The Traveler's Journal  
Travel Articles by David Bear
Versions of these articles and columns have appeared in newspapers around the county. Please enjoy them for your own use, but if you want to reproduce or publish them in any form, please let us know first by emailing us

Adventures on New River Gorge



LANSING, W.Va. —- Hooking the carabiners of my harness to the zip line trolley, our guide told me to step off the platform and allow my weight to sink on the steel cable. After getting his OK, I grabbed the handles of the trolley, raised both feet, and let myself go.

PG map: New River Gorge
(Click image for full version)

Within seconds, I was hurtling through the treetop canopy on the flanks of the steep hillside.

Clearing the foliage, I flew suspended 200 feet over the valley floor, reaching a velocity approaching 60 mph, the wail of the wire and wind filling my senses. Briefly I noted a van on the road below and a flash of green covering distant hillsides. Then, almost before the experience really registered, I began braking as I neared the cable's end.

My ride lasted fewer than 45 seconds, but what a rush!

The 3,050-foot AdrenaLine, the longest zip line on the East Coast, was the sixth zip on that afternoon's Gravity Tour. It was definitely a high point of the four days I spent last October at Adventures on the Gorge, the aptly named adventure resort situated along the New River Gorge in south central West Virginia, an easy four-hour drive from Pittsburgh.

But it was not the only high point.

If you go

Adventures on the Gorge is in Lansing, W.Va., a four-hour drive south of Pittsburgh. Take Interstate 79 south to U.S. 19 south to Ames Heights Road, the last exit before crossing the New River Gorge Bridge.

To get a free copy of the 2015 full AOTG brochure or Explore Magazine call 1-888-287-6010 or visit

Eating: Food options on the AOTG campus include hearty breakfast and dinner buffets at Smokey's on the Gorge or Buffler's BBQ and Pizza for continental breakfast, a slice or salad at lunchtime, and freshly barbecued brisket, ribs, chicken or pork at dinner. For lighter fare mornings and afternoons, there's the poolside Canyon Falls Bar and Grille and the Sweet Java Falls coffee shop. Finally, Chetty's Pub features hot wings, burgers and other bar food for lunch and dinner, while the open-air Rendezvous Lodge is where people gather for a cold one, watch the day's rafting videos and enjoy live bands on the dance floor.

Overnighting: There are a range of inexpensive, bring-your-own-bedding options that let you commune with the elements and access shared bathhouse facilities.

In addition to ATOG's simple camp sites, each with its own fire ring ($15 per person per night), rustic accommodations include platform tents ($49 per night), country cabins ($89 per night), hemlock bunkhouses ($69 per night) and Pine Cabins ($79 per night) or Sportsmen Cabins ($189 a night).

For less rustic options there are new Sunnyside Cabin Suites, large hotel-like rooms with two queen-sized beds, a spacious bathroom and shower, efficiency kitchen, large deck, heat, AC, cable and WiFi ($209 per night). In addition, a collection of two-, three-, and four-bedroom deluxe cabins are fully furnished with bathrooms and kitchens, cable TVs, Wi-Fi and other modern comfort amenities, including living and dining rooms, fully equipped kitchens, fine linens, fireplaces, hot tubs, and more. They range from $259 to $459 per night.

All of these options are based on double occupancy; all can accommodate extra people, but there's a $15 to $20 nightly charge for each.

Finally for adventurers who want all the comforts of home, AOTG can arrange for nightly and weekly rentals of several nearby privately owned vacation houses situated along the rim of the gorge itself.



I’ve visited this area numerous times over the past 25 years to go whitewater rafting through the tree-flanked gorges of the New River, as well as the Gauley River, where in September and October weekend releases from the Summersville Dam transform its lower 27 miles into what's often recognized as one of the country's best run of rapids.

Back in the 1980s and ’90s, as many as a dozen outfitters offered basic rafting experiences on these two rivers, coupled with campsites and simple food services. Although well run with plenty of thrills to be had, all entailed a degree of roughing it.

The adventure opportunities and amenities have improved significantly in the past eight years. Driven by competitive pressures and a slackening of demand for rafting in general, four of the leading outfitters — Mountain River Tours, Class-VI River Runner, the Rivermen and Songer Whitewater — combined resources to create a new company and more comprehensive resort, Adventures on the Gorge, in 2007.

The move provided the critical mass to let AOTG broaden the range of activities it offers, provide a wider menu of eating and entertainment options and expand the choices for accommodations.

There is now stand-up paddle-boarding on placid river stretches and also on nearby Summersville Lake. New hiking trails lace both around the AOTG grounds and along the flanks of New River Gorge National Forest. There's rock climbing and rappelling on the gorge's sandstone cliffs. Cyclists will enjoy excursions on back roads, mountain paths and nearby rail trails. There is fishing for smallmouth bass, horseback riding and ATV off-roading. Shooting enthusiasts will find sporting clays to paintball. The volleyball courts and Raven Ridge disc-golf course get plenty of use.

During the summer ATOG even offers a kids camp, where parents can leave their children ages 5 to 12 for morning, afternoon or all-day activities.

Opened last summer, the Canyon Falls Swimming Hole is a 3,000-square-foot, split-level swimming pool on the main campus at the rim of the gorge with a beautiful view of the bridge. Surrounded by a warmly textured concrete deck, it's an excellent place to relax after a day of adventures, and it has become the setting for birthday parties and weddings.

After all that activity, one can get a variety of soothing massages, including Thai, Swedish and deep tissue.

But the new options that surprised me were the “aerial adventures.”

In addition to the Gravity Zip Line Tour (updated to a double cable experience in 2015), AOTG has the somewhat more pastoral, mile-long TreeTops Canopy Tour on its campus. Affable guides conduct guests safely via 10 zip lines and five swaying sky bridges through the treetops of a 300-year-old hemlock and hardwood forest along Mill Creek Canyon. 

Then there's the AOTG TimberTrek Aerial Adventure Park. Using cables, zip lines, ropes, swaying wooden bridges, beams, logs and other obstacles strung between trees, the park is organized into five color-coded courses, each successively higher and more challenging. Participants 10 years and older can proceed at their own pace and ability, doing as much or as little as they wish. Although each is on his own, a continuous cabling system prevents nasty falls and attendants offer tips from the ground about how to proceed.

Take my word for it, even the lower-level courses can cause you to break into a serious sweat.

Finally, while not exactly an aerial adventure, the BridgeWalk can certainly be classified as a high adventure. When the 3,030-foot-long New River Gorge Bridge opened to traffic in 1977, it slashed the time to cross the chasm on U.S. 19 from 45 minutes to 45 seconds. Standing 876 feet above the river, the arching span was the world's highest vehicular bridge, a record it held for more than 25 years.

The bridge provided the automobile access that let the area's abundant adventure-oriented activities blossom, along with providing great views of the great gorge, albeit at 65 mph.

Other than the third Saturday each October — when the state’s largest festival is held for Bridge Day, highlighted by the daredevil sport of BASE diving — the bridge deck is off limits to pedestrians. But now most days a daring soul can still stroll all the way across the span on the 2-foot-wide maintenance catwalk that traverses the bridge's truss structure 20 feet beneath the center of the highway. There are sturdy railings on either side, and walkers also are continuously tethered to steel cables anchored overhead, providing protection against mishap. With pauses to contemplate the vast views and hear about the bridge and its construction, one-way group walks take about 90 minutes, followed by a quick shuttle bus to ferry everyone back to the starting base.

All in all, AOTG lives up to its name, offering a range of outdoor and indoor activities that make for an excellent escape, whether for a weekend or a week. While the primary rafting seasons are summer and early fall, many of the other facilities are open all year.

I look forward to my next visit.

Post-Gazette travel editor emeritus, David Bear:


[Back to Articles Main]