National Park Getaway: Bluestone National Scenic River

By Robin Snyder, Chief of Interpretation, Bluestone National Scenic River
Updated March 16, 2018
River with low water surrounded by green trees.
The quiet Bluestone River slowly weaving its way through the rugged Appalachian Mountains.

NPS Photo

Find quiet solitude and outdoor adventures along one of the most scenic and isolated river gorges in southern West Virginia. Cutting a gorge 1,000 feet deep through the Appalachian Mountains, the lower 10.5 miles of the Bluestone River has created one of the most diverse ecosystems in the southern Appalachians. In 1988 this wild and primitive river gorge was designated as Bluestone National Scenic River.

Follow in the footsteps of the Cherokee and Shawnee along the Bluestone Turnpike Trail. This hiking and biking trail follows the route of early Americans who used this river gorge as a means of navigating across this rugged landscape hundreds and even thousands of years ago. This ancient footpath meanders along the river’s bank for 9.5 miles, offering hikers and bikers a glimpse into the past, as well as an opportunity to spot wildlife such as black bears and wild turkeys. Pass by the former town site of Lilly and see how the forest has now reclaimed what was once a thriving town abandoned during the construction of the Bluestone Dam. A few small stone walls and depressions of old foundations are the only tangible relics that still remain to provide a link to the days when this was once a thriving farm community.

Join a park ranger every Saturday from Memorial Day through early October for a guided two-mile round trip excursion along the Bluestone River. Or to really experience the remote, wild nature of the park, sign up for the 9.5 mile Bluestone Turnpike Hike, offered several times each summer and early fall.

Two kayakers paddling a calm river surrounded by trees.
Kayakers enjoying a quiet paddle through the Bluestone River gorge.

NPS Photo

Get out in a kayak or canoe to really experience the river up close. When the water is high enough, paddle the calm waters of the Bluestone River from Pipestem Resort State Park to the confluence with the New River at Bluestone State Park—a particularly enjoyable paddle in spring and early summer when spring rains provide enough water to safely navigate the river. Set up your own shuttle between Pipestem and Bluestone State Parks or contact local companies for shuttle services.

Access to the river can be found at either end of the park at two WV state parks. By far the most exciting way to access the river is via the aerial tram at Pipestem Resort State Park where visitors are treated to a panoramic aerial view of the gorge while descending via cable tram over 1,000 vertical feet to the valley floor.

Bluestone National Scenic River is also a premier destination for fishing and hunting. The Bluestone is well known for its superb warm water fishing. Cast your line and try your luck at catching bluegill, smallmouth, and rock bass. Anglers with a West Virginia fishing permit can access the river from points along the Bluestone Turnpike Trail. Hunting, administered by West Virginia Department of Natural Resources, is permitted in most areas of the national scenic river. This pristine habitat supports the highest density of wild turkeys on the east coast as well as other game animals.

Whatever level of adventure you seek; young and old alike can get away and enjoy nature and outstanding scenic views at Bluestone National Scenic River.