Watch CBS News

Campers try new fee-free sites at West Virginia's New River Gorge

CBS News Live
CBS News Pittsburgh Live

(AP/KDKA) —  "It's a pretty place," said first-time New River Gorge National Park and Preserve camper Sharon Simpson as she relaxed on a chair at her campsite in the park's Glade Creek Campground, where a half-dozen other campers were spending time in the early spring sunshine.

"The only sounds you hear are from the river or a passing train," Simpson said. "When I walked to the creek to take some pictures, a deer walked right past me."

The Columbus, Ohio, resident said she decided to give camping in the nation's newest national park a try mainly because she likes to explore and had never spent time in the Gorge before.

"And free is good," she added.

Unlike most campgrounds in other national parks, where campers are charged fees averaging about $20 per night for similar "car-camping" sites, all eight campgrounds found within West Virginia's New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, which is about 3 1/2 hours from Pittsburgh, are free and open year-round.

All eight campgrounds are rated primitive, meaning they lack drinking water, bathhouses, or hookups for power and other utilities. But all but one campground offer streamside campsites, and all are equipped with fire rings, lantern posts, picnic tables, composting or pit toilets, and garbage and recycling collection service.

While visitation has spiked in the two years since the Gorge was designated a national park, no new campground development is being planned and no camping fee increases are presently under consideration, according to park officials.

Park managers are hopeful that "increased visitation will offer new opportunities outside the park for private campgrounds" to expand or be developed, according to Eve West, chief of interpretation, visitor services and cultural resources at New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.

The park is urging visitors seeking full-service camping amenities to book sites at nearby privately owned campgrounds or state parks.

Reserving campsites within the national park is not currently an option, as the policy now in place calls for making all 109 campground campsites in its inventory available on a first-come, first-served basis. As a result, visitors have no way of knowing prior to arriving at a campground whether a favorite campsite — or any campsite — is available.

West said a reservation system is being discussed for the park's eight campgrounds, plus a ninth park-managed campground below Summersville Dam in the Gauley River National Recreation area, but is not yet considered ready for implementation.

Campgrounds maintained by New River Gorge National Park and Preserve may be occupied for up to 14 consecutive days within a 28-day period. Two camping units — tent or small recreation vehicle — serving no more than eight campers are permitted at each campsite. No more than two vehicles per site are allowed.

Campfires are allowed within fire rings, using only dead wood found on the ground. Campers are urged to refrain from hanging lanterns from trees or driving nails into trees. Pets are allowed at campgrounds, but must be kept on leashes.

Public intoxication, disorderly conduct and possession of alcohol by minors are all prohibited. Campers are urged to observe quiet hours between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Campgrounds within the park range in size from small to medium, with the largest offering 26 campsites and the smallest providing just four. While all campgrounds but one — War Ridge/Backus Mountain — provide easy access to the New River or its tributaries for fishing or boating, swimming in the New is not recommended due to the river's powerful currents, sudden drop-offs and rocky shoals.

All are located along maintained gravel roads accessible by two-wheel-drive cars. All are also miles from the nearest stores or restaurants.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.