For centuries, the area was inaccessible, but the railroad opened this part of West Virginia in 1873, and with it came mining and 13 bustling towns, by 1905. The boom continued through the 1950's, though the once busy towns, mines, and homes in the gorge are now mostly hidden. The New River Gorge Bridge was put in place in 1977, reducing a 40-minute drive, down narrow mountain roads and across a truss bridge from the 1890's, to less than a minute. It's the world's third longest single-span arch bridge, and the third-highest in the country.
The New River Gorge National River was designated in 1978 to protect 53 miles of one of the oldest rivers in the world. The Park encompasses over 70,000 acres for white water rafting, hiking, mountain biking, and fishing, but is renowned among rock climbers. It's also just one of three National Recreation areas in this Southern Appalachian region.
The main town near the Gorge Bridge is Fayetteville (population 2,900), named for the Marquis de Lafayette. Besides outdoor activities, I really enjoyed "going to town", and had extensive conversations with very friendly locals. All the way around, this West Virginia stop was a great surprise!