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Discover New River State Park in Western North Carolina

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Looking for a beautiful area to enjoy the outdoors in Western North Carolina? After a friend saw we enjoyed the Mt. Jefferson State Natural Area near West Jefferson in Ashe County, she recommended one of her nearby favorite spots. Less than 13-miles from West Jefferson, the New River State Park is truly a hidden gem.

Primarily known for its tubing and canoeing along the New River, the area also has some gorgeous hiking trails and nice camp sites. The New River State Park makes a great day or weekend trip from Boone, Asheville, or Charlotte.

New River State Park Pinterest Image

New River State Park, NC

Nestled within the meanders of the New River, the 3,323 acres of the state park is split between several locations.

The two main entrances are the Wagoner access and the U.S. 221 access. These access points have ample parking, walk-in camping, and normal park facilities. We’ll talk a bit more about these areas in a minute.

The Elk Shoals access is smaller with ample parking and a free swimming beach. It’s also a great place to launch for tubing. However, there are no toilets or trash cans. You must take your litter with you.

The other three access areas of the park are canoe in only: Alleghany, Prather’s Creek, and Riverbend. All three have primitive canoe-in camping.

Path to the river, New River State Park, NC_

A Little About the New River

Ironically, the New River is estimated to be between 260 and 325 million years old. This means the New River is one of the five oldest rivers in the world. Two others from the Appalachian Mountains also hold this title: the Susquehanna and the French Broad. 

Immediately, we noticed how clean the New River looked. This is primarily due to the protections of being an American Heritage River, an honor President Clinton gave it during his 1998 visit. Twenty-six miles of the New River, including the NC portion, are designated as a National Scenic River.

Rocks along the river where people are canoeing, New River State Park, NC_

Canoeing and Tubing the New River

Have you heard that very few rivers in the world flow south to north? I grew up believing this and apparently it couldn’t be further from the truth. According to Dr. M. Kamiar, a Professor Emeritus of geography at Florida State College, hundreds of rivers flow south the north, including the New River. Keep this in mind so you don’t get turned around like I did.

Canoeing and tubing on the New River couldn’t be easier. Access to the New River State Park is free and it’s free to launch from any of their sites.

If you didn’t bring your own, there are several outfitters along the river you can rent from. The river is shallow, but it has a decent current, so you’ll want either a shuttle pick-up or drop-off. Each outfitter has different drop-off and pick-up points. Plus, they have different pricing structures, so you’ll want to call around. You can even schedule a shuttle if you’ve brought your own canoe.

walking along the trails, New River State Park, NC_
Large tree on the River Run Trail, New River State Park, NC_

Hiking

Though the river is the main attraction at the New River State Park, we also loved the hiking. The park has several short, easy – moderate trails through the stunningly beautiful forest.  

The Wagoner access has two main hiking trails: Fern Nature Trail (1 mile) and the Running Cedar Trail (1.2 miles).

narrow hiking trail through the forest, New River State Park, NC_
Black Eyed Susan Yellow Wildflowers, New River State Park, NC_

However, our favorite hikes were in the U.S. 221 access area. From behind the visitor center, we started the Hickory Trail (1.2 mile loop trail). After making our way through the forest and crossing the road, the trail filled with wild berries and yellow, Black Eyed Susans until we hit the turn-around point at the canoe launch.

It was here we decided to switch on to the River Run Trail (1.4 miles) instead of taking the loop back.

Though the River Run trail follows the river, there was too much overgrowth this time of year to see the river. However, we didn’t mind as the trail wound its way through several stages of thick tall forest. At one point, it even got a little bit cool for summer, and we noticed many of the trees already oddly changing color.

Even though there were no waterfalls, cliff top views, or rock scrambles, this peaceful forest walk ranks as one of our favorites in North Carolina for its sheer beauty.

 

Fern leaf, New River State Park, NC_
Fall colors on forest trail, New River State Park, NC_

Camping at the New River State Park

RV camping is available at the U.S. 221 site.

Both the Wagoner and U.S. 221 sites have walk-in campgrounds. Sites are flat, well laid out, and clean. Facilities include drinking water, hot showers, toilet facilities, campfires, grills, and picnic tables. Plus, there’s a canoe launch.

The downside is that it is a bit of a walk from the parking area. Most folks had wheeled dollies to help carry their stuff. It looked like the park supplies these, but we suggest checking when you reserve so you can plan accordingly.

Campsite, New River State Park, NC_
Camping area along the river, New River State Park, NC_

Other Nearby Accommodation

Okay, so you’re up for visiting the area, but not into camping, here are a few other options to consider. 

  • Holiday Inn Express West Jefferson – Is good value with very good customer reviews and budget rates.

  • Todd Escape – As there are few great hotels in the area, opting for a cabin or guest house is a good choice. With high reviews on cleanliness, comfort, and value for money a room at the Todd Escape Cabin puts you in a prime location for this area of North Carolina.

Travel Resources

We recommend and use these companies to arrange our travel plans; they make travel planning easy and affordable. If you have questions on our experiences, feel free to ask us!

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