West Virginia, a state that borders five others and is considered the southernmost northern state and the northernmost southern state really is a little of everything. The state has long played an important role in American history, from the Colonial times to its pivotal central role in the Civil War. West Virginia, more so than many of the surrounding states, is known for spectacular natural landscapes, thanks mostly to the fact that the entire state is in a mountainous region.
Visitors to West Virginia can explore a variety of different attractions ranging from some sites that are connected to significant battles and events in American history, to expansive forests, impressive cave systems, and other geologic formations.
Harper’s Ferry National Historic Park
Harper’s Ferry National Historic Park is located in and around the city of Harpers Ferry, an area made famous during the American Civil War. The historical town of Harpers Ferry, today part of the National Park, was once a 19th century center of industry and the site of the abolitionist uprising led by John Brown, known historically as John Brown’s raid.
Visitors to the park today can view historical museums located in 19th century buildings or take part in a variety of recreational opportunities. In the Harper’s Ferry Historic District, next to the park, you’ll find famous buildings like the Harpers Ferry Train Station and many 19th century houses.
The 624-person town of Berkley Springs is one of West Virginia’s most popular places to visit as a popular resort area. The town’s main industry is tourism, driven mostly by the four full service spas that use mineral water from the local springs. It is also home to the Berkley Springs International Water Tasting, the longest running and most attended event of its type.
Monongahela National Forest
The National Forest, Monongahela is located in the Allegheny Mountain region of West Virginia and includes much of the Potomac Highlands area. This enormous tract of land covers 919,000 acres and is one of West Virginia’s best spots for outdoor recreation with 23 campgrounds, 2 visitor centers, more than 500 miles of trout-fishing streams, and a snowmobile area. The park is also home to a variety of wildlife including 9 endangered and threatened plant and animal species. In addition to being a popular camping location, the forest has a handful of National Natural Landmarks and 318 acres of old growth forest, all of which can be viewed on more than 800 miles of hiking trails.
Within the Monongahela National Forest you’ll find Seneca Rocks a massive rock which because it is only accessible via technical rock climbing, represents the East Coast’s only “true peak.” The peak has long been the subject of popular legends ranging from tales of Native American romance to tragic climbing accidents. While most visitors to Seneca Rocks won’t be planning to ascend this challenging peak, the stunning formation can easily be viewed along a major highway.
New River Gorge National River
The New River Gorge is located in southern West Virginia and stretches for 53 miles through the counties of Fayette, Raleigh, and Summers. The gorge is a popular destination for outdoor recreation enthusiasts, known for its excellent rock climbing routes and whitewater rafting. For a more tranquil visit to New River Gorge fishing and hiking are also popular activities and the perfect ways to observe some of the natural beauty, plant life, and more than 63 mammal species.
Top Things to Do in West Virginia
John Brown Wax Museum
The story of John Brown, the famous abolitionist of Harpers Ferry is told at the John Brown Wax Museum. Before the Civil War, John Brown led a rebellion that came to be known as John Brown’s Raid. During the uprising John Brown led a group of men in capturing the armory, hoping to arm slaves and lead them in a rebellion. Brown was captured and put to death. Today, the firehouse where Brown resisted U.S. forces remains as a historic monument. At the wax museum, wax figures, re-created scenes, and audio come together to recreate the experience of this famous event.
Civil War Discovery Trail
West Virginia was the site of many important events and battles during the American Civil War and this “trail” maps a route between some of the most notable historic sites. The complete trail covers 31 states and more than 600 sites, 18 of which are in West Virginia. Sites along the trail give visitors a glimpse into the political, social, and cultural feel of the times through informative exhibits, artifacts, and historic sites. Some of the sites in West Virginia re-create and preserve historic battlefields, historic towns, forts, a plantation, and a cemetery.
Lost World Caverns
The Lost World Caverns, a series of underground caves, can be found near the town of Lewisburg, West Virginia. The caverns are known for their pedestal-shaped stalagmites, as well as a variety of other rock formations and waterfalls. Visitors can tour a section of the cave to walk through the large chamber, which measures 100 feet long by 300 feet wide and 120 feet high. Other notable formations include rocks and stalagmites called the Bridal Veil, Goliath, Snow Chandelier, Ice Cream Wall, Castle, and the War Club. The War Club is a 28 foot tall pedestal-shaped formation that was noted in the Guinness Book of World Records when one dedicated soul sat atop it for 16 days.
Gauley River National Recreation Area
This National Recreation Area protects the Gauley River and the Meadow River in southern West Virginia. The majority of the park is accessible only by water and is known as a popular whitewater rafting destination. Among rafters, the park is famous for its five areas designated as Class V rapids.
National Radio Astronomy Observatory
This government financed research and development center has five locations in the U.S., of which the Green Bank, West Virginia location is famous for having the world’s largest radio telescope. The telescope is used in tracking and collecting data from satellites and space probes using radio frequencies. In addition to the radio telescope the observatory has many other telescopes including a 140 foot telescope. At the Greenbank Science Center visitors can view interactive exhibits that are perfect for family vacations.
Things to Do in West Virginia
Although West Virginia is literally “in the path” of five other states, it has long garnered the reputation of being “off the beaten path.” To literally, follow a path in West Virginia, plan to follow the Civil War Trail to explore some of the state’s most important monuments and Civil War historic sites. If you want to get off the path, so to speak, you’ll have no trouble at all with whitewater rafting, rock climbing, winter sports, and endless hiking trails around every corner.