Imagine your car is slowly making its way up a steep highway incline. The radio plays John Denver’s “Country Roads,” and the rolled-down windows let in fresh, crisp air. You crest the hill to be greeted with the most breathtaking sight.
Mountain peaks rise in the distance, silhouetted against a painted sunrise. The wilderness is broken up only by the highway you travel and an occasional cabin or store. No hustle and bustle. No overcrowded cityscape. No smog. Just a natural peace that reigns supreme over the land in front of you.
No, this isn’t some long-forgotten paradise in a country far, far away. It’s right here in the United States, closer than you think. If this sounds like the perfect start to your vacation, then you’ll feel right at home in wild, wonderful West Virginia.
Friendly Locals & A Vast Wilderness
The license plates in West Virginia read “wild, wonderful,” and it’s such an accurate description of the majority of the state. Yes, there are some larger towns (like Charleston), but most of the state is full of barely-inhabited mountains.
The locals are incredibly friendly and eager to chat. Expect to spend half an hour speaking with the owners at every cute store you stop at—and there are plenty of those. West Virginians are incredibly proud of their state, and it is one place where tiny local shops thrive – they frequent these to support their neighbors.
There is a surprising amount of things to do and see for a state mostly overgrown with natural flora and fauna. Among these are thrill-seeking adventures, unique historic sites, a budding art district, and an array of unclassifiable adventures.
If you find yourself in West Virginia, make sure you see or do as many of the following as possible. But also remember to take time to relax! This state is perfect for relaxing, offering a picturesque idea of “the way things used to be.”
New River Gorge Bridge
One of the most photographed places in the entire state, the New River Gorge Bridge holds two distinct titles. It is the longest steel span bridge in the western hemisphere and the third highest bridge in the United States.
The bridge was a project undertaken to help make the trek across the New River easier on commuters and travelers alike. It successfully transformed a 40-minute drive down steep mountain roads into a quick, 30-second drive across a beautiful steel bridge.
Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum
This lunatic asylum was constructed during the late 1800s to house 250 people. During the 1950s, however, nearly two-and-a-half thousand people were being kept here. Conditions were unlivable. Tales of abuse, murder, and much more abounded before it closed in 1994.
Locals say the asylum is haunted and it has even been the subject of several ghost hunting television shows. If you want to test the rumors out for yourself, you can schedule a guided ghost tour through the asylum’s website.
Since the state is mountainous, with little flat land to speak of, it naturally boasts a significant number of breathtaking waterfalls. To experience the naturalistic beauty of West Virginia for yourself, hike out into the wilderness a bit and view some of the 200+ falls.
A few of the most popular waterfalls in the state include:
Blackwater Falls – located near Davis, WV in Blackwater Falls State Park
Lower Hill Creek Falls – located near Marlinton in Richwood County
Cathedral Falls – just a mile north of the Gauley Bridge
Sandstone Falls – located on the infamous New River
West Virginia is home to an incredible 17 quaint, historic covered bridges. Some of them—like the Philippi Covered Bridge in Barbour County—are important Civil war sites. That one is the site of the first land battle which ever took place during the Civil War. The same person who built that bridge in 1852 also built the Barrackville Covered Bridge in Marion County.
Another one of note is the Indian Creek Covered Bridge. It was built in 1904 by “master masons” who ranged from only 16 to 18 years old!
White Water Rafting on the New River
Seeking some adventure and thrills during your trip? Then you need to go white water rafting on the New River. It spans around 360 miles, with some areas gushing quickly and others meandering slowly. The adventure is also a fairly affordable one, with half-day trips starting at around $70 – lunch included!
Fun fact: The “New” River is actually one of the oldest rivers in America. It is also one of the most-frequented travel destinations in West Virginia.
This unique destination is an art lover’s paradise. A sprawling building with a distinctly peaked red roof, The Tamarack is an exhibition of the finest pieces West Virginian artists have to offer. Every item available for purchase, food ready to eat, and shop owner are born-and-bred West Virginian.
The grounds themselves are a work of art, featuring sculptures and a meticulously designed landscape. The atmosphere is both inviting and awe-inspiring. You can find homemade wood carvings, soaps, candles, paintings, and anything else you could imagine.
Exhibition Coal Mine
West Virginia notable for its coal mining history, so a trip to the state would not be complete without a visit to the Exhibition Coal Mine in Beckley. Which also hosts an amazing dirt racing track if you want to spend the day in the town.
For a small fee of $22 ($12.50 for children), visitors can travel to the old underground coal mining tunnels with a former miner who shares what life was really like when working them. There is a museum, gift shop, and coal mining camp. For safety reasons, it only runs during the warmer months for the general public.
Your trip to wild, wonderful West Virginia just wouldn’t be complete without these amazing destinations—each as unique as the state itself. Whether it’s adventure, relaxation, or history that you’re looking for, the state has something to offer everyone. It is no wonder why West Virginians are so proud of their homeland.