Would you be tempted to walk across a narrow steel catwalk, 851 feet in the air, if your reward was panoramic views of the river, gorge, and woods below? The catwalk is part of the New River Gorge Bridge, an adventure in West Virginia. My 13-year old niece and I were excited by the adventure of walking the narrow path that stretches the length of the bridge, and eagerly put on safety straps. What do you think – yikes, or tempted?
Adventure in West Virginia
Stretched out over a river is the New River Gorge Bridge, a not-to-miss adventure in West Virginia. It is a single arch, one of the biggest single-span bridges in the world. The steel beams supporting the bridge have a stark, angular beauty. The bridge’s metal arch stretches over the rapids of the New River like a steel sculpture suspended in mid-air. But this is a functioning bridge. Crossed by cars every day, this is a new adventure in West Virginia: crossing over the gorge perched on the steel frame of this bridge.
Beneath the roadway of the New River Gorge Bridge are the steel beams that support it. The Bridge Walk lets you cross through the steel beam supports by walking on a 2-foot wide catwalk that stretches the length of the bridge. The catwalk exists to give steelworkers access to repair the bridge, and we actually saw and spoke to steelworkers keeping the bridge in good shape. Now, visitors also are welcome to take in the beautiful views from the bridge. The steelworkers’ workplace is a fun adventure for visitors to West Virginia.
Bridge Walk Guides Take Safety Precautions
We walked on the narrow catwalk, 851 feet in the air, and peered down at the river, gorge, and woods below you. We were almost as high as the Eiffel Tower. From up on the catwalk, we could see whitewater rafts on the river below, making their way through the rapids. My niece and I felt perfectly safe as we crossed the catwalk. It was an adventure, but the Bridge Walk guides strapped us into harnesses connected to the bridge.
The catwalk is level and easy to walk on. I held handrails on either side except when I was taking pictures of the whitewater rapids, the winding river, and the green forest covering the gorge. We had gone whitewater rafting with Adventures on the Gorge the day before, and it was fun to get a completely different view of the river from far up above.
Beauty of the Bridge
My biggest surprise was the beauty of the bridge itself. Viewed from the narrow catwalk, the bridge’s steel beams looked like a midair metal sculpture, creating beautiful lines and shadows. It was as if we were in the middle of a huge metal sculpture, spanning the river.
Our helpful guide explained the history of the bridge as we walked across, including that it opened in 1977 as the biggest single span bridge in the world, and remains one of the biggest. The Bridge Walk is physically easy but we did have to walk or stand for about an hour. Visitors should be comfortable with heights and must be at least 8 or 9 years old. You can walk the catwalk even if it is raining, since you’re protected by the roadway above.
Excellent National Park Visitors Center
The Bridge Walk starting point is located close to the New River Gorge National Park Service Visitors Center. The Visitors Center is a good place to get oriented, watch an 11-minute movie about West Virginia’s natural and economic history, and see exhibits about the region. I always enjoy the bookstores at National Parks, which carry books for all ages, games, toys, and other ways to spark your kid’s interest in the Park.
Special Event at New River Gorge Bridge
Each October, “Bridge Day,” is a one-day public festival to celebrate the bridge. Parachuters jump from the Bridge, rappellers climb up and down the bridge, and a 700 foot high line gives visitors a chance to slide down the bridge.
My niece and I were visiting West Virginia for the excellent whitewater rafting at the nearby Adventures on the Gorge, in an area also known for rock climbing, mountain biking, hiking, and other outdoor adventures, even skiing. I am so glad we took a morning to view the river from way high up in the air, by taking the Bridge Walk, an adventure everyone in our group could share.
Have you ever had a travel adventure high up in the air? Tell us about it in the comments.