Last updated: September 15, 2023
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New River Gorge Waterfall Tour Stop 8:
The most iconic waterfall in the park is Sandstone Falls. Spanning 1,500 feet across, it is the largest waterfall on the New River. Several small islands divide the falls into different parts that drop 10 to 25 feet. Although the falls require some walking to view it, the boardwalk is short and accessible.
Sandstone Falls marks the transition zone of the New River from a broad river of large bottomlands, to a narrow mountain river roaring through a deep boulder strewn V- shaped gorge. The falls form the dramatic starting line for the New Rivers final rush through the New River Gorge to its confluence with the Gauley river to form the Kanawha River.
Your journey to view the Sandstone Falls Boardwalk will require some driving time, but it will take you along two of the park's most scenic roads, Route 20 from I-64 at the community of Sandstone, ten miles upstream to the town of Hinton, then downstream eight miles along River Road, the park's only scenic riverside drive. Both these routes offer several overlooks, historic sites, natural areas, trails, and river access points.
As you drive south, high above the river on Route 20 to Hinton you will pass two park vistas. The Sandstone Falls Overlook provides an aerial view of the falls from 600 feet above the river. Brooks Overlook looks down on the mile-long Brooks Island, a perennial bald eagle nesting site.
Hinton is the southern gateway to New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. A once booming railroad center, the town has a large historic district, railroad museum, antique shops, and restaurants.
After crossing the bridge at Hinton you will begin driving alongside the New River down River Road. There are great riverside vistas, several river access points, a trail, picnic area and small boardwalk view at Brooks Falls, a powerful Class III rapid. The journey ends at the Sandstone Falls day use area, where you begin your walk along the boardwalk and bridges that span the two islands below the falls.
The walk begins by crossing a short bridge that spans a manmade channel that once diverted water for a water powered gristmill used for grinding the local farmers corn and wheat. The first island offers a view of the lower falls, the one half mile Island Loop Trail, and one of the most unique botanical ecosystems in West Virginia, the Appalachian riverside flat rock plant community. This community is found in only five areas in the state and consists of several southern plant species that have migrated along the north flowing New River and have adapted to the thin rock strewn soil and occasional scouring floods on this elevated island below the falls.
The second bridge, a mini arch cor-ten steel structure, crosses a wide, naturally formed channel bringing you onto a low-lying island covered with a floodplain forest community and views of the impressive main falls.
Sandstone Falls was created by the powerful flow of the New river eroding the soft conglomerate rock layer that lies below the hard sandstone layer from which the falls gets its name. Through eons of time as the river washed away the conglomerate beneath the harder sandstone, the precipice of the falls and the great boulders below were created. The falls are still a dynamic geological environment as slowly but surely the falls, through time are advancing upstream.
A journey to Sandstone Falls provides a rare riverside scenic drive, the beautiful falls, and the dramatic interface of the New River's transformation from a broad mountain stream into a raging whitewater gorge in its final descent through the Appalachian Mountains.
Safety Advisory: The waters around Sandstone Falls are very swift and dangerous. Remain on the boardwalk or trails when visiting the falls. Anyone near or on the water should always wear a life jacket.
Sandstone Falls is not located at the Sandstone Visitor Center. It is an approximately 45 minute drive from the visitor center to the falls.
Travel Advisory: The final portion of New River Road to Sandstone Falls is narrow with no yellow line and limited passing space. Large vehicles over 25 feet in length such as RVs are not recommended.
If Following Waterfall Tour from Big Branch Falls: Take a left onto New River Road and continue north. The parking lot will be on the right in 4.2 miles.
From Sandstone Visitor Center: Take a left out of the visitor center parking lot. Follow WV-20 S for 10.3 miles to the town of Hinton. Continue through the town of Hinton. At the traffic signal in town, turn right onto WV-20 S / Temple Street. Cross the bridge and take a right onto WV-26 / New River Road. The parking lot will be on the right in 8.3 miles.