16 Top Things to Do in West Virginia

Almost heaven, West Virginia. That’s how John Denver referred to the state in his American classic “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” one of West Virginia’s four state songs. (In case you’re wondering, the other three are “The West Virginia Hills,” “This Is My West Virginia” and “West Virginia, My Home Sweet Home.”)

West Virginia is indeed one of the most sublime states in the U.S. Yet it isn’t at the top of many travelers’ bucket lists (if it even has a place on those lists at all).

It’s time to change your mind about West Virginia, and if you’ve found yourself on this page, chances are you’re ready for the challenge — and a memorable experience.

Nicknamed the Mountain State, West Virginia is the only state situated entirely in the Appalachian Mountain region. As such, it offers a wealth of outdoor activities, including whitewater rafting, ATV riding, zip lining, hiking, rock climbing, and rappelling at state parks and New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, the country’s newest national park.

But that’s not all. Visitors can stop by The Greenbrier, a luxury resort whose guests have ranged from presidents to injured soldiers. As the second-largest coal-producing U.S. state, West Virginia is also home to the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine, where curious travelers can ride through the passages of a former coal mine. West Virginia has its share of quirky attractions as well, including the “World’s Largest Teapot” and the Mothman Museum, which tells the story of the local legend that inspired “The Mothman Prophecies,” both a book and a film starring Richard Gere.

From the pretty to the paranormal, these are the top things to do in West Virginia.

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve: Glen Jean

If there’s only one place you can visit in West Virginia, let it be New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. Born out of a COVID-19 relief bill, New River Gorge became the nation’s 63rd national park in December 2020. The area — which spans more than 70,000 acres — has long been a playground for outdoor enthusiasts. Its 53-mile stretch of the New River (ironically one of the oldest rivers in the world) is famous for whitewater rafting, with beginner- and family-friendly tours and rapids up to Class V, widely considered some of the most challenging to navigate. Of course, the park also offers other ways to take in its otherworldly landscape — think scenic driving routes, hiking, biking, climbing, fishing and free, ranger-led activities including junior ranger programs. Accommodation options inside the park are limited to camping, but there are plenty of hotels and resorts within a short drive.

Address: 104 Main St., Glen Jean, WV 25846

Bridge Walk: Lansing

Whatever you do in New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, don’t miss the one-of-a-kind Bridge Walk, where guided tours are offered on a catwalk beneath the famous New River Gorge Bridge. The bridge towers 876 feet above the New River, but don’t worry — guests are securely fastened to a cable, and tours move at a relaxed pace so you can feel comfortable (and stop for scenic views and photo ops along the way). Previous visitors say the Bridge Walk is a must in West Virginia, with some calling it a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Participants must be at least 8 years old, and tours start at $72. If you’re feeling extra brave after mastering this walkway, you can even come back for Bridge Day, West Virginia’s largest single-day festival, where thousands gather every October to watch daredevils jump off the bridge into the gorge below.

Address: 57 County Route 85/9, Lansing, WV 25862

Adventures on the Gorge: Lansing

The ultimate experience in West Virginia, Adventures on the Gorge, is an award-winning adventure outfitter and resort on the rim of New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. The destination resort offers a dizzying array of outdoor activities, the most popular of which is whitewater rafting. Travelers rave about the half- and multi-day excursions for various skill levels, noting that the guides are friendly, helpful and all-around great. Adventure seekers can also enjoy zip lining and canopy tours (including a nighttime MoonTrek), rappelling, mountain biking, guided hikes, horseback riding, cave tours, laser tag and paintball. On Summersville Lake (the largest in West Virginia), there’s kayaking, standup paddle boarding and multi-sport excursions that include a little bit of everything. After an action-packed day, visitors can grab a bite to eat at any of the three on-site restaurants and retreat to their choice of accommodations, which include everything from cozy cabins to glamping tents with views of the New River Gorge Bridge and surrounding forest.

Address: 219 County Route 60/5, Lansing, WV 25862

The Greenbrier: White Sulphur Springs

A National Historic Landmark, The Greenbrier served as a hospital for wounded soldiers during the Civil War and World War II. In 1778, it became “America’s Resort,” first hosting wealthy Southerners, then celebrities, U.S. presidents and even royalty. You don’t have to be a guest of the luxury resort (or an A-lister) to get a glimpse of it — guided hotel tours are offered — but overnight guests enjoy upscale accommodations ranging from signature guest rooms to estate homes, a roster of activities for all ages, golf, a spa, restaurants, a casino, retail shops, seasonal events and more. Whether you splurge for an overnight stay or not, don’t miss the Bunker Tour, where you’ll discover a former emergency fallout shelter and top-secret government relocation facility for Congress from the Cold War period. The tour, available for visitors aged 10 and older, starts at $40 for adults and $20 for ages 10 to 18.

Address: 101 W. Main St., White Sulphur Springs, WV 24986

Lost World Caverns: Lewisburg

Go 120 feet underground to explore stalagmites (some of which measure up to 80 feet tall) and stalactites at Lost World Caverns, one of the top things to do in West Virginia. Self-guided tours typically take about 45 minutes and are appropriate for all ages, while the Wild Cave Tour for ages 10 and up takes visitors to undeveloped parts of the caverns over the course of several hours. This attraction, which was first discovered in 1942, also includes a museum and gift shop. Previous visitors highly recommend Lost World Caverns, cautioning that the caves can be slippery and difficult to traverse in some areas, so be sure to wear sturdy shoes and a light jacket. Tours start at $12 for adults and $6 for children.

Address: 907 Lost World Road, Lewisburg, WV 24901

Harpers Ferry

Perhaps the most well-known destination in West Virginia, Harpers Ferry is more than a quaint 19th-century town. It’s a National Historic Park with Civil War sites including battlefields, remnants of campsites and, most notably, John Brown’s Fort and the John Brown Museum. If you don’t remember this one from history class, John Brown is the abolitionist credited with leading what’s now known as the Harpers Ferry Raid, in which he attempted to start an armed revolt of enslaved people in 1859.

Harpers Ferry is also known as the psychological midpoint of the 2,178-mile Appalachian National Scenic Trail and, as such, attracts thru-hikers to the historic Lower Town’s restaurants and nearby vacation rentals. Other highlights in Harper’s Ferry include The Point, where you can see the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers; crossing the Potomac on a pedestrian bridge to access the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park towpath; and, better still, getting out on the waters in a river tube, cold drink in hand.

Berkeley Springs State Park: Berkeley Springs

Soak in the soothing springs of this state park, known for its warm waters, which maintain a comfortable temperature of 74.3 degrees Fahrenheit, and its bathhouses, where available spa services include massages and mineral baths. The springs date back centuries, first flourishing as a health mecca for Native Americans, then drawing European settlers beginning in 1730. Several years later, George Washington discovered the healing powers of the springs and began visiting them regularly. It is largely because of him that the place now known as Berkeley Springs State Park remains the popular wellness destination it is today. Visitors praise the park and surrounding town, noting that you can see the historic Berkeley Springs Castle (reserved for private events only) from here.

Address: 2 S. Washington St., Berkeley Springs, WV 25411

Mothman Museum: Point Pleasant

In 1966, two grave diggers in Clendenin, West Virginia, reported the sighting of a strange winged figure with red eyes. Shortly after the incident, local residents began to make similar claims, with many blaming the massive creature, nicknamed the Mothman, for the 1967 Silver Bridge collapse and subsequent death of 46 people. The story was so bizarre it captured the attention of Hollywood (resulting in “The Mothman Prophecies” movie, based on a book of the same name) and inspired the Mothman Museum in the town of Point Pleasant, where the Mothman is said to reside. The museum features original newspaper clippings, handwritten police reports, props used in the 2002 film and more. The Mothman Statue stands 12 feet tall outside of the museum, and the Mothman Festival is hosted every September. Previous patrons of the museum say it’s fun and interesting, and that admission — less than $5 for adults — is cheap. After you explore this eerie museum, spend some time in Point Pleasant, an attraction in itself with great restaurants, shopping, seasonal events and the historic (and supposedly haunted) Lowe Hotel.

Address: 400 Main St., Point Pleasant, WV 25550

World’s Largest Teapot: Chester

If you’re road-tripping through West Virginia, consider making a stop at this quirky attraction, which measures 12 feet high and 44 feet wide. Before achieving fame, the “World’s Largest Teapot” was created as a giant keg for Hires Root Beer and then installed as a snack stand at a mini-golf course in Pennsylvania. In 1938, a man named William “Babe” Devon brought it to Chester, West Virginia. He added a spout, lid and handle so he could use the newly revamped structure to promote the region’s then-booming pottery industry, selling teapots and other souvenirs from its window. The teapot went out of business around 1980, was restored by the Chester City Council in 1990, and has sat the junction of U.S. Route 30 and State Route 2 ever since.

West Virginia Penitentiary: Moundsville

During its 100-plus years in operation, the West Virginia Penitentiary saw riots, homicides and executions including public hangings. So it’s no surprise that when the storied prison decommissioned in 1995, former prison guards began offering tours to the public. Current tour options include a Public Ghost Hunt and Private Paranormal Investigations, as the prison is said to be haunted by former inmates. You can even try your hand at an escape room game. Previous visitors confirm the prison tours, which start at $14 per adult and $8 per child aged 6 to 16, are all at once creepy, informative and enjoyable. The West Virginia Penitentiary is so spooky that it’s been featured in Netflix’s “Mindhunter” (along with the town of Moundsville) and Hulu’s “Castle Rock,” among other TV shows and movies.

Address: 818 Jefferson Ave., Moundsville, WV 26041

[Read: Hauntingly Abandoned Places You Can Still Visit]

West Virginia State Museum: Charleston

Located in the charming state capital of Charleston, the West Virginia State Museum features informative and interactive exhibits that pay homage to the culture and history of the Mountain State. Notable artifacts on display include a pair of Billy the Kid’s leather chaps and the telescope George Washington used to survey the state’s lands. Previous visitors say this Charleston museum is truly impressive, with some advising you’ll need a few hours to see everything it has to offer. Bonus: As a state-operated attraction, the museum is free to enter. The West Virginia State Museum also manages a few historic sites throughout the state including West Virginia Independence Hall and Camp Washington-Carver.

Address: 1900 Kanawha Blvd. E #435, Charleston, WV 25305

Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine: Beckley

A small, family-operated coal mine and camp from roughly 1890 to 1910 that later became a commercial endeavor until it closed in 1953, the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine is now a highly rated attraction in West Virginia. Previous visitors say both kids and adults enjoy exploring the former coal mines with veteran miners, who lead guided tours in authentic “man trips,” the cars used in mining operations. When you emerge from the tunnels, explore the Coal Camp, with restored original buildings including the Pemberton Coal Camp Church and the Helen Coal Camp School, then stop by the Youth Museum of Southern West Virginia, which features a planetarium and a recreated homestead from the late 19th century. Admission — $22 for adults and $12.50 for those younger than 18 — includes the tour and access to the camp and museum. The Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine is open from April to November, but bring a light jacket no matter when you visit as the mines can get chilly.

Address: 513 Ewart Ave., Beckley, WV 25801

Twin Falls Resort State Park: Mullens

Escape to Twin Falls Resort State Park, a destination resort with more than 25 miles of hiking and biking trails (where you can see the park’s namesake waterfalls), an indoor swimming pool, an 18-hole golf course, a restaurant, and overnight lodging options that include camping (tents or RVs), cabins and hotel rooms. The park also features a reconstructed pioneer homestead, where guests can learn about frontier life at the attraction’s working farm and gardens. Recent guests have left positive reviews of the resort, commenting that it’s both beautiful and clean.

Monongahela National Forest

Another nationally protected region in West Virginia, the Monongahela National Forest spans more than 919,000 acres in 10 counties over elevations that range from 1,000 to nearly 5,000 feet above sea level. Areas of interest include Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, which features the highest peak in West Virginia, and the Dolly Sods Wilderness, notably the Bear Rocks trail. Both areas offer some of the best views in the state according to local Reddit users. Throughout the vast national forest there are ample hiking and biking trails, scenic driving routes and places to stop for a picnic lunch. You can also go swimming, boating, fishing, horseback riding and, if you’d like to stay a few days, camping in tents, RVs or on-site cabins. A visit in the winter affords opportunities for snowmobiling, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

Blackwater Falls State Park: Davis

The tannic acid of fallen hemlock and red spruce needles tints the water of Blackwater Falls, hence the name of this 57-foot cascade and state park in Tucker County. Reachable via hike, Blackwater Falls is one of West Virginia’s most photographed destinations, as are other park highlights including Elakala Falls, Lindy Point and Pendleton Point Overlook. At Blackwater Falls State Park, you can also enjoy biking, fishing and geocaching in warm weather and, in the winter, slide down the longest sledding magic carpet on the East Coast. There’s so much to do that the park offers a variety of overnight accommodations, from tent camping to lodge guest rooms. Parkgoers say the four-season destination is both pretty and enjoyable no matter when you visit.

Address: 1584 Blackwater Lodge Road, Davis, WV 26260

Cass Scenic Railroad State Park: Cass

A remote destination in Pocahontas County, Cass was once a company town for loggers, who transported lumber via what’s now known as the Cass Scenic Railroad. Climb aboard a historic steam-driven locomotive (operated by the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad) for a scenic ride to Bald Knob, the third-highest point in West Virginia. The ride, which affords panoramic views of the Appalachians, lasts about 4.5 hours round trip and includes lunch. For those visiting Cass Scenic Railroad State Park with kids, previous visitors recommend the two-hour round trip to Whittaker Station, a former logging camp. Some travelers also suggest a visit in the fall to enjoy the colorful foliage. Within Cass Scenic Railroad State Park, visitors can explore the former lumbering town as well as a gift shop, restaurant, museum and theater. Overnight cabin accommodations are also available.

Address: 12363 Cass Road, Cass, WV 24927

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16 Top Things to Do in West Virginia originally appeared on usnews.com

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