16 Things to Do in West Virginia
By Janet Benoir – December 21, 2023
West Virginia, often serenaded as “Almost Heaven,” captivates with its enchanting Appalachian landscape. The allure of its rolling hills and lush forests has even resonated through the lyrics of John Denver’s song, “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” an endearing anthem to the state’s natural beauty. This rugged terrain beckons with promises of adventure and discovery, granting it the apt moniker of the Mountain State.
Adventure thrives in the heart of the Appalachians, where West Virginia delivers a myriad of experiences. Navigate the currents of whitewater rafting, traverse trails by ATV, or soar through canopies on a zip line. For those drawn to vertical pursuits, the state offers ample rock climbing and rappelling challenges. The New River Gorge National Park and Preserve stands proudly as the nation’s most recent addition to the tapestry of national parks, further cementing West Virginia’s status as an adventurers’ paradise.
New River Gorge Bridge
When you venture to New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, a standout activity is the Bridge Walk. Here, you traverse a catwalk under the towering New River Gorge Bridge. Perched 876 feet above the river’s surface, safety is a priority—each guest is securely tethered to a safety cable.
Aside from the leisurely walk, if you’re up for more thrill, consider marking your calendar for Bridge Day. Held every October, it’s the largest single-day festival in West Virginia. Attendees witness thrill-seekers BASE jumping from this architectural marvel. Located at 57 County Route 85/9, Lansing, WV, this experience seamlessly marries adventure with natural beauty.
In the small town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, there’s a unique museum dedicated to the Mothman, a mysterious creature first reported by two individuals working at a cemetery in nearby Clendenin in 1966. These initial reports of a winged entity with glowing red eyes were soon followed by numerous sightings. Public interest in the Mothman surged, particularly after the tragic Silver Bridge collapse in 1967, which took 46 lives and was subsequently connected to the legend by some locals.
This folklore not only piqued the interest of movie-makers—spawning the 2002 film “The Mothman Prophecies”—but also led to the establishment of the Mothman Museum, where visitors can immerse themselves in the captivating history of this local enigma.
Blackwater Falls State Park
Blackwater Falls State Park boasts the iconic Blackwater Falls, a 57-foot wonder tinted by tannic acid from decomposing hemlock and red spruce needles. Located in Tucker County, your journey to this state park isn’t complete without witnessing the cascading waters, which paint a breathtaking picture that’s often captured by photographers.
The park caters to a range of outdoor activities, ensuring there’s something for everyone. Enjoy biking, fishing, and discovering hidden treasures through geocaching in the milder months. Come winter, embrace the thrill of sliding down the East Coast’s longest sledding magic carpet. With options from rustic tent sites to comfortable lodge accommodations, the park is equipped to enhance your experience throughout the year.
The Greenbrier Resort
Nestled in the Appalachian Mountains, The Greenbrier stands as a testament to American history and elegance. Once a sanctuary for recovering soldiers during pivotal wars, this grand resort, established in 1778, has evolved into a luxurious retreat known as “America’s Resort.” From prominent Southerners to distinguished guests like celebrities, presidents, and even royalty, its guest list is as storied as its services.
Cater to your leisure or adventure needs with a broad selection of activities suitable for all ages. Perfect your swing on picturesque golf courses, unwind with a tranquil spa treatment, or make the most of the snowy season at Snowshoe Mountain with first-rate skiing and snowboarding. To elevate your experience, savor the exquisite dining options, enjoy a night at the casino, or peruse the retail shops.
At the convergence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers lies a significant historical gem, Harpers Ferry. This area isn’t just a charming relic from the 19th century; it serves as a pivotal Civil War landmark, sheltering sites like battlefields and wartime encampments. Among these is the famed John Brown’s Fort, a testament to the abolitionist John Brown who in 1859 led the Harpers Ferry Raid aiming to incite a liberation movement among enslaved individuals.
Your experience in Harpers Ferry extends beyond its storied past. This locale acts as the notional halfway point along the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, which spans over 2,100 miles, bringing in long-distance hikers eager for a respite at the local eateries. Embrace outdoor adventure by exploring The Point, where you can witness the merger of two mighty rivers.
Cass Scenic Railroad State Park
Initially a bustling hub for loggers, this area’s rich history is epitomized by the Cass Scenic Railroad. You have the opportunity to embark on a voyage aboard a classic steam-powered locomotive maintained by the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad. En route to Bald Knob, West Virginia’s third loftiest peak, the train snakes through the Appalachians and gives you a four-and-a-half-hour excursion enveloped by breath-taking panoramas.
For a shorter adventure, especially appealing if you’re accompanied by children, consider the two-hour journey to Whittaker Station, previously a hive of logging activity. The autumn season is particularly captivating, as the foliage transforms into a vibrant tapestry that embellishes the landscape. The park isn’t only about the train; it offers a museum, theater, restaurant, and a shop with unique finds.
Monongahela National Forest
Your journey to the Monongahela National Preserve opens up a sprawling expanse of West Virginia’s finest wilderness which covers over 900,000 acres across diverse elevations. The Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area within these bounds presents the lofty Spruce Knob, the state’s supreme point. Nearby, the Dolly Sods Wilderness is revered for the Bear Rocks trail, offering vistas that dominate the state’s landscape.
Interest in outdoor excursions is effortlessly fulfilled here with a wealth of recreational trails for hiking and biking, alongside routes for scenic drives. Take a pause for a waterside picnic, or embrace aquatic activities such as swimming, boating, and fishing. Equestrian trails await horseback riders, and for those seeking an extended stay, options range from rustic tent sites to cozy cabins. The cooler months transform the preserve into a haven for snow-related sports, including snowmobiling and cross-country skiing.
West Virginia State Museum
The West Virginia State Museum, nestled in the heart of Charleston, invites you to immerse yourself in the vibrant culture and rich history of West Virginia. Your journey through the museum’s exhibits will introduce you to an array of artifacts that anchor the state’s past to the present, such as the iconic leather chaps once worn by Billy the Kid and the historical telescope utilized by George Washington during his survey of the region.
The museum is not only a haven for historical treasures but also offers interactive experiences that capture your imagination. Set aside ample time, as many who have wandered these halls recommend several hours to fully engage with the breadth of collections on display. Fortunately, accessing this repository of heritage won’t cost you a penny, thanks to its operation by the state.
Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine
Nestled in West Virginia, the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine offers a rich journey back to a bygone era of coal mining, spanning from its family-operated beginnings around 1890 through its commercial phase until closure in the mid-20th century. Your experience is enhanced with guided tours led by seasoned miners, navigating through historic tunnels in the same “man trip” cars once used by miners.
Venture above ground to the preserved Coal Camp, where you’ll find original structures such as the Pemberton Coal Camp Church and the Helen Coal Camp School. Enhancing your historical adventure is the adjacent Youth Museum of Southern West Virginia, complete with a planetarium and a late 19th-century homestead replica.
New River Gorge National Park and Preserve
Established in late 2020, this expansive park sprawls over 70,000 acres, serving as a hub for outdoor activities. You can navigate the twists and turns of the New River, a paradoxically ancient waterway, stretching 53 miles through the park. This river is an ideal spot for those eager to experience whitewater rafting.
Beyond the challenging rapids, the park beckons with an assortment of other recreational pursuits. You’re invited to explore the rich landscapes along scenic drives, diverse trails for hiking and biking, or cliff faces perfect for climbing. Anglers and nature lovers can immerse themselves in tranquil fishing spots, while free ranger-led programs offer enriching experiences for all ages, including a junior ranger track for younger explorers.
Adventures on the Gorge
For adrenaline enthusiasts, whitewater rafting stands out as the highlight, offering tailored outings to suit various experience levels. Whether you opt for a swift half-day challenge or immerse yourself in a multi-day voyage, the adept and convivial guides ensure a memorable ride on the whitewater waves.
Not merely confined to the thrills of the Gauley River, the resort also presents a suite of other exhilarating activities including a high-flying zip line—MoonTrek by night—a vivid foray through the treetops, and the precise skill of rappelling down sheer rock faces.
Lost World Caverns
Venture beneath the Earth’s surface to witness the grandeur of Lost World Caverns, a must-visit destination nestled deep within West Virginia. Navigating through these caverns, you’ll gaze upon towering stalagmites, some reaching heights of nearly 80 feet. Engage in self-guided tours, which typically last around 45 minutes, fit for every member of your family.
Situated at 907 Lost World Road in Lewisburg, the caves present a rich experience, complete with a museum and a souvenir store. Embrace the underground marvels for an entry fee starting at $12 for adults and $6 for children. Bear in mind, pathways may be slick; wear robust footwear and bring a light jacket for warmth.
Berkeley Springs State Park
In Berkeley Springs State Park, you are greeted by the therapeutic allure of well-maintained waters. Renowned for its restorative properties, the park provides an array of spa services in its bathhouses, from revitalizing mineral baths to tension-relieving massages. These springs boast a storied past, revered by Native Americans for their curative benefits before becoming a magnet for European settlers in 1730.
The springs captured the attention of George Washington who, after recognizing their remedial virtues, frequented the area, cementing its status as a top-tier wellness retreat. Today, visitors continue to commend the location for both its historical and recreational appeal, with the historic Berkeley Springs Castle, solely available for private gatherings, visible in the picturesque backdrop.
Twin Falls Resort State Park
Your outdoor adventure awaits at Twin Falls Resort. Immerse yourself in the expanse of nature with over 25 miles of trails for hiking and biking, allowing you to experience the sheer beauty of the park’s signature waterfalls. If you’re looking to relax on the water, the tranquility of fishing, or perhaps the active enjoyment of canoeing and kayaking, are at your fingertips.
Accommodations align with your preference for the great outdoors, offering spaces for both tent and RV camping. Or, opt for comfort in the park’s cabins or hotel rooms. A step back in time is possible here too, with the reconstructed pioneer homestead offering insights into frontier living through its operational farm and gardens.
During your travels across West Virginia, take a moment to visit a notable landmark—the Chester Teapot. Standing at an impressive height of 12 feet and spanning 44 feet in width, this unusual attraction was originally a giant barrel for Hires Root Beer. It found new life as a refreshment kiosk accompanying a mini-golf course in Pennsylvania. In 1938, William “Babe” Devon relocated it to Chester, West Virginia, and transformed it with the addition of a spout, lid, and handle.
The transformation served a dual purpose: not just a roadside marvel, but also a celebration of the local pottery trade. The teapot dispensed souvenirs through its service window, including teapots, as a nod to the area’s pottery heritage. Although it ceased operations around 1980, Chester City Council revived it in 1990. Presently, the teapot resides proudly where U.S. Route 30 meets State Route 2, a silent witness to the region’s history and industry.
West Virginia Penitentiary
At 818 Jefferson Ave. in Moundsville, WV, stands the formidable structure that was once the West Virginia Penitentiary. Active for over a century, this penitentiary witnessed a myriad of disturbances, from violent uprisings to executions, including hangings witnessed by the public. Decommissioned in 1995, this institution now opens its iron gates to curious visitors, offering a glimpse into its grim past through the eyes of former correctional officers.
Touring this historic institution, priced at $14 for adults and $8 for children ages 6 through 16, is said to be an adroit meld of eeriness and enlightenment. Thrill-seekers can participate in a public ghost hunt or delve into private paranormal investigations, due to claims that spirits of past inmates linger.