This post marks the start of a new Travel Beta series that will hopefully eventually include all of the Southeastern crags our family climbs at on a regular basis – starting with the family favorite of course, the New River Gorge! The first post for each area will include general beta for the area, as well as a breakdown of the family-friendliness of all the major crags within the area. Subsequent posts for that area will include our family’s top route picks for each grade. None of this info is intended to be used in lieu of a guidebook – you will definitely still need one for the New! And in fact, Mikey Williams’ newly updated guide just became available a few months ago, and it’s awesome! But what this series will hopefully do is provide your family with a good overview of the area from a family craggin’ perspective, and point you in the right direction of where to start in an area that can seem overwhelming at first.
There are a lot of camping options available in and around Fayetteville. Our favorite place hands down is Chestnut Creek. We’ve been camping there for 10+ years. The family that owns it is very nice, and my son loves hanging out at camp with their son. This campground has individual, shaded sites, and most, if not all have a picnic table and fire ring. It’s quiet at night and the bathrooms/showers are always clean. The AAC is also nice – we’ve never had a bad experience there, but if you’ve got young kiddos, the atmosphere can get a little loud/rowdy at times.
Typically by late November camping gets pretty cold at night, so if we find ourselves up there after Thanksgiving (or before March), we opt for a cheap hotel. The Comfort Inn in Oak Hill is very nice by climber standards, and they have a really good breakfast. The Quality Inn is a motel, and while it’s not quite as nice, the rooms have always been clean and their breakfast is also decent. We realized recently that the latter has been somewhat of a good luck charm for me – my two hardest sends at the New were after a night there, so there’s that! The prices vary somewhat, but we use Hotels.com to book, sometimes even the day of, and we typically pay anywhere from $70-100 at either place. If prices are the same at both, definitely go with Comfort Inn…unless you’re superstitious about good luck charms 😉
Pies and Pints and Secret Sandwich Society are what all the guidebooks always recommend…and with good reason, because both offer great food and drink. But they are expensive and the wait is often over an hour. My hungry kids can’t wait that long! Instead, our go to’s are Gino’s and Rio Grande. Gino’s is next to the Wal-mart and is decidedly NOT as good as Pies and Pints, but there will never be a wait, you get homemade chips right when you sit own, and our family of 4 can get our fill for about $20 including a good tip! Rio Grande is a little more pricey, but not unreasonable, and of course you also get chips as soon as you sit down. It’s in Oak Hill, just a few minutes south of town on Highway 19.
BRIDGE BUTTRESS, JUNKYARD – Access is an easy, peasy walkup with flat areas at the base to play. You will pay for this convenience with crowds!
ENDLESS WALL: Our family’s fave area at the New! The most important thing to know about this for families is that the only way down is via bolted ladders. There are 3 options at various points along the cliff line. The first ones you reach are the Fern Point ladders, which signify the beginning of Endless Wall. If this is your first time there, or if you have young kids, especially young hikers, this is the safest option – it’s just 3 short ladders, very doable with a backpack carrier, and pretty easy to provide a spot for older kids. The latter two options, Honeymooners and Cirque ladders, are significantly taller and much more exposed. If you are nervous about kids that are too big for a backpack carrier tackling any of these ladders safely,but you still want to climb at Endless, jsut bring their harness as well, and belay them down. You can use a quickdraw as a directional at the top of the bottom Honeymooner ladder. Common practice for us was to come in at Fern Point in the morning, and hike out at Honeymooners – going up always felt easier than going down, and we already had our gear out from climbing all day anyway!
BEAUTY, FERN, LOWER MEADOW, SOUTH SIDE CRAGS, BUBBA CITY – Reasonable hikes, depending on where exactly you’re wanting to climb. Beauty has a river crossing that is pretty reasonable to rock hop, and Fern has a short exposed section that is not difficult, but might warrant holding a young hiker’s hand. Bubba City has some fixed lines that my kids really enjoy!
KAYMOOR – The Hole and First Buttress are reasonably short hikes, the trek down to Butcher’s Branch is long and uphill on the way out, but the base is great for kids. There is even a creek to splash around in when it’s hot.
COTTONTOP – The hike is short, but it’s a death march – so steep! Base is good once you get up there though.
SUMMERSVILLE LAKE – Good option for kids that don’t mind a hike, although be prepared with something motivating for the up hill on the way out (hiking bears always work for us.) There is a short ladder at the base of the cliff, but it is very mellow compared to Endless Wall. Don’t forget bathingsuits (and PFD’s for non-swimmers) in the warmer months!
UPPER MEADOW – Long hike for short legs, though most of it is along a flat 4-wheeler trail.
If you’ve got kiddos old enough to want to do their own crushing, there are a few areas to check out. GUIDE’s WALL is listed in the guidebook at the very end of the Endless Wall section, and is best accessed by following the approach to Beauty. Look for this section of cliff on the right as you descend the gravel road. There are 3 different trad lines (that can easily be set up as topropes from above if you didn’t bring gear) ranging from 5.2-5.7. SMALL WALL is not in the guidebook, but can be found pretty easily by parking at the Bridge Buttress pullout, then hiking back up the road until you see a narrow but fairly obvious trail heading down and to the right. Take that trail for a few minutes until the trail splits off – head up to set up TR’s, head down to the cliff base. There’s nothing impressive about this wall, but it does offer several good kiddo lines. There are also a number of easy lines off to the right on the way down to the Lower Meadow. They are not in the current guidebook, but my guess is that when the updated version comes out they will be included.
Keep in mind that the long reaches found at the New can be particularly unfriendly to vertically challenged beginners (or the vertically challenged of any level for that matter!) A climb may have a seemingly “kid-friendly” grade, but have moves that are giant for a child’s ape index. Just like anywhere else, it might take a kidcrusher a little trial and error to find their mojo.
Overall though, the New River Gorge is a great place for families! We climbed here for years pre-kids, and weren’t about to stop going once they came along – and now it’s one of their fave places to adventure too! In addition to climbing, there’s also great white-water rafting, mountain biking, and hiking in the area. Check in with the fabulous folks at Water Stone Outdoors for the best family-friendly beta on that stuff! And stay tuned for the next installment in this blog series, “NRG Sport Climbing: Best 5.9’s and under.”