For most people from elsewhere, West Virginia is a bit of a blank spot. We know it exists, but we don’t know what there is to do there. It’s most famous export, coal, isn’t exactly something that draws the tourists in droves. However, West Virginia is a wonderful place. It has some unique history, incredible scenery, and wonderful people, and is easily worth a trip!
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Blackwater Falls State Park should be on your itinerary.
This is one of the challenges. West Virginia’s lack of a true major metro area makes for a potential rough time flying in. Yes, you can fly to Charleston, but you might be better off flying into Pittsburgh and driving a couple hours south. Alternatively, DC and Cincinnati are both within a five or so hour drive.
You will want a car, and you will need to be prepared to drive it. While West Virginia is a fairly small state, the places you’ll want to see are a couple hours apart in many cases.
The main interstate, I-64 is a toll road in places, so bring cash. Each station will cost you $2. When you leave the interstates, be prepared for winding mountain roads. On the plus side, they are beautiful!
Where to Stay
Charleston, the state capitol and largest city, is likely to be your home base, and most things can be seen as day trips from there, although some might make for fairly long days. If you do make Charleston your base, stay downtown. The city has a nice core with some solid restaurants, and the riverfront is lovely! Many of the hotels will also offer free shuttles to restaurants and, of course, the capitol complex, including an amazing West Virginia State Museum.
The West Virginia State Capitol in Charleston and the nearby State Museum are worth a stop.
Outside of Charleston and Huntington, the state is mainly small cities and towns. While there are numerous options for hotels, you will pretty much only find Holiday Inn Express/Hampton Inn sorts of options.
What to Do
The highlight of West Virginia is the natural beauty. New River Gorge National River, Blackwater Falls State Park, Seneca Rocks, and other amazing sights await visitors. Keep in mind that this is a state with four seasons; in winter it will be cold and snowy. For the best scenery, visit in spring or fall – the fall colors here are well worth a trip!
New River Gorge Bridge
West Virginia also has a good deal of history. Make sure to visit Beckley, and the coal mine there, to understand the history of coal in the state. If the Civil War is more of a passion for you, Harper’s Ferry in the northeast corner of the state is the site of John Brown’s famous raid that was said to be a spark of the war, as well as a battle that included the largest surrender of American forces until Bataan in World War Two. Or, to understand the importance of the Ohio River and railroads to industrialization, visit Wheeling. Like I said, there is so much to see here!
Other Useful Information
The food here is… fine. There really isn’t a unique cuisine to West Virginia, so just find good eats where you can.
The Greenbriar, the state’s most famous resort, has a bunker built underneath it. Constructed in 1961, it can hold more than 1,100 people and was built to shelter the government in case of nuclear war. It was decommissioned after an article by the Washington Post in 1992 exposed the site.
The John Denver song “Country Roads” is sung regularly, including after WVU football wins. Don’t feel bad for humming it as you drive through the state.
West Virginia is really an amazing place to explore. While the focus of most trips will be the natural scenery, there is also more than enough history and culture to fill a long weekend, or even a full week. For those out there like me who find this part of the country to be a mystery, nothing can replace a visit. And visit you should!
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