This ancient river begins in the mountains of North Carolina near the Tennessee state line, flows generally northwestward across the Blue Ridge Mountains, Great Appalachian Valley, Ridge and Valley Province, and the Allegheny Front in western Virginia and West Virginia, then cuts through the Appalachian Plateau (in the New River Gorge) to meet the Gauley River and become the Kanawha River in south-central West Virginia.The Kanawha then flows to the Gulf of Mexico via the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Much of the river's course is lined with steep cliffs and rock outcrops, particularly in its gorge in West Virginia.
This low-level crossing of the Appalachians, many millions of years old, has long been a biogeograpical corridor allowing numerous species of plants and animals to spread between the lowlands of the American East Coast and those of the Midwest; other unusual kinds of plants occur on the gorge's cliffs or rim-top ledges. Portions of this corridor are now also used by various railroads and highways, and some segments of the river have been dammed for hydroelectric power production.
The New River Gorge is not only quite scenic, but also offers numerous opportunities for white-water recreation such as rafting and kayaking. Many open ledges along the rim of the gorge offer popular views, with favorites including Hawks Nest State Park and various overlooks on lands of the New River Gorge National River.