5 Ways to Find Adventure in Almost Heaven
When it comes to outdoor activities, everyone’s idea of heaven is different. Some might want a simple walk through a nature preserve or a quiet day fishing in a mountain stream, while others want adrenaline-pumping experiences like whitewater rafting down a raging river or rock climbing up a canyon wall. Luckily, in West Virginia, a.k.a Almost Heaven, there are options for every sort of active traveler. One of the best ways to experience all the state has to offer outdoors is to check out America’s newest national park, New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. But don't stop there, our guide will show you where else you can find adventure in Almost Heaven.
In 2020, West Virginia had some positive news for the nation. Their New River Gorge National River was redesignated as the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, becoming the country’s 63rd national park. Encompassing more than 72,000 acres, hiking trails here offer overlooks with breathtaking views and the chance to wind through old coal mining towns.
Don’t miss your chance to walk across The New River Gorge Bridge; rising 876 feet above the riverbed and stretching more than 3,000 feet across the canyon, it is the third-highest bridge in the U.S. (and was once the world’s largest single-arch steel span). The guided Bridge Walk takes place on the catwalk under the bridge, so bring a light jacket if you get cold easily.
West Virginia is home to two other national treasures: Harpers Ferry National Historical Park and the Monongahela National Forest in the Allegheny Mountains.
At 4,863 feet above sea level, Spruce Knob is West Virginia’s highest peak, and located on Spruce Mountain, the highest ridge of the Allegheny Mountains. There are more than 75 miles of hiking trails around the mountain, but you can reach the summit via the Huckleberry Trail. Plan to hike for about six hours roundtrip to the summit and back.
There are many access points to the Allegheny Trail, which stretches through 330 miles of various terrain and public lands of West Virginia. Running through the eastern part of the state, from Bruceton Mills to Peters Mountain, the trail has scenic stops no matter where you find yourself.
Hike through 47 miles of trails in Dolly Sods Wilderness and pause for waterfalls and swimming holes. Float down the Greenbrier River on a tube. Watch migrant hawks from the Hanging Rock Raptor Observatory. Stop in the towns of Davis and Thomas, surrounded by the Monongahela National Forest, and grab a bite to eat.
learn more about:
The West Virginia State Parks system is home to 35 state parks, nine state forests and three rail trails. The Greenbrier River Trail is the longest at 78 miles and is one of the 50 Millennium Legacy Trails in the U.S. Part of the 5,500-mile American Discovery Trail, the North Bend Rail Trail stretches 72 miles, across 36 bridges and through 10 tunnels. Pipestem Resort State Park has 20 different trails and is known as a premier family adventure spot.
Close to the Virginia border, there are small towns to explore in the hour or so drive from Lewisburg to Marlinton. A charming town of about 4,000 people, Lewisburg has a vibrant downtown full of artisanal food and drink. It’s also home to one of only four Carnegie Halls in the country and the network of caves that makes up Lost World Caverns. In White Sulphur Springs, you’ll find the sprawling 11,000 acres of The Greenbrier Resort, a 5-star property dating back to 1778 that even trademarks itself as America’s Resort. The aforementioned Greenbrier River Trail begins in Marlinton, and the town is also home to Beartown State Park, which is full of unusual rock formations and cave systems.
Full of history, scenery and small-town charm, West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle is a small area sandwiched between Maryland and Virginia. It’s about an hour’s drive from Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, so those country roads are easily reachable. Here is where you’ll find places like Harpers Ferry, where Meriwether Lewis was able to secure guns and hardware for his transcontinental expedition with William Clark, and later an important location in the Civil War. This historic ground is now a national park with museums, battlefields and ghost tours. Another worthy destination is Berkeley Springs, a spa and art-filled town that even drew the attention of George Washington. (You'll find his outdoor stone bathtub here, along with an annual weekend event in March to celebrate this presidential soaking spot).
If you’re looking to see small towns, waterfalls and scenic landscapes in a short drive, then head to the heart of the Monongahela National Forest. Here is where you’ll find the 43-mile Highland Scenic Highway. Start in the small town of Richwood, then head east down State Road 55 for stops that include Summit Lake (popular with fishermen), the Falls of Hill Creek (three in total) and the Cranberry Glades Botanical Area (with a boardwalk to explore some of the five boreal-type bogs).
Full of rivers and lush forests, southern West Virginia is the place for adventure lovers. Rent an ATV or dirt bike (or bring your own) and get going on the Hatfield-McCoy Trails; these 10 major trails cover more than 700 miles. Go horseback riding, rafting, swimming and ziplining at Pipestem Resort State Park. Though not particularly high at 20 feet, Sandstone Falls is still the largest waterfall on the New River,
spanning 1500 feet.
West Virginia has the greatest density of whitewater runs in the U.S., which means that it’s a great place to find a variety of rapids, from Class I to Class V. Get a different view of America’s latest national park when you raft down the New River Gorge, one of the most popular spots in the state. Beginners will want to head for the Upper New River for the slower pace, while adventure seekers will go for the Lower New River with rushing waters that get your heart (and arms) pumping.
About an hour’s drive from Pittsburgh is the Cheat River, which is undammed and flows naturally, so each day can provide a different experience. That said, there are two distinct sections of the river: the Cheat Narrow is pretty mild, while the Cheat Canyon has the bumps and tosses. The river is most popular for whitewater rafting in the spring and summer months.
With the nickname, “the Beast of the East,” the Gauley River is not for the faint of heart. This Class V run is 25 miles’ worth of 100 rapids with deep drops and huge waves. The best time to experience this thrilling river is in September-October.
America's Newest National Park
Small Town Stretch
Southern West Virginia
Highland Scenic Highway
New River Gorge
Not only is the Eastern Panhandle full of historic small towns, it’s also a great place to go rafting, thanks to the convergence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers. There are Class I-III rapids awaiting in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, so it’s perfect for beginners, intermediates and experts. River Riders offers guided trips in this area.
Shenandoah & Potomac Rivers
Beech Fork State Park lies in the hills of southwestern West Virginia, just outside of Huntington, and its 720-acre lake has 31 miles of shoreline, leaving plenty of space for anglers. Expect to catch species like catfish, crappie, largemouth and hybrid striped bass.
Beech Fork Lake
You’ll be fishing in the heart of coal country when you step into the Guyandotte River for some fly fishing or launch a boat into the water. Here in the Hatfield-McCoy Mountains, you can expect to catch bass, bluegill, muskies, gar, trout and walleye. You may see a turtle or two swim by as well.
With more than 100 fishing lakes and over 20,000 miles of streams in the Mountain State, there are (literally) plenty of fish in the sea. Just be sure to purchase a fishing license from the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources website before you cast your line.
Known as West Virginia’s most scenic lake (and also its largest), Summersville Lake holds more than 2,700 acres of water and has 60 miles of shoreline. After you catch the day’s large and smallmouth bass, walleye, panfish and catfish, climb the 122 steps of the Summersville Lighthouse for an incredible 360-degree view of the water.
Formerly known as Nelson Rocks Adventure Center, NRocks Outdoor Adventures in Circleville is a privately-owned adventure destination spot encompassing 145 mountainous acres, including a Via Ferrata, one of only three in the country. (A Via Ferrata, Italian for “by way of iron,” is a permanently installed system of steel rungs and cables; in this instance, it allows you to climb up and over two towering rock fins.) Though they were initially designed and built to transport troops in Italy during World War I, Via Ferratas are not limited to the experts at NRocks; beginners are welcome.
NRocks Outdoor Adventures
Let’s set expectations for skill level here: In the 1940s, Seneca Rocks was a training ground for the 10th Mountain Division in preparation for World War II. Today, climbers tend to come to this spot in the Monongahela National Forest from spring through fall for its multi-pitch trad climbing.
It makes sense that your wanderlust to go high would lead you to the Mountain State. New River Gorge is known as one of the best climbing spots on the East Coast and it is home to single-pitch sport and trad climbing. It's not the only place to try your hand (literally) as West Virginia has more than 4,000 climbing routes for a variety of skill levels.
About 13 miles from Morgantown, Coopers Rock State Forest is in the heart of Mountaineer Country and features canyon overlooks, historical sites and 50 miles of hiking and biking. Whether you’re a beginner or an expert, you can test your skills on its gritstone walls, or go for the top-rope climbing and bouldering.
New River Gorge &
Coopers Rock State Forest
learn more about:
learn more about:
learn more about:
learn more about:
Ready to go?
in collaboration with:
Start planning your West Virginia adventure today.
Check out guides for some of our other
favorite states in the South.
How to road trip around Alabama
Let Missouri show you what it's got
Small Tennessee towns
that deserve a day trip
Check out our other guides for some of our favorite Southern states.