New River (Kanawha River)

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New River
The New River within the New River Gorge as viewed from Hawks Nest State Park in West Virginia
Country United States
States North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia
Counties Ashe NC, Alleghany NC, Watauga NC, Grayson VA, Carroll VA, Wythe VA, Pulaski VA, Montgomery VA, Giles VA, Mercer WV, Summers WV, Raleigh WV, Fayette WV
 - left Bluestone River, East River
 - right Little River, Indian Creek, Greenbrier River
Source South Fork New River [1]
 - location Boone, NC
 - elevation 3,104 ft (946 m)
 - coordinates Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found.
Secondary source North Fork New River [2]
 - location Elk Knob, Watauga County, NC
 - elevation 4,446 ft (1,355 m)
 - coordinates Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found.
Source confluence
 - location Ashe County, NC
 - elevation 2,546 ft (776 m)
 - coordinates Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found.
Mouth Kanawha River [3]
 - location Gauley Bridge, WV
 - elevation 653 ft (199 m)
 - coordinates Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found.
Length 320 mi (515 km)
Discharge for Thurmond, WV, max and min at Glen Lyn, VA
 - average 8,730 cu ft/s (247 m3/s) [4][5][6]
 - max 226,000 cu ft/s (6,400 m3/s)
 - min 538 cu ft/s (15 m3/s)
Map of the Kanawha River watershed, with the New River and its watershed highlighted.

The New River, part of the Ohio River watershed, is about 360 mi (515 km) long. The river flows through the U.S. states of North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia before joining with the Gauley River to form the Kanawha River at the town of Gauley Bridge, WV.

Much of the river's course through West Virginia is designated as the New River Gorge National River, and the New River is one of the nation's American Heritage Rivers. In 1975, North Carolina designated a 26.5-mile (42.6 km) segment of the river as "New River State Scenic River", by including it in the state's Natural and Scenic Rivers System.[7][8] The segment was added to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System the following year.

The origins of the name are unclear. Possibilities include being a new river that wasn't on the Fry-Jefferson map of Virginia, an Indian name meaning "new waters", or the surname of an early settler.[9] Despite its name, the New River is one of the five oldest rivers in the world geologically,.[10]

This ancient river begins in the mountains of North Carolina near the Tennessee state line, flows generally northeastward across the Blue Ridge Mountains, Great Appalachian Valley, Ridge and Valley Province, and the Allegheny Front in western North Carolina and Virginia, before turning and following a more northwestward course into West Virginia, where it then cuts through the Appalachian Plateau (in the New River Gorge) to meet the Gauley River and become the Kanawha River in south-central West Virginia.[10] The Kanawha then flows to the Gulf of Mexico via the Ohio River at Point Pleasant, WV and Mississippi River at Cairo, Illinois. Much of the river's course is lined with steep cliffs and rock outcrops, particularly in its gorge in West Virginia.[10][11]

This low-level crossing of the Appalachians, many millions of years old, has long been a biogeographical corridor allowing numerous species of plants and animals to spread between the lowlands of the American East Coast and those of the Midwest; other unusual kinds of plants occur on the gorge's cliffs or rim-top ledges.[11] Portions of this corridor are now also used by various railroads and highways, and some segments of the river have been dammed for hydroelectric power production.

The New River Gorge is not only quite scenic, but also offers numerous opportunities for white-water recreation such as rafting and kayaking. Many open ledges along the rim of the gorge offer popular views, with favorites including Hawks Nest State Park and various overlooks on lands of the New River Gorge National River.

File:New River Gorge Bridge.jpg
The New River Gorge Bridge on U.S. 19 in West Virginia.

Few highways cross the gorge, with the most dramatic bridge by far being the New River Gorge Bridge on U.S. 19, a steel arch bridge spanning 1,700 feet (518 m), with the roadway 876 feet (267 m) above the average level of the river. This structure is the third-longest single-arch bridge in the world, and is also the world's twelfth-highest vehicular[12] bridge, and the fourth highest in the Americas.

The New River Gorge and the U.S. 19 bridge crossing it are shown on the West Virginia State Quarter, minted in 2005.


The New River is formed by the confluence of the South Fork New River and the North Fork New River in Ashe County, North Carolina. It then flows north into southwestern Virginia, passing near Galax, Virginia and through a gorge in the Iron Mountains. Continuing north, the river enters Pulaski County, Virginia, where it is impounded by Claytor Dam, creating Claytor Lake. North of the dam the New River accepts the Little River and passes the city of Radford, Virginia before passing through Walker Mountain via a narrow water gap. After flowing north through Giles County, Virginia and the town of Narrows, the river crosses into West Virginia.

The New River is impounded by Bluestone Dam, creating Bluestone Lake in Summers County, West Virginia. The Bluestone River tributary joins the New River in Bluestone Lake. Just below the dam the Greenbrier River joins the New River, which continues its northward course into the New River Gorge. Near the end of the gorge the river flows by the town of Fayetteville, West Virginia. A few miles northwest of Fayetteville, much of the New River's flow is diverted through the 3-mile (4.8 km) Hawks Nest Tunnel for use in power generation. The water re-enters the river just upstream of Gauley Bridge, where the New merges with the Gauley River to form the Kanawha River. The Kanawha is a tributary of the Ohio River, which in turn is a tributary of the Mississippi River.


Despite its name, the New River is considered by some geologists to be one of the oldest rivers in the world.[10][13] The New River flows in a generally south-to-north course, at times cutting across the southwest-to-northeast-trending ridges and geological texture of the Appalachian Mountains, contrasting with the west-to-east flow of most other major rivers to the east and northeast in Virginia and North Carolina. This peculiar direction, together with the river's many cuts through various erosion-resistant Appalachian rocks, reveal that the New River's formation preceded uplift of the Appalachian Mountains themselves.[10]

Natural history

The New River is home to many species of freshwater game fish including bass, trout, walleye, muskellunge, crappie, bluegill, carp, flathead and channel catfish.

The New River basin also has seven endemic species of fish, which are the: Appalachia darter, Bigmouth chub, Bluestone sculpin, Candy darter, Kanawha darter, Kanawha minnow, and New River shiner.


The first recorded European exploration of the New River was the fur trading Batts-Fallam expedition of 1671, sent by Abraham Wood.[14] Variant names of the New River include "Wood's River", after Abraham Wood. Mary Draper Ingles traversed the gorge during her 1755 escape from captivity among the Shawnees.[15] The gorge also has an extensive industrial history, dominated by coal mining, logging and railroads.[16]


The New River is spanned by the New River Gorge Bridge near Fayetteville, West Virginia, which is open for BASE jumping on Bridge Day. It is also a very popular river for white water rafting (class II-IV in season, IV-V during the spring run-off), and several commercial outfitters offer a variety of guided trips. Those willing to brave the colder water of spring will be rewarded with a more challenging big-water experience. Near the bridge, there are over 1400 single pitch sport climbs[17] and trails suitable for hiking and mountain biking.

File:New River Gorge Bridge Overlook.jpg
The New River Gorge and Bridge near Fayetteville, West Virginia

Parks, forests, and trails along the New River

File:New River Virginia.JPG
New River in Montgomery Co., Virginia

Listed from upstream to downstream:

Variant names

According to the Geographic Names Information System, the New River has also been known as:

  • Conhaway River
  • Great Konhaway River
  • Kanawha River
  • Kunhaway River
  • Mon-don-ga-cha-te
  • Wood River
  • Wood's River
  • Woods River

See also


  1. U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: South Fork New River
  2. U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: North Fork New River
  3. U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: New River
  4. "accessed 2011-06-16" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-09-14.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "accessed 2011-06-16" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-09-14.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. United States Geological Survey; USGS 03176500 NEW RIVER AT GLEN LYN, VA; retrieved April 19, 2008.
  7. "Size of the North Carolina State Parks System" (PDF). North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation. January 1, 2011. pp. 1–4. Retrieved May 20, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Directory of State Parks and Recreation Areas" (PDF). North Carolina Office of Administrative Hearings. May 1, 2010. pp. 1–2. Retrieved May 20, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "A History of The Middle New River Settlements and Contiguous Territory". Retrieved September 8, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 Frye, Keith (1986). Roadside Geology of Virginia. Missoula, Montana: Mountain Press. pp. x + 278.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. 11.0 11.1 Strausbaugh, P.D., and E.L. Core (1978). Flora of West Virginia (Second Edition). Morgantown,West Virginia: Seneca Books, Inc. pp. xl + 1079. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. The non-automotive Royal Gorge Bridge in Colorado, USA, a suspension bridge, has a higher deck than the New River Gorge Bridge, at 1,053 ft (321 m) above the Arkansas River.
  13. "New River". Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Retrieved December 16, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. ""Time Trail, West Virginia" September 1997 Programs". West Virginia Division of Culture and History. Retrieved June 4, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Gary Jennings, "An Indian Captivity," American Heritage Magazine, August 1968, Vol. 19, Issue 5.
  16. [1]
  17. "Climbing at New River Gorge (National Park Service)".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Adams, Noah (2001). Far Appalachia: Following the New River North. Delacorte Press. ISBN 0-385-32010-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> provides an informal, personal account of the river's natural history and local culture
  • DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer of North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.

External links