What do you know about wild, wonderful West Virginia? Have you witnessed her majestic beauty or taken part in her awesome outdoor activities? Let Southern TravelingMom Melody share her suggestions on what to see and do in the beloved mountain state that she was born and raised in.
21 Things to See and Do in Beautiful West Virginia
West Virginia is full of scenic nature, friendly faces, and honest to goodness family fun for all ages. It often catches a bad rap; but having lived there for the majority of my life, I always felt blessed to reside in such a beautiful place with so much to see and do. The Mountain State makes visitors fall in love with her once they have experienced what amazing offerings there are. Here are 21 things I recommend for getting to know West Virginia.
#1 Explore the Mystery Hole
This bizarre attraction is where the Earth’s gravity is all out of whack. Water truly runs uphill. The inexpensive tour is fun and quirky plus the drive getting there is beautiful (and my favorite in the state!). Both hands on the wheel; it is a little scary.
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#2 Camp at Summersville Lake
One of my favorite seasonal activities is taking our boat to the Summersville Lake and camping. Summersville, formed by a rock filled dam, is a man-made freshwater lake with some parts up to 327 feet deep. Incredible rock cliffs line the lake which makes great fishing conditions for bass, catfish, and walleye. Summersville has many camp sites, boats, and cabins available for rent. The pictures are incredible!
#3 Visit the National Radio Astronomy Observatory
Greenbank, West Virginia offers the world’s largest astronomical telescope. This unique scientific wonder offers too many things to list; you have to see it to believe it! I love taking my family to educational places and this is the one site I would recommend for the entire state. Wireless devices are not allowed to be used here.
#4 Whitewater Raft the Gauley River
Paddlers rank the Gauley River as one of the top river destinations in the WORLD for both technicality and scenery (think towering cliffs). Maybe that is why thousands of tourists flock here to brave the class 5 and 6 rapids. Newer paddlers (like myself) will love the Lower Gauley river portion and daredevils (my husband and kids) will be salivating at the Upper Gauley’s challenges. These combined rivers drop 650 feet in 24 short miles. Hang on! My kids always loved buying the photos they offer afterwards but be prepared. They are expensive.
#5 Take a Ghost Tour in Parkersburg
I first learned about this fun ghost tour through Southern Living magazine about 10 years ago. In Parkersburg, presences are felt from Civil War days, haunted hotels exist, railroad ghosts thrill ghost hunters, and an alien spaceship touched down here, from the “Mothman Prophecies.” It is no wonder this is a spiritual world favorite. The tour is a fun way to get your feet wet. If you are really brave, spend the night at the Blennerhassett Hotel, a luxury hotel that I enjoy visiting for the charm and their incredible onsite restaurant.
#6 Shop the Bridge Road Shops
Located in my old “neck of the woods” are the upscale South Hills shops, now referred to as the Bridge Road Shops. Whether browsing or doing some serious shopping, be sure to check out Yarid’s for the best shoe selection, Sarah’s Bakery for the best sweets in Charleston, Geranium’s for upscale ladies clothing and accessories, and Bridge Road Bistro for one of the best meals in town. All shops are locally owned and community supported.
#7 Ride the Cass Scenic Railroad Train
Springtime is the perfect time to plan your ride because at the top, the meadow on top of the mountain is abloom with wildflowers and looks like something out of The Sound of Music! Train travel is becoming a hot attraction these days and at Cass Scenic Railroad, it never went out of style. Be sure to check out the camper cars that you can camp overnight on, too.
#8 Dine at Cafe Cimino
My favorite restaurant in the state of West Virginia is in Sutton, about an hour from Charleston. Owners Melody and husband Chef Tim prepare and serve top quality organic and local (when possible) food and wine in a cozy inn setting. My go-to meal consists of the House Roasted Red Pepper appetizer, Filet Mignon Gorgonzola, and for dessert, the luscious Zabalione. Enjoy a glass of wine and nibble on tapas in the artsy little riverside bar on the back of the property. I’m betting you will be highly impressed.
#9 Picnic at Kanawha State Forest
Kanawha State Forest is located only 7 miles outside of Charleston. It’s the perfect spot for a family picnic, gathering, or celebration. Playgrounds, hiking trails, and mountain biking opportunities are available as well as covered shelters for picnics and parties. Pets are welcome, too. We hosted many camps there for Girl Scouts and our employees during our days of living in West Virginia. This is one of our favorite parks to visit.
#10 See an Outdoor Drama at Theatre West Virginia
Watch a live show in a cool outdoor setting at a cliffside amphitheater. Hatfields and McCoys is a WV-based show that has been playing for dozens of years now. It has preserved West Virginia’s history since 1955. Shows for 2017 include The Jungle Book (Disney) and Footloose, the Musical. Food and drinks are sold at the venue. Kids are especially impressed at watching a production of this magnitude outdoors.
#11 Shop the Christmas Store at the Greenbrier Resort
This fancy Christmas shop, outside of the train station at the Greenbrier Resort, is open year-round and has the most fabulous decorations I have ever seen. Who doesn’t love a good Christmas store? Even the smells are spot on. One year, my family loved one of the display trees so much we bought the whole thing! It took an hour for the worker to pack up the tree and all of its ornaments but we still use them today, some 15 years later.
#12 Attend a Performance or Concert at the Clay Center
Charleston’s premier performance hall, the Clay Center, is home to big name entertainment, concerts, Broadway shows, and comedy. The calendar of events has something for everyone, with music choices ranging from classical to modern country, oldies to modern favorites. The Clay Center also houses a science center and impressive art gallery. Camps and workshops are available for children as well.
#13 Sing “Country Roads” at the Milan Puskar Stadium After a WVU Home Football Game Win
The West Virginia University Mountaineers football game experience, at Milan Puskar Stadium, is something that you will be sure to remember. However, nothing compares to singing “Country Roads” with every other fan in the stadium after a win. It is electric! I have heard “Country Roads” sung in 22 countries. I’m always amazed that, while we speak different languages, everyone still sings it in English.
#14 Take a Selfie at Kanawha Falls
Kanawha Falls is an extremely wide and impressive waterfall across the Kanawha River in Glen Farris. I never drive by without capturing a photograph of its beauty and contrast of the falls shimmering behind a rusted old power plant. There are waterfalls in both directions at hidden locations from Kanawha Falls so keep your eyes open. Glen Ferris Inn, located only a hop, skip, and jump away, is a nice option to stop for lunch and homemade pies.
#15 Visit the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace
See the historic home, now converted museum, of Pearl S. Buck, located in Hillsboro. Buck was the first American woman to win both the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize for Literature. Her book, The Good Earth, is classic read. Pearl Buck’s home is located in one of my favorite parts of West Virginia, where you will get a good dose of country charm and stunning scenery. Be sure to appreciate the clean air!
#16 Tour the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum
This stone psychiatric hospital was operational for 130 years and performed more lobotomies than anywhere else in the nation. TV’s “Ghost Adventures” (Travel Channel) and “Ghost Hunters” (SyFY) have visited the now closed asylum and it is also open for public tours. Haunted tours that is. My friends, kids, and I did a private tour years ago. Our photographs contained so many orbs that it was frightening even after the experience. Overnight opportunities occur throughout the year, especially around Halloween when the hauntings seem to spike.
#17 Hike Through Hawk’s Nest State Park
Hawk’s Nest State Park is bursting with majestic beauty. Its fun comes in the form of stunning panoramic views, wildlife, hiking, and a jetboat adventure ride. Rooms are cheap if you wish to stay and the restaurant is worthwhile. I like hiking the nature hikes, taking photographs, having a light lunch, and riding the aerial tram down to the river.
#18 Visit a Retro Amusement Park Celebrating its 114th Birthday
Camden Park, home of the happy clown, is a cheesy, but still enjoyable small amusement park established in 1902. Crowd favorite of this 26 acre complex include rides such as the Big Dipper, Paratrooper, and Rattler. Long time visitors, like myself, will remember pronto pups (which you can still buy today) and the roller rink. We like to pack our lunch to save money and make the afternoon more family-oriented.
#19 Watch a Baseball Game at Appalachian Power Park
Come out and enjoy America’s favorite pastime, baseball, with the West Virginia Power. The WV Power is a minor league baseball team and is the class A affiliate to the Pittsburgh Pirates. The park itself is remarkable and hosts many fun and charity events. The food is tasty, admission affordable, and there are plenty of fun offerings for kids. Upscale dining is available at the park as well at Paterno’s at the Park- delicious Italian options.
#20 Drive Through Oglebay Park’s Winter Festival of Lights
One of the top rated Christmas light displays in America is located in Wheeling and has been going strong since 1985. This 6 mile drive features 300 acres of lights and displays. AOL Travel voted it as one of the 10 best Christmas light displays in the United States. Don’t miss seeing Santa or stopping for cookies and hot chocolate at the end. Oglebay is truly a fun experience for everyone.
#21 Walk the Grounds of the West Virginia State Capitol
West Virginia has the most beautiful state capitol of them all, but I may be biased. The capitol’s intricate architecture is overshadowed by its 293 ft. sparkling gold dome, while inside of the complex is made of imported marble. Its grounds lie across the street from the Kanawha River; a beautiful setting. Walking the state complex in spring time affords you with great photo-ops of the cherry blossoms, redbuds, and tulips. Be sure to bring some nuts for the squirrels who will often eat out of your hand.
I was blessed to call wild and wonderful West Virginia home for 44 years. Although this is not everything the state has to offer, these 21 activities will help you see just how great the state is. Just as the lyrics of John Denver’s famous “Country Roads” song go, West Virginia is truly “almost heaven.”