WHY VISIT WEST VIRGINIA
Spin the wheel of outdoor adventure in West Virginia, and the same activity is unlikely to come up twice.
The self-styled ‘outdoor recreation capital of the East’ is shaking off any images of being a down-at-heel, coal-mining state, and has transformed itself into a giant natural playground, thanks to its forested hills, white-water rapids, underground caverns, and the powder-topped Appalachian Mountains.
West Virginia offers a veritable A to Z of adrenaline adventures, from all-terrain vehicle rides along one of the world’s largest off-road courses to zip-lining through gorges at night.
The Monongahela National Forest sprawls across the state’s highest peaks and is dotted with campgrounds and log cabins, which fill up in summer with hikers, mountain bikers, anglers, and horse riders. If these activities all sound a bit tame, swing your climbing harness and ropes over to Seneca Rocks, a craggy quartzite outcrop jutting 270m (900ft) above the North Fork River.
Also guaranteed to get the heart pumping a little faster is a rafting trip down the Gauley River, known as the ‘Beast of the East’ owing to its preponderance of Class IV and V rapids. Prefer to watch others doing crazy stunts? Head on down to the annual Bridge Day at New River Gorge, when base jumpers fling themselves off a 267m (876ft) bridge.
Pause for breath and take a gander at West Virginia’s dazzling arts and crafts creations, from intricately designed quilts and colorful mouth-blown glass to custom-made woodwork. Potter round pretty small towns such as Hinton, a historic railway settlement, or lakeshore gem Summersville.
West Virginia’s music scene is legendary too, so whether you’re into Appalachian fiddle tunes or Southern gospel numbers, grab yourself a pepperoni roll and get those toes tapping.
WHAT TO SEE IN WEST VIRGINIA
- West Virginia State Capitol: this stunning gold leaf domed building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The limestone structure, completed in 1932, cost around US$10m to build. The dome is the largest on any state capitol building in the country and is covered in 23-karat gold leaf. Also found in the complex is the Governor’s Mansion, the Culture Center, and the Holy Grove Museum. The capital plaza surrounding the complex contains statues of Abraham Lincoln and Stonewall Jackson, as well as fountains and flagpoles flying US and West Virginia colors.
- Blackwater Falls State Park: this is one of West Virginia’s most photographed sites, with its amber-colored water that plummets five stories before winding through an eight-mile gorge. The falls are named after the Blackwater River, whose water turns black due to tannic acid from red spruce needles and hemlock. The falls are open year-round, and there are cabins available for those wishing to stay the night. There is also a gift shop and a restaurant onsite. As well as taking in the stunning scenery, visitors can enjoy hiking, horseback riding, swimming, fishing, sledding, and cross-country skiing here.
- Victorian Wheeling: step back in time and tour this lovely West Virginia city, which houses more Victorian architecture than any other place in the US. Some buildings still have some original features, such as Eckhart House, known as the city’s ‘Crown Jewel’. Tours are available from May to December, between 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and high tea can be enjoyed in a Victorian dining room. In October, many private homes open their doors and become part of the tour.
- Mothman Museum and Research Center: in 1966, a number of unexplained paranormal occurrences started in the town of Point Pleasant, and the locals started to catch sight of an odd flying creature. The new resident – described by many as a large, gray, human-like form with giant wings and big red eyes – killed pets, followed people and made its home in an abandoned TNT plant close to the town. There were more than 100 sightings of the creature, named the Mothman by the local media. The sightings stopped after the 700-foot bridge across the Ohio River collapsed and killed 46 people. Some say the phenomenon was linked to an old Native American curse that was put on the area. The museum describes the history of the Mothman through newspaper clippings, drawings, and other mementos.
- The Greenbrier: this award-winning historic estate in West Virginia was built on 6,500 acres of land in 1778. Today, it is home to one of the most popular spa resorts in the state, featuring a golf course, shops, and a wealth of outdoor recreational activities. It is also home to a once-secret underground bunker that was built for the President in case of an international crisis. The 112,000-square-foot facility is equipped with decontamination chambers, a clinic, dormitories, a laboratory, a cafeteria, and a power plant, and was often used as a meeting place in order to hide what it was actually built for.
- New River Gorge Bridge: when built in 1977, this was the world’s longest steel-arch bridge, although that title is owned by Shanghai’s Lupu Bridge. The New River Gorge Bridge passes over the New River in the New River Gorge National Park and is part of Highway 19, connecting Fayetteville to Summersville. It offers a phenomenal drive with fantastic views, although the best time to come is on Bridge Day, held the third Saturday in October. On Bridge Day, the bridge is open only to pedestrians, who can enjoy the views or even go parachuting into the water below.
- Morgantown Glass Museum: Morgantown is the center of West Virginia’s glass industry, and this museum displays pieces that were made in the town’s factories between 1892 and 1980. There are more than 5,000 Gentile Glass and Seneca Glass items in the collection.
- Lost World Caverns: the Lost World Caverns, the country’s largest stalactite compound, descends 120 feet below the ground. It takes around 45 minutes to walk through. Along the way, some fantastic formations can be seen, including the 30-ton stalactite Snowy Chandelier and the 28-foot stalagmite War Club. The caverns are open every day, and ‘wild cave tours’ are available.
WHEN TO GO TO WEST VIRGINIA
The best period to visit West Virginia is from May to September.
Virginia is a huge state and the weather changes significantly as you move around. It gets warmer and more humid the more south, east, or southeast you go. To the east lies the vast Atlantic Ocean, which greatly affects the coastal areas, in particular, the Chesapeake Bay, which experiences hurricanes brought on by the Gulf Stream. The average annual precipitation is 42.7 inches.
The southwest and west are dominated by the Blue Ridge Mountains, which bring snow in the winter. The coldest temperatures can be felt in the north, with January averaging only 19°F to 42°F, while the warmest temperatures can be felt along the coast, with July staying comfortable at 71°F to 85°F.
WHAT TO DO IN WEST VIRGINIA
Watch the wonders of Bridge Day
The New River Gorge is America’s newest National Park. And yet, for those who’ve spent time in West Virginia, the gorge’s namesake bridge is a local landmark. The bridge is beloved not only because of its famous 876-foot steel arch but also because every year it hosts Bridge Day, an annual West Virginia Holiday where adrenaline junkies from across the world travel to the New River Bridge and find new and creative ways to jump off of it. They bungee jump, base jump and do all sorts of other things your mom told you never to do. Thousands come out to cheer them on, both from rafts moored on the side of the river and the banks around. It’s vicarious thrills at its finest, and the best way to experience the park without jumping off the bridge yourself.
Following is a list of typical festivals and celebrations of West Virginia.
- Vandalia Gathering: this festival focuses on the state’s bluegrass and old-time music, as well as Scots-Irish-related arts such as quilt making, dancing, and cooking. It is held each Memorial Day weekend in Charleston and has been known to bring in top local performers such as Everett Lilly and the Lilly Mountaineers, and Dwight Diller.
- West Virginia Strawberry Festival: this is one of West Virginia’s most popular festivals, both among locals and those visiting from neighboring states. As the name suggests, the festival is all about strawberries, offering parades and shows, as well as the lively ‘Party Gras’ street party, which offers live music, auctions, a carnival, and craft exhibits. It is held the third weekend in May in Buckhannon, midway between Charleston and Morgantown.
- All Good Music Festival and Camp Out: each July, this weekend music festival takes place on Marvin’s Mountain Top in Masontown. The festival, which has been running for more than 15 years, focuses on folk and jam acts, although it recently added reggae, bluegrass, hip-hop, funk, and rock to the menu. There are three stages, each focusing on a different music genre, although the two main stages never have overlapping big-name acts.
- Augusta Heritage Festival: this is the largest festival in West Virginia, drawing people in from all over the nation. The five-week festival starts in July and runs throughout the summer, featuring the best of Appalachian culture in the state. Concerts, dancing, and crafts were influenced by the Appalachian culture, and are the focus. The festival is held at the Davis and Elkins College in Elkins.
- West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival: rated one of the ‘Top 100 Events in North America’, this three-day September street festival brings more than 100,000 visitors to the town of Clarksburg each year. The festival celebrates the Italian-American culture in West Virginia and features entertainment, a golf tournament, a pasta cook-off, and plenty of delicious Italian treats.
- Mountain State Forest Festival: in late September, Elkins hosts this annual festival, which consists of hot-air balloon rides, a fishing contest, a tennis tournament, a gun show, a talent show, and a carnival, among other things. It also has plenty of exhibits showing off local products such as quits, buckwheat cake, and pepperoni buns. Expect to find plenty of food, happiness, and laughter at this lively annual event.
- Bridge Day: each third Saturday in October, the New River Gorge Bridge is closed off to all vehicle traffic and becomes the host of a festival. This is the only day of the year that pedestrians are allowed to cross it. Around 100,000 people visit the bridge each Bridge Day and enjoy parachuting, bungee jumping, and rappelling off of the 267-meter-high bridge.
HOW TO REACH AND TRAVEL THROUGH WEST VIRGINIA
Getting around by car rental is the best way to travel throughout West Virginia, especially for visitors who want to enjoy the recommended scenic routes. Yeager Airport, Greenbrier Valley Airport, Tri-State Airport, and most main tourist destinations have a good selection of car rental choices. Summer and autumn are the busiest seasons for tourism, so it is best to make car rental reservations in advance during these times.
Amtrak runs two railway lines that pass through West Virginia, the Cardinal Route and the Capital Limited Route. There are also a number of scenic train rides throughout the state for those wishing to enjoy the picturesque landscapes. The Potomac Eagle follows the Potomac River, the
Durbin and Greenbrier Valley Railroad travels the eastern region of the state, and the New River Gorge Mystery Train goes through the stunning New River Gorge Valley.
Greyhound has bus services connecting West Virginia with other states, but there are no inter-city bus services within the state itself. Most large cities have inner-city bus services, but these are usually limited and often do not reach all areas. The exception is Morgantown, which, being a major university town, has a good public bus system. It also runs West Virginia’s only rapid transport system, with five stops that connect downtown Morgantown with various university campuses and buildings. Public buses are a reasonably cheap way to get around the cities of West Virginia.
Main airports are:
GENERAL INFORMATION ON WEST VIRGINIA
health tips & vaccination: none
local currency: US Dollar
local time zone: GMT-5 (-4)
electricity: type A and type B (120V – 60 Hz)
WHAT TO DO IN WEST VIRGINIA
Typical food in West Virginia
- Pepperoni Rolls
- Buckwheat pancakes
- Apple Butter
- Slaw dog: hot Dogs with Sauce and Slaw
- Biscuits and Gravy
- Skillet Cornbread
- Soup Beans (with cornbread)
- Chicken Fried Beef Steak
- Morel Mushrooms
- Chicken and Dumplings
- Morels (Molly Moochers)
- Grape & Gorgonzola Pizza
- Ramps and Fried Potatoes
- Baked Steak and Gravy
- Apple Dumpling
- Fried Fish Sandwich
- Meatloaf and Mashed Potatoes
- Fresh Rainbow Trout
- Mountaineer Biscuit
- Appalachian Barbecue
- West Virginia Moonshine
- West Virginia Margarita
Souvenirs from West Virginia
- Maple Syrup
- Golden Delicious Apples
- Black Walnuts
- Greenbrier Peaches
- hand-blown glass