Right as a sign announced “Entering West Virginia,” our journey flipped a switch. Long, straight stretches of road turned into highways curving around mountains covered in green, bushy trees with cloud slivers dangling above.
Our family hadn’t pictured this Appalachian state looking like a hilly rainforest. But that’s what we found as we made our way to Adventures on the Gorge, a family resort just outside Fayetteville perched above the New River Gorge.
Crisscrossed by rivers, West Virginia boasts some of the country’s top whitewater rafting. While expert options are off-limits to kids and rookie rafters, you’ll find lots of family fun on the leisurely Upper New River or mid-level Glade Creek Canyon tours.
At the Upper, kids ages 6-plus get their feet wet – literally – on navigating and enjoying the rapids. Our six-hour tour let families ride in the raft with the guide or go on “duckies,” aka inflatable kayaks.
The duckie felt like sitting in an oversized innertube shaped like a canoe. I paddled feverishly through the first rapid. Thankfully, there were plenty of breaks with calm waters. By the second round, my teen and I began looking for the bigger waves to ride. We made several stops to swim, eat and explore an old mining path.
Amp it up
For thrill-seekers, sign up to go down the Lower New River (ages 9-plus). After getting comfortable at the Upper, we felt ready for this more-vigorous tour on day two. Our guide said because of the complexity of the rapids, we’d all be going in rafts. As soon as we were in the water, we practiced how to listen to her commands to navigate the trickier parts of the river. Good thing we got the training: On a large rapid, the force of the waves pushed my daughter out of the raft. But she quickly swam to the edge of the water – as our guide had instructed – and the raft behind us picked her up. My kiddo kept going with a big smile on her face.
High and dry
There are fun landlocked activities, too. To discover the area’s geology and history, we headed to the National Park Service’s Canyon Rim Visitor Center (free). We watched a short film first to get a better sense of how the gorge and the New River were formed – and about life in the Appalachians.
You can take pictures of the 876-foot-high New River Gorge Bridge from the visitor center, or cross the street to take a tour under it. We donned harnesses to strap ourselves onto the line that follows a catwalk from one side to the other – 3,030 feet in length, making it the longest single-span steel arch bridge in the Western Hemisphere ($69/person).
More at the Gorge
Back at Adventures, try a guided zip line tour through the treetops – and its TimberTrek Adventure Park, where you can traverse hanging wooden bridges, wooden slides and suspended ladders. At both, you’re safely fitted with a harness and helmet.
As far as lodging? Pack a tent and reserve a campsite for as little as $15/person – or try platform tents, cottages and deluxe cabins. Prices vary based on the season and time of the week; package deals offer big discounts.
5 Family Extras
Even smaller kids will love these fun activities at Adventures on the Gorge.
- Swimming pool. It’s free to guests and offers amazing views of the mountains all around.
- Disc golf. For $5 at the property’s retail store, you can get what you need to play the nine-hole course.
- Hiking. There are a couple hikes that start right on the resort property, including one just next to the disc golf course. Find more at nps.gov.
- Corn hole. This simple backyard game, which entails trying to toss sandbags through a hole in a raised platform, is set up all around the resort.
- Sunset watching. Families gathered on lounge chairs that were positioned perfectly to see the sun set over the gorge.