It's almost that time of year again, time to head for the mountains of West Virginia for the fall foliage and for watching people parachute into the New River in the annual celebration called Bridge Day. And while you're there, you can hike forest trails, see a couple of the wildest whitewater rivers east of the Rockies or find a place to just relax.
Bridge Day takes place Oct. 20 this year. It celebrates the 1980 completion of a span across the 876-foot-deep New River Gorge, providing a link between the southern and northern parts of the Mountain State. Yes, people really do jump off the steel-arch bridge with parachutes, while others rappel into the gorge on ropes. Everyone else watches the daredevils or just enjoys the view. Check out the links for information on whitewater rafting on the New and Gauley rivers, camping and mountain biking. And look for the link to the New River Train annual fall foliage specials that run through the gorge; but save it for reference next year — this year's trains are sold out.
If you have time or a fast Internet connection, New River WV: Photo Gallery has shots of the scenery, towns and coalfield history. Click on "Home" in the upper left corner for more information on the gorge and surrounding region.
The canyon beneath the bridge is the New River Gorge National River containing more than 70,000 acres of river, narrow shoreline and surrounding cliffs. There's even the one-time mining boomtown of Thurmond. Go to "Plan Your Visit" for the location of the Canyon Rim Visitor Center north of Fayetteville, and details on activities including hiking, biking , rock climbing (more than 1,400 established climbs) and fishing.
For information on whitewater rafting on the New River, visit West Virginia Rafting where "Outfiitters" has a list of rafting companies, with links to their Web sites, along with links to river-related fairs and festivals in the state.
Flowing into the rough and tumble New River, there are more Class V rapids in the Gauley River National Recreation Area which still flows freely below the Summersville Dam. Take your hiking boots and follow the Civil War wagon road into the gorge from Carnifex Ferry Battlefield State Park.
Counties on both sides of the gorge belong to the Southern West Virginia Convention & Visitors Bureau spanning an area of historic coal mine towns, scenic state parks, Summersville Lake in Nicholas County, local festivals, more hiking and biking trails, caves, and hunting and fishing. Greenbrier County has historic towns, huge tracts of forest, and the luxurious Greenbrier Resort. In Summers County, the old railroading center of Hinton is the site of the Big Bend Tunnel, where the real John Henry, the steel-drivin' man, pounded a drill into the rock with a hammer before steam drills were brought in. Before you leave this Web site, check out "Shopping" for antiques, galleries and specialty shops where you can find West Virginia glass and handmade Appalachian quilts.
There are plenty more things to do in the mountains. The state Division of Tourism can fill you in on everything from factories that make fancy glass to golf courses, coalfield history to ski areas, and towns and parks to visit.
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