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Gorgeous Scenery and History: West Virginia’s New River Gorge

By Johnny Molloy • Jul 16, 2017 at 6:04 PM

West Virginia’s New River Gorge is one of America’s finest outdoor recreation destinations -- and easily accessible from the Tri-Cities (It is about a three-hour drive from Johnson City). And yes, not only can you hike the New River Gorge, but raft, kayak, camp, climb and fish. It is truly a national treasure.

The New River Gorge drips with mining history, and is home to the world famous New River Gorge Bridge and Bridge Day, where daredevils parachute into the gorge. Nearby Fayetteville is a fun and funky town that can enhance your trip to “the gorge”, as locals like to call it.

For a rewarding adventure at the New River Gorge, I suggest you visit the old Kaymoor Mine and see Craig Branch Cascades, combining West Virginia history with Mountain State splendor. This 2-mile walk not only takes you to a scenic set of falls but also leads past the historic preserved mine site enhanced with interpretive information. Start on the edge of the New River Gorge then descend a miners trail, passing a low flow cascade to find the Kaymoor mine site. See building relics, signage, structures and the mine itself. An optional spur takes you to the bottom of the gorge to view more miner history, including the community of Kaymoor.

The walk travels along the mid-slope of the gorge easterly in more national park level scenery to reach Craig Branch, where a set of cataracts awaits upstream of the trail. A more difficult but exciting fall can be visited by intrepid off-trail hikers below the trail.

You get your first sampling of the past here at the trailhead. Take a minute to enjoy the view from the nearby man haulage platform. The man haulage was an old conveyor that took people and supplies from here atop the New River Gorge to the mine and on to the gorge bottom 1,000 feet below.

At the beginning of the Kaymoor Miners Trail, read the interpretive information before you begin your downhill waterfall hike. That is one of the beauties of the New River Gorge -- it not only preserves the superlative land and waterscapes of West Virginia’s mightiest valley, but also conserves the human history of the land, yesteryear’s logging and mining days.

The hike first traces an old road then descends into the gorge through a break in the cliffline. Rhododendron, beech, maple and trailside hemlocks cheer you on. Step after step after step moderate the challenging descent. Take your time on the steepest parts of the path, especially if conditions are wet.

Your thighs will be burning from keeping the brakes on by the time you reach the Kaymoor Mine. Just think, before the man haulage, miners would take the trail you used to reach the mine – then go to work! The first thing you see is an old metal sign stating, “Your family wants you to work safely”. Another sign from the mining days details safety rules. Extensive interpretive information about the mine operation and the miners themselves gives life to the artifacts from the mine.

Buildings range from the intact dynamite building to naked stone walls to wire fence encircling tangles of metal and wood. Do not cross any barriers for a closer look. A narrow, flat mine car stands just outside the 36-inch high mine seam, now blocked by metal bars. Visit the stone buildings and other structures.

The natural beauty is visible too – it is a clear shot across the gorge at the tan cliff line known as the Endless Wall. The Endless Wall is popular with rock climbers and also offers first-rate vistas into the gorge and back across at this mine.

If you are feeling frisky, take the 821 steps down to the community of Kaymoor Bottom, where over 100 houses were built by a fellow named James Kay, an employee of the Low Moor Iron Company, thus the name Kaymoor. Alas, the houses burned to the ground, most of them in 1960, after they were abandoned. However, at Kaymoor Bottom you can see more mine relics, from the fallen tipple to the coke ovens to industrial outbuildings where the mine continued to operate until 1964, after the mine community disbanded. Of course, it is 821 steps back up.

To reach Craig Branch Cascades leave the mine site and travel easterly up the mid-slope of the New River Gorge on the Kaymoor Trail. The hike remains more level than not under the tulip trees and astride big boulders. Still more metal mine relics can be found along the trail as well as roads and foundations being slowly obliterated by nature.

The Kaymoor Trail crosses Craig Branch by culvert. Just up from the trail you can see angled 15-foot Craig Branch Cascades spilling over a rock ledge. Peering beyond this lower cataract you can see 25-foot Craig Branch Falls upstream. It is not difficult to access the 15-foot cataract – just simply work your way up the right bank of the creek from the trail, banging through a little brush. Here, you will see Craig Branch make an angled descent over rock strata then squeeze past boulders and dash along a curve rock wall and finally flow under the trail.

Accessing Craig Branch Falls takes a little more finesse. Backtrack toward the Kaymoor Mine, then turn up toward Craig Branch near a big trailside rock. Here, you see Craig Branch Falls descend in three ever-widening tiers over stone ledges, the lowermost ledge overhanging.

Like many tributaries of the New River within the New River Gorge, there are other waterfalls along Craig Branch accessible off trail. One such 40-plus foot fall drops a little below the Kaymoor Trail’s crossing of Craig Branch, but you must fight through rhododendron and brush to access its lip. Getting to the bottom of that falls is even more difficult and perhaps dangerous. Do not do it unless you are prepared for the challenge and consequences.

To get to the Kaymoor Miners Trail from US 19 in Fayetteville, West Virginia, at the traffic light near the Raleigh County courthouse, take Court Street, WV 16, south for .7 mile to Gatewood Road (You will see a park service sign for Cunard here). Turn left on Gatewood Road and follow it for 1.9 miles to Kaymoor Road. Turn left on Kaymoor Road and follow it .9 mile to a “T” intersection. Turn left and drive a short distance to the official parking area. Do not park at the Arrowhead parking area or along the roads. On foot backtrack a short distance to reach the Kaymoor Miners Trail and begin the hike there. For more information, please visit www.nps.gov/neri.

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