New River Gorge, America’s newest (63rd) National Park, is the hub of many activities that attract over a million visitors each year. From whitewater rafting and kayaking to BASE jumping and rappelling, adventures are abundant in New River Gorge.
Besides whitewater rafting, perhaps the most popular thing to do in the park is walk across the 3,030’ New River Gorge Bridge catwalk that suspends 851 feet above the river.
In this blog post, you’ll find out how to walk across the New River Gorge Bridge. You’ll learn how to make the most of your trip to the bridge, exactly what to expect, and the other things you can do on the bridge.
History of the New River Gorge Bridge
Bridge construction began in June 1974 in an attempt to solve the current travel crisis.
Prior to the New River Gorge Bridge, a 40-minute drive down narrow, windy mountain roads was required to cross the gorge. A bridge much shorter and smaller is visible from the new bridge; this was the bridge drivers used to cross the river once traffic navigated down miles and miles of hairpin backroads.
With a shiny new speed limit of 65mph, the New River Gorge Bridge would reduce a 40-minute drive to just 45 seconds.
A surprisingly low number of just 50 men completed the entire project in under four years. Paid a salary of $15/hour, the crew worked night and day in 12-hour shifts, pouring concrete, laying steel, and nailing bolts.
44 million pounds of steel and 44 million pounds of concrete later, the New River Gorge Bridge was constructed.
Fun Facts About New River Gorge Bridge
Because I’m a sucker for fun facts and history about places and things that I’m interested in, I’m going to share a few more interesting facts about New River Gorge Bridge. Hopefully, you will be persuaded to go experience America’s newest National Park for yourself!
- The New River Gorge Bridge is the second-highest vehicle-carrying bridge in the U.S.; it is the fifth-highest in the world.
- It is the longest single-arch bridge in the Western Hemisphere.
- Each pillar took 6 full days to fill when concrete was poured continuously; each worker rotated in shifts of 12 hours to complete this task. There are 40,000,000 pounds of concrete in the entire structure.
- The bridge is higher than the Statue of Liberty and Washington Monument.
- The bridge cost 37 million dollars to construct back in 1974. In today’s currency, that translates to about 205 million dollars.
- The bridge was built to bend. In high winds, the structure visibly sways.
- When standing on one end of the catwalk, you can’t see the other end of the catwalk because the bridge isn’t flat.
How to Walk Across the New River Gorge Bridge
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The Bridge Walk Experience
Twenty-five feet below the traffic barreling down the New River Gorge Bridge lies a 3,030-foot catwalk that was originally designed for maintenance crews. But one business decided to use this catwalk for another purpose: guided tours.
There is only one bridge in the entire world that has this unique experience, and it lies in West Virginia. (A similar experience can be had in Australia, but according to our tour guide, visitors can’t walk across the entire catwalk, so it isn’t quite comparable).
Bridge Walk is the only company that offers the one-of-a-kind walk down the New River Gorge catwalk. These guided tours last 2-3 hours and are offered throughout the entire year. Your guide will lead the way down the 24”-wide catwalk, stopping every couple hundred yards to spew some history, relay fun facts, and share interesting stories.
You will meet your guide and tour group at the Bridge Walk headquarters, which lies directly across the Canyon Rim Visitor Center in the Fayetteville area of New River Gorge National Park.
You will check in and browse the gift shop while waiting for your entire group to arrive.
There is also a room in their building that contains history, fun facts, and photos, which are fun to read and see while you wait for your tour to begin.
Once everyone in your group arrives, you will gather outside and gear up. Your guide will outfit you with a harness, leash, and cable connection.
Once outfitted, you will be shuttled across the street to the visitor center, where you will walk a short distance to the bridge entrance.
You will be securely fastened to the cable system that is in place on the catwalk. (The cable system is unlike any pulley system I’ve ever seen. The heavy cable fasteners that connected our leashes to the contraption cost $900 apiece).
You will be given specific instructions on exactly how to use the system; rest assured, it was quite simple.
And in case you’re wondering, it is impossible to fall off the bridge, so unless you have a fear of heights, you shouldn’t have any hesitations about embarking on this adventure.
You will then proceed to slowly walk across the 3,030′, 24”-wide catwalk that is equipped with a smooth cable system and steel handrails.
Our tour guide, Jay, was not only knowledgeable and filled to the brim with fun facts and hilarious stories; but he was also entertaining and engaging. He responded to the groups’ needs. When we wanted to stop and take photos or videos, he’d oblige. He even took our photos for us because selfies just weren’t cutting it. He also quizzed us on different facts and had us guess things like how many pounds of steel the bridge was constructed with, how many men built the bridge, and the salary of the construction workers. It was a truly memorable experience.
Tips to Make the Most of Your Bridge Walk Experience
Bring a Neck Strap For Your Phone
Most of you will probably want to bring your phone but be warned, it is in danger of falling over the edge. In fact, our tour guide said numerous people over the years have lost their phones and other personal belongings to the churning gorge below. There is no way to retrieve these items.
If you choose to bring your phone to capture photos and videos, attach it to a neckstrap! That way, even if your phone slips out of your hands, it won’t plummet to its demise.
Keep Loose Belongings in Your Car
Empty your pockets before embarking on your tour.
Leave loose belongings like your wallet, purse, cameras, etc. in your vehicle.
You don’t want any of your loose items to fall over the edge of the bridge, and since you are going to have a harness and cables around you, you won’t want loose items getting in your way.
✨ You can leave your car keys at the headquarters!
Other Things You Can Do on the New River Gorge Bridge
Walking isn’t the only activity that you can do on the bridge. Here are some other fun things you can do on the New River Gorge Bridge!
Drive Across the Bridge
Since the original construction did not yield a pedestrian path, the only way to cross it from the very top is to drive across.
There is just one day that you can walk across the pavement: Bridge Day! I’ll mention that next.
Jump Off the Bridge
Once a year on Bridge Day, hundreds of applicants are given the freedom to fly off the top of the bridge 876 feet into the rapids of New River Gorge. Participants can BASE jump, ride the high line (zip line), rappel, or get shot from a human catapult.
BASE jumping is a term referring to the objects that participants leap from. Buildings, Antennas, Spans (aka Bridges), Earth (in the form of cliffs or promontories). Visit the Jump Bridge Day website to find out more information on the jump and how to register for the first-time jumper course.
Zip-lining happens on the east side of the bridge. Participants will ride the high line and slide 700 feet on a zip line from the catwalk to Fayette Station Road. Speeds are controlled by a belayer. (When we were standing up on the catwalk area where zip-liners take off, it didn’t seem too far, but our guide told us the zip-line takes two minutes to ride). You do not need experience to book a ride, but you should book in advance!
Rappelling the bridge involves several teams ascending and descending from the catwalk on a fixed rope. Rappel teams are chosen by a lottery drawing in June every year. Applicants must be seasoned with proper rack training and have completed at least a 250’ rappel. Applicants must also be familiar with rappelling skills, rescue techniques, and equipment. For more information and to book a rappel, click here.
Catapulting from the bridge will launch you higher than the bridge itself. See what it feels like to be launched from the “Human Rastapult,” engineered with a compressor, muffler, tow hitch, fender, and road wheels. Book now!
Attend Bridge Day
Bridge Day is West Virginia’s largest single-day festival.
This celebration began in 1980 when two parachutists jumped from a plane onto the bridge. These two jumpers were joined by three additional jumpers, who then dove from the bridge to the gorge.
In 2019, nearly 100,000 people gathered on the New River Gorge Bridge to watch daredevils BASE jump, rappel, and zip-line from the bridge to the gorge, 876 feet below.
On this infamous day, the catwalk is open to rappellers who sign up and spectators who purchase Bridge Day Walk tickets in advance. The typical walk across the entire bridge with history and dialogue from a tour guide will be replaced with a walk to the center of the bridge.
Here, you will watch the BASE jumpers dive from the bridge twenty-five feet above your head and into the gorge below. You will be up close and personal, listening to the jumpers use all of their colorful words as they free-fall into the sky.
If you are interested in booking a front-row view of this action from the catwalk, book a tour on Bridge Day here.
If you’d like to sign up to BASE jump, click here.
If you’d like to sign up to zip-line or rappel off the bridge, click here.
For FAQs and additional information on participating or spectating on Bridge Day 2023, click here.
Discover Your Next Adventure
Where to next? I’ve got some suggestions!