There’s never been a better time to explore West Virginia’s New River-Greenbrier Valley region. Known for its breathtaking natural splendor, thrilling outdoor adventure, and charming cities full of culture, this thriving destination just added another major reason for travelers to visit. New River Gorge, once one of the country’s hidden gems, became the United State’s 63rd national park in December, the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.
Set on what geologists claim could be the second oldest river in the world, New River Gorge offers a hiking trail for every occasion and unforgettable whitewater rafting trips that pass by abandoned mining towns and soaring, 1,400-feet-tall canyon walls. From ziplining to some of the country’s best rock climbing, adrenaline junkies are also sure to find a rush here.
On this five-day road trip, you’ll stop at some of West Virginia’s most popular quaint cities with vibrant arts and culture scenes. Charleston, the state capital, features a riverfront historic district with plenty to discover. Take in the late Victorian architecture and pop into one of the area’s many art galleries or Appalachian-influenced restaurants. (Pimento cheese dip and chicken and dumplings at 1010 Bridge are two can’t-miss local favorites in the small city.) Fayetteville, voted one of the coolest small towns in the U.S., provides a glimpse into the history of the Civil War while Lewisburg’s storied performance venues are sure to please theatre and music lovers.
Near the end of your vacation, take time to relax and soak in West Virginia's beauty at The Greenbrier, a historic resort in White Sulphur Springs where people have been traveling to “take the waters” for 230 years.
Your journey begins in Charleson, a thriving capital city with plenty of small-town charm. If you’re not road tripping to get here, fly into Yeager Airport (CRW) and rent a car for the duration of the trip. Brass Pineapple Inn, a cozy bed and breakfast set in an original early 1900s home, will be your base for the night.
Located in the heart of historic Charleston, Brass Pineapple Inn is within striking distance of the West Virginia State Capitol Complex. Wander over, admire the grand architecture of the gold-domed state capitol building, and visit the West Virginia Culture Center and State Museum, which uses interactive walk-through displays to showcase West Virginia’s cultural, industrial, and natural history. For a literal taste of the state’s mining history, pick up some artisanal salt at the nearby J.Q. Dickinson Salt Works, run by a 7th-generation salt mining family who harvests the salt from an ancient ocean underneath the Appalachian mountains.
Downtown Charleston has a vibrant arts community that includes galleries, museums, and street murals. Buy some local art, as well as custom jewelry and fashion from up-and-coming designers, at Bridge Road Shops. Stop for coffee or a bite to eat, locally made gifts to bring home, and seasonal goods at the Capitol Market, a year-round farmer’s market housed in a turn-of-the-century former train station. Afterward, grab dinner at 1010 Bridge, which serves Appalachian food with low country influences, like dijon and dill crusted Chilean salmon and duck confit over butter bean cassoulet. Follow it up with refreshing, authentic gelato at Caffe Romeo.
Day 2New River Gorge by Water and Fayetteville
Thrill-seekers and nature-lovers have been gravitating toward New River Gorge since the 1960s. Now, it’s your turn to see one of the most breathtaking parts of the country and the newest of three National Parks and Preserves in the National Park System with special policies and land-use restrictions. You have a full day ahead of you, so get an early start on the hour-long drive from Charleston. Once you arrive, you’ll have your pick of accommodations. Adjacent to the New River Gorge National River, ACE Adventure Resort is ideal for those looking to experience the wilderness without leaving creature comforts behind. Check into one of the cozy cabins on the 1,500-acre property, or if you prefer something more adventurous, stay on a private island accessible by boat within the park. Lafayette Flats in nearby Fayetteville offers the conveniences of an apartment and boutique hotel closer to civilization.
Once you check in for two nights, the real adventure begins. Book an exhilarating half-day (3-3.5 hours) whitewater rafting trip on the lower New River through ACE Adventure Resort. You’ll float between house-sized, prehistoric boulders and hit rapids that are sure to get your pulse pumping.
Clean up and venture into Fayetteville, a town that channels West Virginia’s independent spirit (it’s the only state that formed by separating from a Confederate state) by managing to stay off the grid. Fayetteville is also full of rich history; during the Civil War it was held by both the North and the South. Take a leisurely stroll around Fayetteville’s historic district and stop at Civil War Trail sites along the way. For dinner, try not-so-traditional pizza and locally brewed beer at Pies and Pints.
Day 3New River Gorge by Land and Air
Spend the entire day exploring New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. With so much to see, you can take your pick of scenic hiking trails, including Endless Wall which follows the gorge rim and boasts soaring views. Park naturalists provide tours if you prefer to hike with a guide. Expect to catch a glimpse at some of the area’s wildlife, including bald eagles and deer. Along the way, make sure to stop at the iconic New River Gorge Bridge, one of the longest steel arch bridges in the world. If you’re brave enough, you can walk the length of the bridge using the catwalk below with a tour from Bridge Walk.
Rock climbers will be thrilled to find that New River Gorge National Park boasts some of the best spots in the country. River Expeditions offers half and full-day trips for beginners and experts alike. For something to really rev your heart rate, Adventures on the Gorge provides an unexpected thrill. Soar through the treetops and see the gorge from a totally different perspective with a gravity zipline tour. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, fill up on tasty classics and some of the best BBQ in West Virginia at Smokey’s while enjoying postcard-worthy views from its location right on the rim of the Gorge.
Day 4White Sulphur Springs + Lewisburg
Before hitting the road, have lunch at Cathedral Cafe in Fayetteville, a charming former church that’s been lovingly transformed into a cozy restaurant and bookstore. From there, it’s a 90-minute drive to White Sulphur Springs, where you’ll spend the night at The Greenbrier, a historic resort that has hosted 26 presidents. Along the way, stop at Gauley Bridge to take a short walk out to the dramatic Cathedral Falls. At 60 feet tall, these towering waterfalls cascade over sandstone and shale cliffs and are some of the highest and most scenic in the state.
After you’ve checked into your luxurious room at The Greenbrier, it’s time for a quick history lesson. Take a peek of the presidents’ cottage and tour the declassified underground bunker made for Congress during the Cold War. If you’re craving a bit of relaxation, make an appointment at the hotel spa for a Greenbrier Sulphur Soak—people have been traveling to White Sulphur Springs to soak in these therapeutic waters for 230 years. Golf fans can also book a tee time at one of the resort’s famed golf courses, where legends like Sam Snead and Arnold Palmer have played.
Later, get ready for a night out in the nearby city of Lewisburg. Whether you prefer Shakespeare or bluegrass, you’ll find an impressive variety of live performances at notable venues like Carnegie Hall and Lewis Theatre. Enjoy a sophisticated dinner at The French Goat before returning to The Greenbrier for a nightcap in the lobby bar.
Day 5Beneath the Surface
On the last morning of your trip, treat yourself to a decadent breakfast in The Greenbrier’s elegant Main Dining Room. (After all, it’s not every day that you have the chance to eat omelet Lorraine and Southern peaches topped with fresh whipped cream under custom-made chandeliers.)
Your destination today is Lost World Caverns, a National Natural Landmark since 1973. Here, you’ll descend 120 feet below the earth’s surface to wander through a maze of some of the largest stalagmites and stalactites in the country. The 45-minute self-guided tour hits all the highlights, but if you have time and don’t mind getting muddy, gear up in a hardhat for the six-hour Wild Cave Tour. You’ll climb and squeeze your way into the farthest reaches of the caverns.
Once you return to the surface, grab lunch at Stardust Cafe, a local favorite in Lewisburg. Its mile-high sandwiches are sure to leave you energized before you have to head home or drive 15 minutes to Greenbrier Valley Airport (LWB) to catch your flight.