When Americans plan their two weeks of vacation, they understandably want to make it count. So for folks in the mid-Atlantic, Virginia has a lot of cachet with Shenandoah National Park and Chesapeake Bay. But don’t dismiss West Virginia—it may be petite, and it may get negative press for its economic troubles, but it’s a beautiful slice of Appalachia without the crowds you might find on Skyline Drive. So here are a few things to do in the only state born out of the Civil War.
West Virginia isn’t exactly brimming with famous national parks, but Monongahela National Forest is a real contender. It dominates a good Eastern chunk of the state and it’s as rich in green foliage and orangey-red fall colors as can be. There are excellent hiking trails, easy views from the Spruce Knob Observation Tower (the highest point in the state), campgrounds with varying levels of accessibility, and serene oases like Spruce Knob Lake or the bogs of Cranberry Glades Botanical Area. Many parts of the forest are pretty remote, to try to bring all of your food, firewood, etc. into the park with you, to save yourself a long drive out later.
But there’s nothing wrong with a nice scenic drive, so consider cruising along Germany Valley Road and checking out tiny towns like Circleville buried in the Allegheny Mountains. The region was originally settled in part by German farmers, and much of it feels beautifully trapped in time with its white cottages and aging red barns. If you head southwest, another eye-catching drive will take you across the New River Gorge Bridge, offering views of one of North America’s oldest rivers (the bridge is also the longest steel span in the Western hemisphere).
Down south is something fairly unexpected: a Cold War bunker at The Greenbrier. The name refers to a luxury hotel in the town of White Sulphur Springs, and within this complex, the U.S. government built a massive bunker for its relatively high-level officials, in the event that the Evil Empire started bombing us. The bunker was never used, and now you can take a guided tour for $30 to learn about how people would actually live and conduct government business incognito, underground. And that’s probably the closest you’ll get to exploring the creepy resort from The Shining.
The Appalachian Trail is one of the most renowned attractions that West Virginia has to offer, so if you want to learn about it, head to the AT’s headquarters in the historic town of Harpers Ferry. Only about four of the trail’s 2,180 miles exist in West Virginia proper, but the trail straddles the border between West Virginia and Virginia for another 15 miles, and Harpers Ferry is a nice launching point for day hikes.
What’s your favorite spot in West Virginia?