Adventure is waiting around every turn in this town that brings out the best in everyone.
written by KARIN FULLER
photographed by NIKKI BOWMAN MILLS
If you ask most any Fayetteville resident “What makes this such a cool town?” most would likely start with the town’s proximity to the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, which encompasses over 70,000 acres, one of the world’s oldest rivers, and the longest single-span steel arch bridge in the Western hemisphere.
Residents take pride in their world-class whitewater rafting of class III to IV-plus rapids, their ziplining, and their spectacular views. They would probably mention their annual Bridge Day, which attracts up to 100,000 visitors from all over the world to watch hundreds of base jumpers fling themselves off the bridge. Some brave souls even get launched from the bridge via catapult.
It’s hard to predict just what adventure a local might steer you toward, but one thing is certain: They’re excited the world has finally discovered what they’ve known for so long—that Fayetteville is cool.
Not only is Fayetteville set among natural beauty, outdoor adventures, and rich history—the town itself is charming, with a vibrant arts scene and a well-preserved Main Street and many shopping and dining options. Entertainment offerings are growing, too. You can see a play at the Historic Fayette Theatre and enjoy art-in-place as you walk through town and tour the Historic District. There are frequent live music performances, a spa, cooking classes, restaurants, and antique shops. Kids can enjoy the skate park and Playetteville at the Fayetteville Town Park, and those with fur children can visit the Charlie McCoy Memorial Dog Park on Park Drive.
“Fayetteville has all the perks of a small town, with enough outsider influence to keep things from stagnating,” says Amy McLaughlin, owner of Lafayette Flats vacation rentals. The McLaughlins renovated a cut-stone 1904 building, originally the Bank of Fayette, into four boutique vacation rentals. “I think it has an intoxicating mix of nature and kind, happy people,” she says. “Our visitors have called it Fayetteville magic, small-town charm, and ‘that Fayetteville vibe.’ All we know is, it brings out the best in people.”
The town has come a long way from its start as a remote farming area to a much-loved tourist destination. It’s no wonder it has, over the years, been named one of the Top 10 Coolest Small Towns in America by Budget Travel magazine and Best River Town by Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine and chosen Best Adventure Town twice by readers of WV Living magazine.
It’s not just a fun place to visit, but a solid place to put down roots. The cost of living in Fayetteville is about 25% lower than the U.S. average. In addition to the public school system, families have a number of private school options. For higher education, both BridgeValley Community and Technical College and West Virginia University Institute of Technology are less than an hour from Fayetteville. New River Community and Technical College has campuses nearby in Beckley and Lewisburg, and Fayette Institute of Technology is in neighboring Oak Hill.
Fayetteville is set in a natural recreation wonderland. The area has long been known for whitewater rafting on the broad, ancient New River, with calm pools between mighty rapids. The Lower New River Gorge is challenging, while the Upper Gorge is more family-friendly.
To visit the National Park Service, start at the Canyon Rim Visitor Center. The center is a good place to learn about all the park has to offer, and affords a striking view of the gorge and a boardwalk with two observation decks.
Feeling brave? Experience the New River Gorge Bridge in an unusual way—by walking underneath on a catwalk that traverses the entire length of the bridge under four lanes of traffic. Safety harnesses are required for the half-mile walk, where you can look down through the steel grate to the New River 876 feet below. Visitors can take a sightseeing flight in Wild Blue Adventure Company’s restored, museum-quality WWII-era plane or try ziplining at Ace Adventure Company, which offers some of the nation’s longest gravity-powered ziplines. The area also has the Ace Adventures water park, where guests can play all day in their spring-fed lake on huge inflatables, a 25-foot climbing mountain, giant spinning balls, an obstacle course, and two tower ziplines. Launch your friends into the water on their BLOB feature—and there’s also a splash pad for the littler guests.
There are many other day trip possibilities from Fayetteville, with Babcock State Park less than a half hour away and Bluestone State Park, Pipestem Resort State Park, Sandstone Falls about an hour away.
Fayetteville’s renaissance has taken off since the New River Gorge became a national park in 2020. Visitation is increasing exponentially, according to Dave Bieri, district supervisor of the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. The Canyon Rim Visitor Center had more than 25,000 visitors in March 2023, up from 18,000 in March 2022. In the past, the New River Gorge was a place visitors stopped on their way somewhere elser—now, it’s their destination.
With this comes business opportunities for residents and an increase in property values. According to the NPS, visitor spending increased from $47 million to around $80 million, with similarly impressive leaps in jobs and labor income.
Even better—there’s a chance you could get paid to move to the area. The Ascend West Virginia program is offering up to $12,000 to out-of-state workers who meet the program’s qualification to move to the New River Gorge region.