hawks nest state park

Hawks Nest State Park may be a smaller state park in West Virginia, but it’s beautiful. Perched on the cliffside above the New River (and just a few miles from the New River Gorge National Park), it definitely deserves a visit (or even a stay through their lodge). And the standout trail in the park is the Cliffside Trail.

11 Awesome Things to Do in the New River Gorge National Park

The main confusing thing about the Cliffside Trail is actually how to finish it since it kind of appears to just be one-way. And that’s because it is. But there is a safe (and not safe) way to make this trail a loop (and get back to your car).

If you are coming to the area to visit the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, definitely stop by Hawks Nest State Park and hike this beautiful trail!

Distance: ~2.3 miles roundtrip

Difficulty: Moderate

Dog Friendly: Yes

Trailhead: Hawks Nest State Park: Midland Shelter
 Elevation Change: ~560ft
 Time: 1.5-2 hours

Cliffside Trail Guide

The trail starts just by the Midland Trail Shelter by the Hawks Nest Lodge. There’s a big parking lot. If you haven’t been up to the overlook by the lodge, definitely start your trip by going up the steps and checking it out.

When I was there, the Lover’s Leap trail was closed and I popped into the gift shop for a recommendation. That’s where I learned about the Cliffside Trail. The attendant said it was loads better than the Lover’s Leap trail (and I like to think she was right). She handed me a map and I was off!

Head down to the Midland Trail shelter to the right of the lodge and you’ll see signs for the Cliffside Trail.

Now I hiked this trail fairly fast. I was very short on time (I was meeting people in Fayetteville for lunch and couldn’t be late). But this is a trail to take your time with.

For one, it’s rocky. The first .25 miles are pretty steep as you walk down stone steps and boulders. Be very careful with your footing here.

I’d also recommend tennis shoes at a minimum. This is not a trail I would want to hike in sandals (even hiking ones due to all the gravel/rocks that would totally sneak into them). Wear some real shoes here.

Once you get below the sandstone cliffs, the trail does open up more and you’ll have some great views of the cliffs above. And if it’s winter (like it was for me), you’ll have some pretty views through the trees.

Ellie had a blast on this trail and since we were hiking it in the morning on a Wednesday in winter, we were the only ones I saw on the trail (and at the overlooks and in the gift shop).

The sandstone cliffs are gorgeous and I loved all of the overhangs and features.

And be be sure to soak it up because you’re only hiking along the base of the cliffs for about a half mile or so.

Then the trail turns away from the river and you start to gradually make your way upwards next to a stream (and a small waterfall). This ascent is not too tough but there are several steep parts just before you reach the level with the road.

cliffside trail

Then follow the trail to the overlook (which sits on the highway and has its own parking lot). This is my favorite overlook in the park (I like it more than the one at the lodge).

That morning we also had it all to ourselves.

hawks nest overlook
hawks nest overlook

Now it’s time to get back to your car. The lady in the gift shop (and the trail description on the map she gave me) both recommend following a trail and service road back to the lodge. I recommend this also.

From the overlook, what you want to do is cross the road to the gift shop on the other side. Then go up the steps (straight back) on what is called the Connector Trail.

Skip the first two paths to your right that lead up the hill (they just lead to a building). On the map below you can see what I did and I had to turn around (and then I cut across the side of the hill).

So take like the third path to your right that leads up the hill. You’ll then make your way up to the top of the hill there and come to a service road (called Short St I believe). This will then lead you right back down to the lodge and parking lot where you started.

The alternative and what I do not recommend is simply walking along Rt. 60 back to the lodge. Is this faster? Yes. But it’s a high speed highway with guardrails close to the edge of the cliff and there’s no sidewalk.

Since I had Ellie with me and people were speeding that day, there was no way I was walking the highway. I was in a rush but I still made my way up the steps to the service road. It adds just a bit more distance (and elevation) but is loads safer. Especially if you have dogs or children with you.

Don’t be stupid. That’s how people die.

And that’s it! You’ve now been to two overlooks and hiked a beautiful trail next to sandstone cliffs along the New River.

Hiking Trails in New River Gorge National Park

Trail Map

Click the image or the buttons to view the map in more detail.

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