The sweet mountain momma, small state of West Virginia offers the visitor the very best in landscapes and outdoor activities. This is a sublime, beautiful land of rivers, cascades, forests and mountains. Don't come looking for buzzing nightlife: come here for buzzing birdlife. Even in the cities, things are low rise and laid back.
1. Blackwater Falls State Park
The great falls of the Blackwater River plunge twenty metres down Blackwater Canyon, making one of the most visited and photographed natural wonders in WV. Just two miles out of Davis in the north east, on the Pennsylvanian border, this park is well worth a visit. As well as taking in the waterfall, you can stroll through diverse forests, walk trails to more distant overlooks, gazing down at the canyon and see many more smaller cascades and chutes. You can fish in summer or skate in the winter. This is the highest park in West Virginia and you can stay at the 'Lodge in the Sky'; take a wooden cabin or camp out. There are plentiful facilities in this park of over 2,300 acres including cycling paths, horse riding trails, cross-country skiing in winter and more.
Not to be confused with its South Carolina counterpart, WV's Charleston is the state capital and biggest city. On the Kanawa River it's a green town, full of parks, established in the 1700s. It has a tumultuous history, from the pioneers on. Daniel Boone served here in the county militia and later the House of Delegates. Charleston was divided by the American Civil War, culminating in the Battle of Charleston and with Lincoln declaring West Virginia the 35th state. Visit the State Capitol on the riverfront to find out more fascinating history. Fifty buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, things are far more peaceful and the city remains welcoming and compact, with some 51,000 residents. It's a blend of old and new, with preserved heritage streets such as Capitol Street sitting comfortably alongside the biggest mall east of the Mississippi. There are many festivals, held on the river banks or in the capitol grounds, featuring everything from classical music and dance to film, jazz and barbershop.
3. Harpers Ferry
Where Maryland and Virginia meet West Virginia, where the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers combine, is the town of Harpers Ferry and its historic park. The tiny population of just over 300 enjoy a wonderful life: a scenic location between the rivers, bridges to the other states, an entire town of historic places and easy access to the great outdoors. For hikers, this is one of the few places that the Appalachian Trail passes through directly, so is a great place to put down the backpack for a couple of days. As well as hiking, people come here to take part in all manner of recreational pursuits, including ziplining, climbing, tubing, cycling, rafting, canoeing and fishing. Like much of West Virginia, Harpers Ferry has had a colourful past. It was the site of John Brown's raid in 1859; George Washington came here (and his brother stayed to establish neighbouring Charles Town); the Civil War saw the town change hands on no less than eight occasions. In the twentieth century, Harpers Ferry saw the first meeting of W.E.B. DuBois' civil rights group. You wouldn't know it today ... in the peaceful place that is mostly parkland and historic churches. This is also the setting for the John Denver song which has become anthemic for the state: Take Me Home, Country Roads.
4. Lost World Caverns
On the boundaries of Lewisburg is an underground wonderland, some 120 feet below the ground. There are incredible formations here, from stalagmites to stalactites, columns to subterranean cathedrals, dripstones, curtains and waterfalls. Walking tours take you through it all: past the ice cream wall, bridal veil, snowy chandelier and much more. There is also a dinosaur museum and, for the most adventurous, a half-day Wild Cave Tour where you get to go where few others have, into the deepest recesses and the undeveloped depths of this system. Prepare to get wet, muddy and happy! The Lost World Caverns are open year round, though only on the weekends in winter.
5. Monongahela National Forest
In the Alleghany Mountains of the eastern portion of the state is a vast area of natural beauty, including parts of ten counties and most of the Potomac highlands. The sheer scale of this reserve is almost incomprehensible: over 2,600,000 acres. 75 different species of tree are found here; much of it secondary forest after logging in the nineteenth century. The most important trees are the Mountain Ash (Rowan), Balsam Fir and Red Spruce. This is wilderness mountain land, including the tallest of the state's peaks: Spruce Knob. There are spectacular views, with flora and fauna everywhere: from laurels and rhododendrons to boglands and blueberry bushes. Over 230 different types of birds frequent the skies, while in the forest there is abundant life including beavers, otters, bears, deer, coyotes and scores of other mammals. In the Potomac waters live nine tenths of all the trout in West Virginia. So this is the perfect place to get away from it all and enjoy nature at her finest. The park is very well set up for camping, hiking, fishing and riding. Find it off Route 250 south of Elkins.
6. Seneca Rocks
This unincorporated community lies between Elkins and Woodstock, north east of Monongahela Forest. Come here for seclusion and peace; for rolling green hills and amazing, 900 foot high cliffs that jut suddenly from the landscape. Climbers love to ascend these vertical cliffs; walkers come and gaze up in awe. There are mountain guides, climbing schools and all manner of routes and ascents for both the novice and expert. A visitor's centre is there to give you all the guidance and information you need, located at the base of the cliffs , on route 55/33/28.
7. Canaan Valley
Near Blackwater Falls south of Davis, the Canaan Valley is both a state park, recreational hotspot and a wildlife refuge. It encircles and protects the source and headwaters of Blackwater River and both the plant and animal life that inhabits this undeveloped, naturally beautiful mountain area. From Canaan to Cabin Mountain, 36,000 acres was carved out by glaciers in the last Ice Age. What remains is a fascinating landscape of wetlands, uplands, forest and bog. It's a superb place to come and camp, fish for bass and trout, go out wildlife spotting, hike and ski in season. There are two winter sports resorts for those who want to indulge in either cross country or downhill skiing, plus snow-shoeing. But this is a place to come in all seasons. There are more trails than road; more photographs taken than billboards. To find the park and resorts, leave from Davis on Camp 70 Road east for six miles.
8. Gauley River National Recreation Area
There are over twenty-five miles of the wild Gauley River in this 11,500 acre park, and with the Meadow River, of which six miles are within the area, this forms a wonderful recreational playground. Especially for those who like their waters wild and white: with many Class V rapids to enjoy, offering some real thrills. Through stunning gorges, canyons and valleys the rivers surge making for the most exciting rafting, kayaking and canoeing in the east. The best time to take to the water is in Fall. If you fancy something more sedate, come here for the fishing, camping and hiking . The main entrance and visitors centre is off Route 19 between Somersville and Fayetteville. It's free to enter the park; open year round.
9. Snowshoe Mountain
Its time to don snowshoes or skis and get to this winter resort. Like Monongahela it's high in the Alleghany Mountains, north west of Deer Creek. 11,000 acres reach 1,478 metres above sea level with sixty slopes and ski trails. Over 130 snowdays happen here: a long season in traditional WV surrounds. There are more than 1,500 beds available here in the village at the foot of the mountain, with a great apres ski scene amidst traditional buildings in a low-rise, high fun environment.
10. National Radio Astronomy Observatory
Just south of Arbovale on route 92/28 is one of the most impressive and important centres for astronomy, worldwide. Here, you can tour the incredible facility which not only contains some of the most valuable radio telescopes in the world, but also creates and supplies them to so many other observatories and countries. The invisible universe and the very creation of our galaxy has been enabled by radio astronomy, as pioneered here. A visit is simply out of the this world. Take in the Green Bank Science Centre, seeing the enormous Robert C. Byrd Green Bank telescope and joining in exciting educational tours and programs and take in the VLA - Very Large Array - with free guided tours. For impressive science, huge telescopes and a massive learning opportunity, the NRAO is a must.
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