From via ferrata routes and wild whitewater to mellow hikes and lush farms, the Mountain State is brimming with adventure
There’s a reason West Virginia is nicknamed the Mountain State. The summits that dominate the state’s eastern half are formidable. Meanwhile, the western half of the state trades rugged peaks for mellower hills and farming valleys that are rich with agricultural bounty. Put it all together and you’ve got a state that offers a diverse array of adventure. John Denver called the state “almost heaven,” and while some might call that phrasing hyperbole, we can’t help but think the singer-songwriter was onto something. Here are five road trips that prove him right.
Get straight to the adventure with a mile of fixed-anchor climbing using steel rungs and cables bolted into the side of cliffs at NROCKS, one of the few via ferrata routes in the U.S. Keep the vertical pursuits alive at Seneca Rocks. Hike the 3.4-mile Seneca Rocks Trail, gaining 1,000 feet on your way to a viewing platform near the summit fins, where the North Fork Valley explodes in a display of fall color. If you need more dramatic views, a short scenic drive will take you to the top of Spruce Knob (4,863 feet), the highest point in West Virginia.
Next, drive west and step back in time with the Mountain Rail Adventures Cass Scenic Bald Knob Trip, where a historic steam engine takes you along a timber rail line, built in 1901, to the top of Bald Knob, where you can peer into two states.
Deeper in the mountains, you can catch a ride on Canaan Valley Resort State Park’s scenic chairlift to the 4,460-foot summit of Weiss Knob for more epic views of fall foliage. Just be sure to save time for a scenic drive along Corridor H (U.S. 48). Our favorite stretch is between Davis and Wardensville as the four-lane hits ridgetops and farming valleys, passing river gorges and cliffs along the way.
Where to stay: The newly remodeled Canaan Valley Resort State Park puts you near most of the action within the Potomac Highlands. The Guesthouse Lost River is a B&B-style inn on 30 acres surrounded by George Washington National Forest, with its own farmhouse-style kitchen serving dinner and cocktails on weekends.
New River and Greenbrier Valleys
Start by exploring the 1,000-foot-deep New River Gorge, in Fayetteville, by hiking the Endless Wall Trail, which forms a 2.5-mile-long horseshoe as it traverses the top of the canyon. The New River Gorge Bridge spans 3,030 feet across the river, and you can take a guided walk across a catwalk that runs just beneath the bridge but 851 feet above the river below, offering one-of-a-kind views of the New River Gorge. Time your visit right and you can watch BASE jumpers leap from the bridge during Bridge Day (Oct. 21) and sample the area’s finest foods during the Taste of Bridge Day festival (Oct. 20). If walking the bridge isn’t enough of a thrill, hit the skies in a World War II–era biplane with Wild Blue Adventures, which offers scenic tours and aerobatic adventures over the New River Gorge.
Drive east to The Greenbrier Resort for a dip in their mineral-rich spring waters and to learn the ancient sport of falconry with their on-site experts and trainers. Pick up a bike in Lewisburg and pedal the Greenbrier River Trail, a rail-trail project that follows the river for 78 miles. Leave the foliage behind and drop 120 feet into the belly of the earth on a self-guided tour of the massive stalactites and stalagmites in Lost World Caverns.
Start your trip by exploring downtown Morgantown on the 19-mile-long Deckers Creek Rail Trail. WVU’s campus is integrated into downtown Morgantown, giving you a chance to explore some of the school’s architectural highlights, like the iconic Woodburn Hall, an impressive Second Empire–style building. The school also operates a canopy tour that soars through the WVU Research Forest via four zip lines and several platforms and bridges. If you’re lucky, you can catch the Mountaineers at a home game during football season.
Outside of town, explore Coopers Rock State Forest, which has nearly 13,000 acres of trails winding past massive boulders and cliff bands. Or head for the river. Fall brings heavy rains and big water on the Cheat, which carves a dramatic canyon through the northern corner of West Virginia. Sign up with Cheat River Outfitters for a full-day excursion. For a mellower excursion, cruise south to Valley Falls State Park, where a gentle hike leads past stone ruins and the Great Falls, which spans the length of the Tygart River and served as the base of a historic grist and sawmill that once operated on the site.
Where to stay: Lakeview Golf Resort and Spa, on the edge of Morgantown, has two championship courses, but don’t overlook the spa, which is one of the highest-rated in the state.
Harpers Ferry National Historic Park has repeatedly played a pivotal role in American history, serving as the site of the first successful railroad as well as the largest surrender of Union troops during the Civil War. Later, the town housed one of the earliest integrated schools in the nation. Stroll through the restored town before picking up a piece of the Appalachian Trail, which passes through the park.
See the watery intersection of the Shenandoah and Potomac from a high perch while zipping through the Harpers Ferry Zip Line Canopy Tour, which combines sky bridges, zip lines, and tree houses. Or hop in a rubber boat for a two-hour guided adventure on the Class III Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. Make a pit stop at Bloomery Sweetshine, a craft distillery in Charles Town that makes a wide variety of flavored moonshine and easy-sipping liqueurs. It’s fall, so you should probably grab a bottle of their seasonal Pumpkin Spice Shine. Shepherdstown, just 15 miles north of Harpers Ferry, is the oldest city in the state and was once in the running to be the nation’s capital. Today the town is known as a theater and agricultural hub. Head to Orr’s Farm Market and you can have your pick of the local bounty. Fall means pick your own apples, pears and pumpkins. Come hungry.
Where to Stay: The Bavarian Inn offers a slice of Europe on the edge of the Potomac, with alpine-style chalets, formal gardens, and a restaurant that focuses on German fare.
Charleston isn’t just the state capital. It’s also the cultural hub, with a proud agricultural tradition that spreads throughout the surrounding Kanawha Valley. Hop into the West Virginia State Museum to peruse artifacts that have helped define West Virginia’s history, from prehistoric art to springboard wagons that acted as mobile pulpits for preachers in the 1800s.
Best time to visit? FestivALL (Oct. 20–22), a weekend celebration where the entire city is turned into a venue for theater, dance, and visual artists. Year-round, you can catch a live performance of the syndicated Mountain Stage with Larry Groce, where performances from big-name touring musicians like the Marcus King Band and Tyler Childers are broadcast live from the Culture Center Theater to more than 200 NPR radio stations across the country. Cross the Kanawha River and leave the city behind in the 9,300-acre Kanawha State Forest. Hit the 1.5-mile Overlook Trail for a broad view of the valley surrounding Charleston.
Save enough time for a mulit-farm tour. Start with J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works, where sea salt is harvested from an ancient ocean trapped below the Kanawha Valley, surrounding Charleston. Gritt’s Farm, just north of the city, grows everything from corn to cantaloupe on its 300-acre plot. In the fall, the farm turns into a family-fun destination, with corn mazes, slides, duck races, apple cannons, and a pick-your-own pumpkin patch. Head east to Huntington, where the Heritage Farm Museum and Village hosts “Way Back Weekends,” in which you can experience what life in Appalachia would’ve been like in the 19th century as artisans and reenactors bring history to life. If you time it right, you can catch the Thundering Herd at a home game at Marshall University, which sits on the edge of the Ohio River and has a proud football (and tailgating) tradition. From Huntington, head south to the Devil Anse Trailhead, a highlight of the Hatfield/McCoy ATV Trail system, named after the family feud that plagued the region for years. From Devil Anse, take your pick of more than 300 miles of ATV trails with varying difficulty.
Where to Stay: The Brass Pineapple Inn occupies an early-1900s Victorian home in Charleston’s historic district, near the State Capitol Complex. Expect a full breakfast each morning and afternoon tea.
Known as the four-season playground of the East, West Virginia offers unmatched outdoor recreation opportunities year-round. Paired with breathtaking scenic views and affordable accommodations, the Mountain State is the perfect place to escape and explore nature at its very best. For travel ideas and trip inspiration, visit www.GoToWV.com.