West Virginia has rightfully earned its nickname “The Mountain State.” The only state located entirely within the Appalachian Mountain range, it is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, boasting several river systems, top-notch rock climbing, ski slopes, and superb hiking, since three-quarters of the state is covered by forest.
But there’s more to West Virginia than outdoor adventures. You’ll also find charming towns and bustling cities, cultural destinations and relaxing retreats, and everything in between. West Virginia is within a day’s drive from 75 percent of the U.S. population, yet it remains unspoiled by large crowds and over-tourism. Here are a few of the state’s standout spots.
Small-town charm, big-city amenities
Charleston is a thriving capital city with plenty of small-town charm. An ideal place to start exploring is the West Virginia State Capitol Complex. Wander over, admire the grand architecture of the capitol building—easily identifiable by its distinctive gold dome—and visit the West Virginia Culture Center and State Museum. Here, you’ll find interactive walk-through displays which 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 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. Don’t leave downtown without taking a stroll by the river, which skirts the edge of downtown and offers plenty of people-watching opportunities.
For dinner, try 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.
Marvel at Mother Nature: New River Gorge National Park and Preserve
West Virginia is home to the United States’ newest national park, which was designated in December 2020. From ziplining to rock climbing, adrenaline junkies are sure to find a rush at New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, which winds 53 miles through the southern part of the state. From ziplining to rock climbing, adrenaline junkies are sure to find a rush here.
The park boasts some of the best whitewater in the country; rafting trips take thrill-seekers past abandoned mining towns and between soaring 1,400-feet-tall canyon walls. For an exhilarating half-day (3-3.5 hours) adventure, book a 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.
Take your pick of scenic hiking trails inside the park, including Endless Wall, which follows the gorge rim and boasts unforgettable scenic 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 climbing spots in the country. River Expeditions offers half and full-day trips for beginners and experts alike. And for something to really rev your heart rate, Adventures on the Gorge provides unexpected excitement: 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. 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 for the ultimate adventure, stay on a private island accessible by boat within the park.
Enjoy the views in Potomac Highlands
As the name implies, the two dominant features of this region are the Potomac River and the Appalachian Mountains. This is where you’ll find some of the highest peaks—and lowest valleys—in the state, and large swaths of protected land such as Monongahela National Forest.
The variety of topography, climate, and geological features makes the Potomac Highlands a haven for biodiversity and low-impact exploration. In fact, it’s the perfect place to embark on West Virginia’s new Waterfall Trail, which includes 29 outstanding waterfalls across the state. Among the state’s most popular natural attractions is Blackwater Falls (named for its distinct amber color that comes from the tannic acid from fallen hemlock and red spruce needles) in the eponymous state park.
If you’re in the mood for a scenic drive, take the Seneca Skyway, which snakes through 300 miles of Potomac Highlands wilderness and small towns. It’s six hours straight through, but of course, you’ll want to stop and enjoy the sights, food, and warm West Virginia hospitality along the way.
Alternatively, the Potomac Eagle Scenic Railroad has several routes which range from a few hours to an entire day. It’s a great way to sit back, relax and immerse yourself in rich West Virginia history and stunning scenery.
For the truly adventurous, visit NROCKS in Pendleton County, one of the longest via ferrata in the country and the first designed and built by Americans. Using elaborate anchor systems in the rocks, climbers use rungs, ladders, suspension bridges, and other climbing assists to access magnificent views while clinging to a mountainside.
Discover rich Civil War History in Fayetteville
Fayetteville channels West Virginia’s independent spirit (it’s the only state that was 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. Then have lunch at Cathedral Cafe, an idyllic former church that’s been lovingly transformed into a cozy restaurant and bookstore.
For dinner, try the not-so-traditional pizza and locally brewed beer at Pies and Pints. If you’re planning to stay overnight, Lafayette Flats offers the conveniences of an apartment and boutique hotel.
A Thriving Arts Scene and an Underground Science Laboratory in Lewisburg
A short drive from the Greenbrier is Lewisburg, a small but mighty town of about 4,000 people. Known for its thriving arts scene, visitors can check out the local talent at Lee Street Studios, an artist collective where visitors can watch potters, painters, fiber artists, and jewelry makers work.
Lewisburg is also home to a geological wonder: Lost World Caverns, which was named a National Natural Landmark in 1973. Here, visitors can 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 hard hat 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 quiet those stomach rumblings.
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 (one of only four remaining Carnegies in the world) and Lewis Theatre. Foodies will enjoy a sophisticated dinner at The French Goat, whose carefully-curated menu features delicate yet indulgent takes on French classics. You won’t want to miss the butterscotch eclairs.
Indulge in self-care at this stylish, storied retreat
White Sulphur Springs is home to The Greenbrier, an upscale resort full of interesting factoids and unusual history. In addition to having hosted 26 presidents, the property houses a declassified top-secret bunker that served as a fallout shelter and top-secret U.S. government relocation facility for members of Congress.
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.) Then take a peek of the president’s cottage and meander through the resort’s lush walking paths and gardens.
If you’re craving a bit of relaxation, make an appointment at the hotel spa for a Greenbrier Sulphur Soak—people have traveled to White Sulphur Springs to soak in these therapeutic waters for more than 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.