With some of the east coast’s most beautiful and rugged scenery, West Virginia is filled with year-round outdoor adventure opportunities. Its wild mountain country, densely-forested wilderness areas, and fast-running rivers are playgrounds for hiking, camping, caving, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, boating, and fishing. In the winter, ski resorts offer a range of snow sports.
Active travelers will never run out of things to do here. While many tourists come to the state for these outdoor activities and scenic landscapes, West Virginia offers much more in the way of tourist attractions, from the historic sights of Harpers Ferry and the elegant Greenbrier and its legendary golf courses to some very unusual attractions, including a penitentiary to tour. You’ll find plenty of vacation ideas with our list of the top tourist attractions in West Virginia.
1. Harpers Ferry
Harpers Ferry National Historical Park has museums, historical exhibits, and programs, plus about 20 miles of hiking trails. You can explore the rocks where the rivers meet and walk up to St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church and the old cemetery on the hill behind it.
New River Gorge National River
2. New River Gorge National River
Contrary to its name, New River is actually one of the oldest rivers on the continent. As it flows into West Virginia, it cuts through the Appalachian Plateau, forming the New River Gorge and plenty of whitewater for tubing, rafting, and canoeing. Other recreational opportunities are all around it: hiking, ziplining, hunting, fishing, bird-watching, camping, biking, and rock climbing.
Blackwater Falls State Park
3. Blackwater Falls State Park
Named for the dark waters of the Blackwater River, colored by tannic acid from fallen hemlock and red spruce needles, Blackwater Falls drops 60 feet over sandstone ledges before the river continues to rush through an eight-mile-long gorge. Steps and viewing platforms make the falls accessible year-round.
4. Whitewater Rafting
Fall is the time to find the most challenging flow, but at any time it’s a good idea to hire an experienced guide who knows the river and its quirks and can help you find the places that are best suited to your own experience level. Although it’s known for its Class V rapids the Gauley has some stretches of Class III that are suitable for intermediate levels.
Seneca Rocks and Monongahela National Forest
5. Seneca Rocks and Monongahela National Forest
The variety of terrain and rainfall across its more than 900,000 acres gives it one of the most diverse forest ecosystems in the country, supporting more than 225 bird species; 75 species of trees; and 70 fish species, both game and non-game.
In other seasons, activities include mountain biking, scenic chairlift rides, geocaching, horseback riding, Segway tours, ziplining, trampolining, climbing, pedal boats, paddle boarding, canoeing, hiking, fishing, and golf at the Raven Golf Club. Not far away, in Greenbank, is the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.
7. The Greenbrier
More than 50 different activities are available in the resort and in the 5,100-acre Greenbrier State Forest. Along with horseback riding, indoor and outdoor tennis courts, adventure courses, and a 40,000-square-foot spa, the resort has multiple golf courses (even an indoor one for winter) and a distinguished golf history as the venue for numerous championships.
8. Seneca Caverns
The formation of Seneca Caverns began 460 million years ago, when the cavern’s limestone bed first formed. The native Seneca people are thought to have used the caves for shelter beginning in the early 1400s.You can visit these on one-hour guided tours that descend to 165 feet below the entrance. Pathways are well-lit, and cement steps with handrails help visitors navigate deeper into the caverns.
West Virginia Penitentiary
9. West Virginia Penitentiary
Visitors can tour the building and its claustrophobia-inducing five-foot by seven-foot cells during the day, or explore the reportedly haunted location at night. A penitentiary is a popular place for paranormal researchers looking for evidence of spectral phenomena.
Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum
10. Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum
Tours highlight a number of historical themes, including architecture, Civil War raids, treatment of the mentally ill, even the facility’s agricultural history and place in the local community. Like the West Virginia Penitentiary, the asylum has also been a research location for paranormal investigators.
West Virginia State Museum
11. West Virginia State Museum
Artifacts include everyday implements and items such as a telescope that George Washington used to survey land in West Virginia. In one section, you’ll learn more about John Brown’s raid at Harpers Ferry, and elsewhere is an original settler’s cabin reconstructed in the museum.
Cass Scenic Railroad State Park
12. Cass Scenic Railroad State Park
At Whittaker Station, a 1940s logging camp has been recreated, with the living quarters and the equipment. At the base, you can tour a museum and the depot and see restored company houses that can be rented for overnight stays. On the train ride, be prepared for noise, black smoke, and chilly temperatures at Bald Knob.
Adena Burial Mounds
13. Adena Burial Mounds
Grave Creek Archaeological Complex centers on the largest known burial mounds of the Adena people, built about 250-150 BC. These mounds, as high as 69 feet and nearly 300 feet at the base, required moving more than 60,000 tons of earth, creating the largest conical type structure of any of the mound-building cultures.
West Virginia State Capitol
14. West Virginia State Capitol
Five feet higher than the dome of the US Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., the 293-foot golden dome at the State Capitol in Charleston reflects Greek and Roman architectural influences. It was designed by Cass Gilbert, who also designed the Woolworth Building in New York City, the world’s tallest building when it was constructed.