Let me start by saying, these two waterfalls are not close to each other. They are about an hour and a half apart. But…there is a lot to see and do in between, that I didn’t know about at the time. This post is not just me sharing all about Sandstone Falls and Cathedral Falls, it’s me planning another trip to this area to see everything I missed. =)

If you remember, our starting point for this trip was Niagara Falls in Canada.

(Click to read part one of this trip, and about Niagara Falls.)

It’s for this reason that we didn’t see more in the area. Our main objective for the trip was to see Niagara Falls. These two side trips were on the scenic route home, and we specifically chose them because they were easy to get to, but we didn’t have much time left to explore.

Cathedral Falls (Gauley Bridge, WV) is located right off of Highway 60.

A waterfall running down the side of a hill. Trees line the top of the hill and the sides are layers of dirt. The blue sky is peeking through the trees at the top.

Coming from either direction on Highway 60, you’ll see the sign for Cathedral Falls and a small parking area. This waterfall is technically the most accessible of the two, because you can walk about ten or twenty steps from the parking lot and see it.

A waterfall running over the side of a hill with layers of rocks and dirt. Some bigger rocks towards the bottom. Trees line the top of the hill and blue sky is peeking through the trees.

If you want to get closer, there is a very narrow, very slippery when wet path that you can take to get right up to the base of this 60 foot waterfall. (Please be super careful if you choose to walk on this path.)

Water from Cathedral Falls running around and over rocks as it goes down the hill. A path is to the left, along with trees, and a small bridge.
Looking towards the parking lot from the waterfall, you can see part of the small path on the left and the bridge in the front.

If you do take this path, you end up in the center of what feels like a giant hole that someone cut out of the earth, specifically so this waterfall could flow through it. It’s a very grounding experience standing in that spot, literally in the water if you choose to.

A waterfall flowing down a hill that is layered with rock and dirt. Trees are lining the top of the hill and blue sky is peeking through the trees.

Not too far from Cathedral Falls is small visitor center for Hawk’s Nest State Park, with a view of the valley that you won’t want to miss. (49 Hawks Nest Rd., Ansted, WV)  

A rectangular shaped sign that reads "Welcome to Hawks Nest State Park", surrounded by grass and trees.

Across the street from the visitor’s center, where you park, there is a paved pathway that will take you to a scenic overlook. From here you will be able to see some gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains, and the river and train tracks below. It’s well worth the quick stop, even if you don’t utilize the visitor center or restrooms.  

A wide angle view of the mountains of WV, with a river running through the middle of them. A train track runs along the right side of the river, and a dam runs across the middle of the river horizontally.
A view overlooking the mountains of WV. The river runs through the middle of the mountains, and a train bridge goes horizontally over the river.

Along the route, we found a small road that led to the river.

A river running around rocks and a small island with trees. The river is surrounded by mountains on both sides. The blue sky is at the top, with a few fluffy clouds in the sky.

Looking back, I’m not even sure where it was, or if we were supposed to be there. There were no signs or anything saying that we couldn’t be, so…we stopped and walked along the edge of the river.

A river running over rocks and around trees. The mountains are in the background, and the sun is shining in a blue sky.

From the map, I’m wondering if it’s part of the nearby dam property. Either way, it was really pretty.

We also saw several smaller waterfalls along the side of the road as we drove by.

A small waterfall along the side of the road.

If you only have time to see one of these waterfalls, make it Sandstone Falls.

Sandstone Falls in WV. A series of small waterfalls flowing over and around rocks, and small islands. Surrounded by trees.

Not because Cathedral Falls isn’t pretty, but because Sandstone Falls is so unique. Instead of being one central waterfall, it was a looooong series of waterfalls that made up the whole, surrounding several little islands. According to the National Park, it’s 1500 feet wide – which is over the length of four (U.S.) football fields. It’s also roughly 700 feet wider than the American Falls in Niagara, NY.

Sandstone Falls in WV. A waterfall that spans 1500 feet and runs around several small islands. In this picture the waterfall is flowing over large rocks and around small islands covered with trees, rocks, and grass. There are mountains in the distance behind it, and the sun is setting over the mountains.

There are two ways to see Sandstone Falls in WV: the Sandstone Falls Boardwalk (New River Rd., Shady Spring, WV), which is where we went, and then the Sandstone Falls Overlook (WV-20, Shady Spring, WV).

A waterfall flowing down into the river. Mountains are surrounding the water, and the sun sets over the mountains.

I didn’t know about the overlook at the time, so I’ll be adding it to my list of “more things to see”. These two are close to each other, so if you have time, I would recommend doing both.  

A waterfall flowing down into the river. Mountains surround the river and the sun is setting over the mountains.

The Sandstone Falls Boardwalk is around .4 miles roundtrip, and is accessible to almost anyone. It takes you along the waterfall, and through the beautiful trees surrounding it. There are picnic tables, restrooms, and it’s a beautiful place to watch the sun set.  

Sandstone Falls in WV, surrounded by the mountains. The sun is setting over the mountains.

In looking all of this up when we got home, I realized just how many other things there are to see and do in this area.

New River Gorge National Park is the newest of the National Parks, established in 2020, and the forest itself is one of “the oldest and most diverse ecosystems in the world”. The river that runs throughout the park, the New River, “is among the oldest rivers on the continent”. (from nps.gov) So when you’re exploring this park, you’re looking at some of the history of nature itself. In fact, in some areas of the park you’re looking at one of the few forests that are known as “old growth forests”. In the entire Eastern half of the U.S. there are only about 1% of these forests left. Which makes this National Park even more fascinating.

(Side note: if you’d like to see other old growth forests, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in TN, the Congaree National Park in SC, and the Shenandoah National Park in VA are all within a five (ish) hour drive of the New River Gorge National Park.)

If you’re into extreme thrill seeking, this area is well known for its Class III to V white water rafting rapids. (This is how rapids are ranked, classes 1-6, shown in Roman numerals. I didn’t know about any of this until we went a few months ago in NC.) It would also be really fun to just see some of those rapids. Safely. From the shoreline. Haha.

There are also at least eight major waterfalls in the park.

On my must-see/do list when I go back:  

1) The Sandstone Visitor Center (330 Meadow Creek Rd, Meadow Bridge, WV). You can find out more about the area, two of the best scenic drives in this National Park, and about all of the other places to stop along the way.

2) Sandstone Overlook (WV-20, Shady Spring, WV) – as mentioned above, we missed this one.

3) New River Gorge Bridge (U.S. Highway 19) – the most photographed bridge in West Virginia, and for good reason. The two best ways to see it are at the Canyon Rim Visitor Center (162 Visitor Center Rd. Lansing, WV), where there is an overlook, and on the Long Point trail. OR, if you’re feeling very brave, they do what’s called a Bridge Walk, which is a guided tour that you take where you walk on the catwalk that’s 25’ beneath the bridge. You literally walk under the bridge, but WAAAAY up in the air. 876 feet up in the air to be exact. If you’re interested in this…bridge walk .com, and be sure to send me pictures.

4) Grandview (4700 Grandview Rd. Beaver, WV) – this is one of the places that you can see the “horseshoe” in the New River. There are also several walking paths, rhododendrons (likely blooming in June-ish like the ones in Roan Mountain), and plenty of places for a picnic.

5) Drive Fayette Station Road

6) See all of the waterfalls on the New River Gorge Waterfall Tour (link here for the entire route), and then the larger West Virginia Waterfalls Tour.

Let me know if there’s anything else in this National Park that I need to add to my list. You can find me on Instagram – @thenovelturtle