Many people don’t know it, but one of the largest extreme sports events in the entire world takes place in West Virginia for exactly one day each year.
We’re talking about Bridge Day, when nearly 80,000 spectators come together atop the 876-foot-tall New River Gorge Bridge to stroll across the world’s second-longest single-arch bridge—and gawk as hundreds of daring BASE jumpers leap off of it.
This year’s Bridge Day Festival takes place this Saturday, October 17. Ready to get in on the action in normally quiet Fayette County? Here’s what you need to know.
The 411 on the Gorge and BASE Jumping
The New River Gorge is estimated to be around 345 million years old, making it one of the oldest river gorges on earth and perhaps the first river in North America. The section of the gorge underneath the New River Gorge Bridge is marked by steep walls and massive boulders, while the river itself is a hugely popular destination for whitewater water sports.
Sounds like the perfect place to plummet off of a tall object, right? That’s exactly what BASE jumpers do. BASE stands for “Building, Antenna, Span, and Earth,” four words representing the objects from which BASE jumpers leap before deploying their parachutes. It’s one of the most extreme sports in the world, and BASE jumpers have enjoyed leaping from the New River Gorge Bridge since 1979. Last year, jumpers leapt from the bridge more than 800 times before the close of the festival.
Spectators can ogle these death-defying stunts from the bridge itself, from hiking trails along the rim of the gorge, from Fayette Station, or from the National Park observation deck located at the bridge’s visitors’ center.
Where to Stay
Because many local establishments are already booked, your best bet may be to stay somewhere that’s within a few hours’ drive of the New River Gorge Bridge. Luckily, the bridge is easily accessible from several major interstates (check out detailed directions here). Morgantown and Wheeling are both a few hours from the bridge and boast cheap lodging near family-friendly amenities. You’ll also be able to enjoy the fall foliage in either location. Just be sure to start the drive early on the morning of the festival so you don’t miss any exciting events.
Where to Park
Event organizers recommend parking a car at any of several shuttle stops and paying the $2 fare to be shuttled to the Bridge Day entrance. A complete list of shuttle locations can be found here.
What to Do
Whether you’re the adventurous type or you’d rather just be a spectator, here’s a sampling of the many don’t-miss events taking place at this year’s Bridge Day:
- The highline. Daring members of the general public are invited to zip off the bridge on the highline, which reaches from the bridge’s beams 700 feet down over the gorge to Fayette Station Road. Learn more here.
- The Bridge Day Rappel. The rappel consists of several teams who ascend and/or descend a fixed rope attached to the underside of the bridge.
- BASE Jumping Plank & Antenna. Got a passion for the extreme? Then don’t miss the plank event, during which BASE jumpers walk out on a four-inch-wide plank that extends 15 feet past the edge of the bridge before jumping off. The antenna event allows BASE jumpers to add 24 feet to their jumps by climbing up the bridge’s antenna before leaping.
- The XPOGO Stunt Show. At 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., and 1:30 p.m., XPOGO athletes will dazzle spectators as they perform stunts on pogo sticks more than 10 feet in the air.
- The Bridge Jam. Head to downtown Fayetteville to hear live bluegrass music from both world-renowned and local musicians. There, you’ll also be able to enjoy the Fayetteville Chili and Cornbread Cook-Off.
A complete schedule of events can be found here.
What to Eat
While you’re welcome to pack your own snacks (just note the rules about coolers and alcoholic beverages, below), it’s worth taking advantage of Taste of Bridge Day, which showcases a wide range of foods from regional restaurants at an open-air restaurant perched above the New River Gorge. Bonus? The event benefits local charities. Taste of Bridge Day is held the evening before Bridge Day itself (October 16 from 5 to 9 p.m.) at Smokey’s On the Gorge. Contact the event organizers to purchase tickets here.
The festival has a short list of very strict rules: No dogs, backpacks, coolers, folding chairs, large handbags, bicycles, skates, skateboards, strollers, wagons, weapons, fireworks, illegal drugs, alcoholic beverages, or quadcopters are allowed.
Also be aware that this is the only day of each year when traffic on the bridge is shut down and pedestrians are legally allowed on the bridge, so don’t expect to cross the bridge on the days leading up to or after the festival. This really is a once-in-a-year experience.
Regardless of whether or not you work up the courage to ride the highline, Bridge Day spectators are guaranteed to experience excitement, thrills, and enough memories to last until next year’s festival.