There was something surreal about standing on a catwalk just below the surface of the New River Gorge Bridge. Standing higher than the top of the Gateway Arch, I was strapped into a safety tether, and watching the water gushing below on a metal plank about two feet wide. Rafters, boaters, and even trains running along the banks looked like specs of dust at 851 feet. Bridge Walk is not for the faint of heart.
Bridge Walk at the New River Gorge National Park is a cooperative effort of West Virginia Division of Highways, the National Park Service, and a company called Bridge Walk LLC. You’ll meet with an official tour guide and then step into a harness as if you were doing a zip line. Once you step onto the catwalk, a lanyard hooks into a safety line that stretches the span of the bridge.
Unlike a zip line, the safety equipment becomes barely noticeable after just a few minutes on Bridge Walk. You can freely walk from end to end of the New River Gorge Bridge at a relaxed pace. Along the way, you’ll enjoy some incredible views and even the faint sounds of those tiny human beings on the ground shouting up at you.
The New River Gorge Bridge was completed in 1977 and weighs 88,000,000 pounds. Completed in sections – its heaviest part is 184,000 pounds. It boasts a beautiful arch directly in the middle that spans nearly 1,700 feet. The length of the New River Gorge Bridge is 3,030 feet.
People come from all over the world to take the walk of a lifetime. Tour guide Doug Coleman told me that visitors from as far away as China have made the famous walk. Manager Benjy Simpson talked about the need to stay away from an amusement or theme park aspect for the experience. “It’s whatever someone wants it to be. Each person enjoys it for different reasons”
In addition to simply walking across the catwalk underneath the bridge, it’s an area tradition each fall to participate in a “Bridge Jump”. People can also rappel from the bridge at certain times of the year.
The small catwalk is just two feet in width, though it’s sturdy and solid. I never once felt unsafe during the experience. You don’t feel any swaying but you certainly feel the bounce as cars and trucks zoom by overhead. Not to mention the wind that can really whip through the sections of steel. The safety line above the Bridge Walk is actually the longest continuous safety system in the world.
A tour can last from 90 minutes to a couple of hours depending on the pace of your tour group. We were up there for about two hours. You can bring your own camera but beware. If you’re prone to dropping things, good luck getting your phone back if it falls off the bridge. You’ll need to sign a waiver and must be over 8 years old and 48 inches tall to participate in Bridge Walk.
The New River Gorge became a National Park in 2020, though travelers have been utilizing the area for decades as a place to enjoy the outdoors. Companies like Adventures On The Gorge offer other recreation activities like whitewater rafting and obstacle courses in the area.
Other Bridge Walk Fun Facts:
-Bridge Walk first opened in 2010.
-People have gotten engaged while on the bridge.
-The New River is the second oldest river in the world.
-Sometimes visible on tours – the Peregrine Falcon which is considered the fastest animal on the planet and can reach speeds of 260 miles an hour.