GAULEY BRIDGE, W.Va. – Along the Gauley River National Recreation Area, there are plenty of things to do. It’s a whitewater rafting destination with more than 100 rapids, set amid rugged gorges and diverse wildlife. Your first stop along the Midland Trail is Cathedral Falls.
Cathedral Falls is one of the state’s highest and most-scenic waterfalls. It is a steep cascade that falls into a natural amphitheater. This is an easy waterfall to visit. It is located in a small park along U.S. Route 60, near Gauley Bridge. The falls are visible from the road, and the parking area, but better views can be seen if you take a short walk.
From there, if your heart can take it, see the laws of nature defied at The Mystery Hole in Ansted. Guided tours take about 15-20 minutes, and it is open from May through October. Leave your cameras and cellphones outside because you won’t believe what you see.
“It’s been in business and operation for 46 years,” said William Morrison, operator of The Mystery Hole. “It’s all about the laws of gravity being defied, so you’ll have to come and see it for yourself. You come in here, you’re going to be happy, and when you come out, you’ll be laughing for the rest of your holiday weekend.”
Just a two-minute drive brings you into Hawks Nest State Park. The park offers views of the New River Gorge, hiking trails, an aerial tramway and jet boat excursions. The park also offers a modern 31-room lodge for the comfort of overnight guests.
The Hawks Nest Overlook is a quarter-mile west of the lodge. This short, paved path to the overlook gives you a panoramic view of the New River, Hawks Nest Tunnel area and surrounding mountains. The overlook was constructed in the mid-1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps from local sandstone.
Go deeper into the New River Gorge to find the town of Thurmond. The town became the center of activity in the gorge, carrying shipments of coal from the surrounding coal fields. As coal and timber expanded, so did the town and rail yards to meet growing needs.
“It was the train center for repairing the steam-driven locomotives,” said Steve Morel, volunteer with New River Gorge National River. “The maximum population was around 400 people. There were large crowds here. Because there was no vehicles, everything came and went with trains, and once you’re here, you walked up to your home, walked to the country store, walked to your place of work.”
The depot was restored as a visitors center by the National Park Service in 1995. Today, Thurmond has more than 20 park-owned structures in the historic district. Thurmond remains a flag stop for Amtrak, and the town is still incorporated, hosting a reunion every year, where former residents recall the days of their youth.