route has it all: a tricky roof, a sloper-y boulder problem, some big moves on good holds, and a blocky arête
  • Depth Charge (5.12b): Face climbing into two gigantic roofs
  • Puppy Chow (5.12c): Sustained roof climbing followed by a tough headwall
  • Quinsana Plus (5.13a): Beautiful line on striking orange rock
  • Proper Soul (5.14a): One of the hardest routes at the New, and one of the most beautiful. Several distinct cruxes on a steep wall

Trad:

  • New Yosemite Crack (5.9): Classic crack to get the basics down
  • Black and Tan (5.10a): Interesting laybacks and stems in a dihedral
  • Greatest Show on Earth (5.13a): Put up by Lynn Hill in the 80s. This route follows a finger crack through a roof and into a corner.

Best kept secret

The New River Gorge Bridge, which you’ll cross at some point during your stay, is the longest arch bridge in the western hemisphere, and the third longest in the world. It’s 3030 feet long, and 876 feet above the water.

Once a year, during an event called Bridge Day, traffic is shut down, and the bridge is open to BASE jumping, highlining, rappelling, and ascending from the catwalk underneath. Bridge Day also includes a music festival, hundreds of vendors, a chili cook-off, a 5k road race, and a car show. If you’re in the area during Bridge Day (typically a weekend in mid-October), I’d definitely recommend it!

In 2016, for the first time ever on US soil, pro climbers competed in an outdoor deep water solo competition high above Summersville Lake. Nearly a hundred athletes and many more spectators crowded around the lake and played on some of the hardest climbs in the area. The event was a major success, so we should expect more competitions here in the future.

Best local spots

Pies and Pints

Pies and Pints is your spot for the best pizza and beer in town! They somehow make outrageous pizza toppings taste delicious, and their pies hit the spot after a long day of climbing. Their grape and gorgonzola pie is a fantastic alternative to the traditional choices, and their pesto pizza is my favorite go-to order. If it’s a Friday or Saturday night, you’ll definitely be waiting for a table, so try to come as early as you can, or save this spot for a weeknight.

The Secret Sandwich Society

The Secret Sandwich Society is a terrific place to grab lunch and wifi on your rest day. They’ve got delicious sandwiches and burgers, and you’ll typically run into other climbers there.

Cathedral Café

If you’re looking for breakfast, Cathedral Café is a good option in a cool setting.

Other

Other local restaurants include Gumbo’s for Cajun food, Gino’s Pizza for cheaper Italian food, and the newly opened Kool Beanz café and art gallery.

For anything you might have forgotten, there’s a Walmart right in Fayetteville, and the Lowe’s next door sells painters’ poles suitable for stick clips if necessary.

Where to stay

The AAC campground

The AAC campground is shaded, beautiful, and within walking distance of rock climbing. If you stay there, you have access to shower houses, wooden tent platforms, communal fire pits, and picnic tables.

Ray’s Campground

For big groups, Ray’s Campground, which is a few minutes farther from Fayetteville, is a great option. Reservations can be made in advance, but there is usually space free, and Ray will make you feel right at home.

Chestnut Creek

Chestnut Creek is also popular for car camping.

Other

If these options are too expensive, there’s free primitive camping at the base of the dam. Or, for anyone with a bigger budget, cabins are available for rent nearby.

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Other information

Looking to avoid crowds? Head to the south side crags. The approaches are a bit longer, and the area has a wilder feel, but the climbs are terrific, and you’ll seldom run into other parties. Additionally, due to its slightly longer approach, Endless Wall typically sees fewer crowds than the other crags. It’s definitely possible to spend Memorial Day or Labor Day weekend here and run into fewer than a dozen climbers, as long as you opt for slightly longer approaches.

If you need gear, beta, or just a friendly place to hang out, be sure to check out Waterstone. You can pick up a guidebook there, buy some extra cams, or report any issues with bolts in the area.

Now to you

These destination guides are only made possible through the feedback from climbers like yourself. Are we missing some beta? Have anything extra to share? Leave your feedback in the comments below.

Have your own destination beta? Submit a destination today.

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  • Michael Lane

    Great write-up! I love the New, should be on every east-coaster’s list. The only thing’s I’d say you guys missed for logistics are:
    – There’s a new combination campground/biergarten/mountain bike shop called Arrowhead that I would highly recommend. Quieter camping than some of the more established spots, with excellent and local German food, breakfast and good but affordable beer. Also super close to Kaymoor as well as downtown Fayetteville
    – Vandal’s Cafe has damn good breakfast and coffee. A little more expensive and not as big portions as Cathedral though
    – Rain days or rest days should be spent exploring the endless outdoors fun around Fayetteville. World class whitewater, blossoming mountain biking scene, the New River Gorge National River visitor center, and some good hiking to hit the highlights