Many visits to New River Gorge National River in south central West Virginia begin at the Canyon Rim Visitor Center, situated off Route 19 on the east flank of the gorge. While some of the best hikes in the park lie elsewhere, the short Canyon Rim Boardwalk Trail offers excellent and convenient views of the gorge from the Visitor Center—that is, if you can manage the 178 wooden steps to and from the final overlook. There is perhaps no better place to view the New River Gorge Bridge, the world’s third-longest single-span arch bridge, which towers a jaw-dropping 876 feet above the New River.
From the Canyon Rim Visitor Center, bear left on the sidewalk, then hang another left as the concrete path bears west, away from the road and parking area. The path quickly forks—bear left. (Note: Heading right leads to a lesser overlook and the privately-operated “Bridge Walk” Trail.) A few hundred feet from the start, the pavement ends, giving way to the wooden boardwalk. The level path leads through the trees to an observation area that offers narrow views of the New River Gorge Bridge, but not much of the canyon below.
You will have to work harder for the second—and much better—viewpoint, as it is situated at the bottom of a 178-step staircase: so, quite easy heading down, but not so much on the uphill return journey. It’s well worth it: to the south, New River Gorge reveals itself in its full splendor, while straight ahead, Wolf Creek, on the opposite side of the canyon, tumbles down a series of cascades before meeting the main river.
The highlight, of course, is the bridge span to the right—views of which are unobstructed. This architectural feat was completed in 1977 at the cost of $37 million and cut the travel time by car across the gorge from 45 minutes to a mere 45 seconds. (Note: The former route, a narrow and winding route into and out of the gorge, is visible down below where it crosses the New River at the Fayette Station Bridge.) In August 2013, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and today is one of the most photographed spots in West Virginia.
After taking in the views, turn back the way you came—keep the magnificent vista in mind as you ask yourself, as you slog up the 178 steps back to the pavement, why you did this hike.
Allot 20-30 minutes for this short walk, depending on crowds and physical fitness.