West Virginia’s New River Gorge Bridge is closed to foot traffic except for one memorable day each year

Save the date for Bridge Day on October 16
Bridge Day

Photo courtesy of Matt Sanchez/New River Gorge CVB

(Editor’s Note: This year’s event is now canceled.)

Suspended 876 feet above a mighty Appalachian canyon, the New River Gorge Bridge in Fayetteville, West Virginia, is a man-made marvel inside New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, America’s newest national park. Most days it’s traversed by cars and vans loaded with visitors, but once a year, it’s open only to pedestrians—brave, brave pedestrians. October 16 is Bridge Day, the largest organized BASE jumping event in the world. Here, steel beams meet steel nerves as experienced BASE jumpers (like skydivers without the plane) leap into the abyss, one every few seconds for six hours. Meanwhile, rappellers descend by rope and thousands of onlookers cram onto the bridge for a spectacular autumn panorama.

The event’s BASE coordinator, Marcus Ellison, notes that the bridge is more than double the height of a typical BASE jump. “It’s an absolute giant object,” he says. Amateur thrill-seekers can pony up for a tandem jump, zip-line ride, or harnessed “bridge walk” across a catwalk. Once everyone’s stomachs have settled, it’s time for a steaming bowl of chili at the event’s chili cook-off.

This article appears in the Fall/Winter 2021 issue of Southbound.