The New River Gorge Bridge soars 876 feet high over the New River Gorge near Fayetteville, West Virginia, in the Appalachian Mountains. Walking the more than 3,000 feet along a two-foot-side walkway is a test for steady nerves. Read on as one adventurous Traveling Mom takes the walk and…doesn’t fall off the bridge.
New River Gorge Bridge
Ever since I can remember I had a burning desire to climb the cables on the Verrazano Bridge. Since I knew I couldn’t do it without getting arrested, I flew around the world to Australia to climb the Sydney Harbor Bridge instead. Well, that desire has still not ceased, so when I found out from my fellow adventurer, Barbara Noyes, that there was a similar climb we could do right here in the U.S., we began to investigate.
Turns out that spot happens to be the New River Gorge Bridge in Fayetteville, West Virginia. When that $37 million bridge was built in June of 1974, I don’t think the Michael Baker Company had any idea that it would be come a true adventure spot. But, in 2009, that’s exactly what happened when The Bridge Walk LLC saw an opportunity to give unique tours across the walkway, or catwalk, as they call it. Of course they had to make it safe so guests would not fall off the bridge, so a safety system was installed first, as well as pathways that lead you up to the walkway.
A quick call to the friendly people who operate this high aerial adventure and we had all we needed to know: Tours are daily at 9 a.m., 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.) except Thanksgiving and Christmas. It takes place rain, shine or snow. (Although high winds may be a deterrent, and I’m not sure I’d be thrilled about building a snowman up there). Reservations are a must. The tour takes about four hours.
Prepping for the Bridge Walk
As far as physical, you have to be 48 inches or taller (I squeak by), be 10 years or older (again I squeak by, OK, maybe not), and able to wear a harness that fits a maximum waist size of 52” (OK so I’d have to cut out eating donuts for a week) and have a leg thigh of no more than 34 inch circumference (luckily I’m good there). Then of course there is the logical stuff like, nothing loose–e.g., bags, jewelry, sunglasses, food or drinks–up there, since you don’t want things falling out of your pocket and hitting or spilling on someone below. (Unless it’s an ex-husband or wife…then go at it.) And of course, no knapsacks carrying mysterious items or chewing gum or spitting is allowed.
So how does one dress when dangling 876 feet above the River and about to walk the second largest single span steel arch in the Western Hemisphere with a length of half mile on a 2-foot-wide catwalk? Well, no open-toed shoes, flip-flops or sandals for starters and since it is 10-15 degrees colder up there than on the roadside, a jacket, gloves or rain jacket are appropriate.
Armed with all this newfound knowledge, Barbara and I were set. Since we were allowed to bring a camera or a cell phone as long as it was strapped to us, we brought both.
Ready for the Walk
We arrived on a Monday in October and our timing was perfect; there were only four people enlisted for the tour that day. We literally just beat the massive crowds. They had been there on the weekend.
The third Friday and Saturday in October is the annual Bridge Day Weekend. This is the weekend for the real adventure buffs. They bungee jump off the bridge! Thousands come out to watch and partake in the activities. We arrived the Monday after all the crowds went home.
Apparently this bridge is very famous, Oprah did an episode here getting someone to break her fear of heights by walking over it. (And if you watch TV, you might remember the bridge from a GMC Truck commercial where the truck was bungee jumped right off the bridge!
Anyway, we checked into the bridge headquarters, where we were met our wonderful, outgoing and knowledgeable tour guide, Doug Coleman. He fitted us with our safety gear. We talked to the other couple (who had met as childhood sweethearts and 50 years later were still madly in love!)
After check-in, we hopped on a bus and were shuttled to the Canyon Rim Visitors Center on the north side of the Bridge. We walked up inclined walking trails for a few minutes and through a gated security door to the catwalk.
There before us was the walkway in the middle of this massive iron structure. We were secured onto the safety line, given instructions how to pull our lines and our adventure on the two-foot-wide catwalk began.
If you have a fear of heights it might be intimidating, but just don’t look down! Focus on the other end and you will be fine. Although you’d miss the gorgeous view of the river below and all the beautiful scenery that stretches out for miles if you don’t at least sneak a peek.
It’s not like you are going to fall over. There is a waist high hand rail on both sides and you are strapped in! You just have to trust that this massive bridge can support your weight, which unless you’re an Orca, I’m sure it can.
Personally, I got a kick out of knowing that there were cars and trucks driving above us on the highest vehicle carrying bridge in the US and they had no clue we little ants were crawling around below them. I especially liked when we could feel the vibrations of the traffic.
We walked at a very leisurely pace. So leisurely in fact, Barbara and I wanted to sit down and observe this one tiny kayaker we saw on the river below navigate the rapid waters. So Doug said, “Sure go ahead.” We sat down and dangled our feet off the bridge.
While we were watching the guy, Doug continued to tell us facts about the bridge, its history, some wacky things that happen during the bridge weekend, and then he unloaded this gem of information on us.
“Hey Fran, You see that tiny tree way down there below?”
“The one with the squirrel burying his nuts behind it?”
“Yes,” he laughed. “How would you feel if we hooked up a zip line and you went from way up here, full speed to way down there?”
“I’d love it! We just zip lined in Mega Cavern in the dark!”
“Well come back next October and we can set you up to zip line off this bridge.”
Barbara and I took one look at each other and said, “Sign us up now!”
Excited with our next adventure plotted, we watched the kayak guy for a while, and then continued along the catwalk till we got to the end.
Then we were unhooked and escorted back to headquarters to a quaint gift shop. (Come on folks you know that is going to happen) And that’s when we found out another surprise, Doug is a glass engraver, and does this beautiful work, so naturally we bought a Christmas ornament with the bridge etched in it. Now every year I can remember my impromptu trip to West Virginia.
After talking to the staff at the shop for about a half hour and promising to come back to do the zip line, we headed off to drive around the New River Gorge and explore the park.
As we crossed over the bridge in my GMC Terrain, Barbara and I looked at each other, remembering the commercial…A flash passed in our heads of how cool it would be to be in the car as it bungeed, but then we figured that’s a whole different adventure for another day.
If you go to the New River Gorge Bridge Walk.
Tours start at the New River Gorge National River Canyon Rim Visitor Center, off U.S. 19, just north of the bridge. Tours Daily, Cost $69/$74 per person, Reservations required. Go to bridgewalk.com or call 304-574-1037.