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Wild West Virginia

From scenic singletrack to family-friendly hiking trails, the Mountain State is home to hundreds of homegrown adventures

Aug 1, 2016
Outside Magazine
Wild West Virginia

With 37 state parks and recreation areas, nine state forests, and two national recreation areas, West Virginia has the goods to back up its moniker as the Mountain State. The best way to experience it all? Take a week off work, make a list, and hit the road. To help you get started, we rounded up a few of our favorite adventures.

1. Mountain Bike North Fork Mountain Trail

This remote, 24-mile backcountry trail follows a ridgeline that passes rocky outcroppings that overlook Spruce Knob (the highest point in the state), Seneca Rocks, and the Potomac River valley 2,000 feet below. It’s so scenic and technically demanding that the International Mountain Biking Association had designated it as an “Epic” ride, a highly coveted label it only gives to the most beautiful and physically challenging rides in the world. More experienced bikers should get shuttled to the southernmost point and ride north, while newer riders can still enjoy the views and rolling terrain by riding it as an out-and-back from the trailhead off of  U.S. Route 33 near the radio tower.

  Photo: Wild, Wonderful West Virginia

2. Backpack the Dolly Sods Wilderness

Located inside the 919,000-acre Monongahela National Forest in the Allegheny Mountains, the Dolly Sods Wilderness is the perfect place for a day or multi-day hike. The area has flat, rocky plains, upland bogs, beaver ponds, and rolling grasslands—the ecosystem resembles that of Northern Canada. The best way to see it all: a 10-mile day hike through meadows and stream crossings that starts at Blackbird Knob, turns right on Breathed Mountain Trail, and finishes the lollipop trail via Red Creek Trail. Looking for an overnight trip? Try the 18-mile loop trip starting at Blackbird Knob Trailhead and heading toward Raven Ridge Trail—you can camp anywhere along the trail.

  Photo: Wild, Wonderful West Virginia

3. Get Hangtime at New River Gorge Bridge

The New River Gorge Bridge is worth a visit anytime of year—the 876-foot bridge is a marvel of engineering and third-longest single-span arch bridge in the country. And on the third Saturday of every October, it plays host to Bridge Day, one of the largest extreme sports events in the world, when local officials close the bridge to traffic and some 400 BASE jumpers and skydivers (who are otherwise not allowed to jump off the bridge) go absolutely bonkers. Not quite ready to jump out of the sky or off a bridge but looking for a little air time? Sign up for the 700-foot zip line, where a belayer will lower you 300 vertical feet down into the gorge.

  Photo: Wild, Wonderful West Virginia

4. Raft on Gauley River

Named one of the most adventurous whitewater rivers in the world, the Gauley River features more than 20 miles of virtually nonstop rapids. It’s not for the faint of heart—you need to be in good shape and at least 15 years old to take part in the fun. For the biggest thrill ride, head there in the fall when they release the Summersville Dam. If you have young kids or are simply looking for a more relaxing experience, try the class I and II Upper New River, which alternates from small rapids to calm pools and allows paddlers to take in the scenic beauty and jump in the swimming holes along the way. Several rafting outfitters located along the rivers run half-day, single-day, and multi-day trips starting at $79.

  Photo: Wild, Wonderful West Virginia

5. Learn how to be a Mountain Man

There’s a reason West Virginia is known as the Mountain State. It’s home to three ranges—Allegheny, Appalachian, and Cumberland—and boasts a proud and vibrant tradition of mountain culture, which you can see on display at the Mountaincraft and Music Gathering. At the event, which is held every September on the 140-acre campus of the North American Bushcraft School, you can learn about everything from timber framing and preparing wild plants to backyard blacksmithing and tomahawk throwing. And that’s just during the day: The kid-friendly event also features evening bonfires and old-time music well into the evening.

  Photo: northamericanbushcraftschool.com

6. Climb at Seneca Rocks

While the toothy crags at Seneca Rocks are best known for multipitch climbs and tough ratings (most climbs fall in the 5.7-5.11 range), there are plenty of intermediate-friendly routes as well. The lower slabs have some great top-roping routes, but it can get really busy—be sure to get there early on the weekend to get a spot. It’s also a great place to learn how to climb. The Seneca Rocks Climbing School, one of the oldest climbing schools in the country, has beginner-friendly, single-day courses starting at $65.

  Photo: Wild, Wonderful West Virginia

7. Float the Potomac River

If the Gauley River (see #4) is the whitewater-rafting equivalent of a white-knuckle rollercoaster ride, the Potomac River offers a more family-friendly, PG-rated adventure. The best way to experience its mellower (Class I to III) waters is to grab a tube and a cooler and float for up to three and a half hours down the two-and-a-half-mile stretch. You’ll pass the historic town of Harpers Ferry and five-star picnic spots. Get an all-day pass and a rental tube starting at $20 at Harpers Ferry Adventure Center so you can get shuttled to the beginning as many times as you’d like.

  Photo: Alamy Stock Photo

8. Scuba dive at Summersville Lake

The town of Summersville, located in the middle of the state, is home to the clearest freshwater lake east of the Mississippi River. With depths reaching 327 feet and shoreline stretching over 60 miles, it’s the largest and deepest lake in the state, making it the ideal place to be on a hot summer day. Dive on your own or take classes through Sarge’s Dive Shop and you’ll find rock cliffs, boulders, and swim-throughs under the surface that will keep you entertained for hours.

  Photo: Wild, Wonderful West Virginia

9. Ride the High Road

The Parkway section of Highland Scenic Highway—a 22.5-mile state highway that’s closed to commercial truck traffic—offers some of the most stunning views in the state. The best way to savor them? On a road bike.  With more than 2,200 feet of climbing, it’s a serious ride, but the sweeping vistas of Allegheny Mountains and river valleys along the way are worth the effort. Do it right: Arrange to have someone pick you up at one end or the other and go in mid- to late October, when the leaves are at peak intensity.

  Photo: Wild, Wonderful West Virginia

10.  Conquer Your Fears

There are plenty of opportunities to test yourself both mentally and physically at Grand Vue Park. Navigate the seven high-rope obstacles, fly through the air on eight dual zip lines, swing 60 feet above the ground overlooking the town, or build your biking skills on some technical singletrack. Get unlimited access to the entire park for $50 per person per day. And if one day isn’t enough to enjoy it all, stay in one of their eight on-site cabins that sleep up to 12 people.

  Photo: Wild, Wonderful West Virginia

11. Savor Some Local Craft Beer

West Virginia is home to more than 15 craft breweries, but two stand out because of their ideal locations and award-winning beer. Located at the gateway to the Monongahela National Forest, Big Timber Brewing is the ideal post-adventure watering hole. This bring-your-own-food taproom is the perfect place to relax and refuel after sampling some of the 500 miles of trout streams nearby or a climb at Seneca Rocks. Have one of their craft beers—including their Big Timber Porter or IPA—or grab some of their 16-ounce cans to take with you the next time you hit the trail. Or, if you find yourself thirsty after a hike at Dolly Sods, stop at Stumptown Ales located at the north right corner of Monongahela National Forest. Voted the state's "Best New Brewery" by a local craft beer website in 2015, Stumptown has several hoppy beers on tap and a farm-to-table food truck is often parked right out front. 

  Photo: Wild, Wonderful West Virginia

Plan your next adventure using the trip planner on GoToWV.com or using their app, Wild, Wonderful West Virginia (available on Appstore and Google Play.)

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