Home to the vast Monongahela National Forest, picturesque Blackwater Falls State Park, and the newly minted New River Gorge National Park, West Virginia is an underrated, hidden gem.
I didn’t know what to expect the first time I visited West Virginia. Now after visiting a handful of times, I can confidently say West Virginia lives up to its “Wild and Wonderful” tagline. From hiking, camping, climbing (even a Via Ferrata!), rafting, the list of things to do goes on. There are also historic coal mining towns that have been revitalized through the efforts and collaboration of talented artists and small business owners. All the more reason to put West Virginia at the top of your must-visit list.
I have to start this list of the Best Places to Visit in West Virginia with Thomas and Davis because they are so unexpected!
Thomas, WV and Davis, WV are two tiny, neighboring towns, each with a population of less than 1000 people, yet vibrant main streets. They are essentially the gateway to Blackwater Falls State Park, Dolly Sods Wilderness, and Canaan Valley’s section of the Monongahela National Forest.
When visiting Thomas and Davis, you’ll find art galleries, historic and trendy restaurants with great food, live music and artisan shops all packed into two main streets.
Stop at TipTop for coffee, peruse table-scapes and unique finds at Ella & Company, stroll through some of the galleries before grabbing a beer at Stumptown Ales. For dinner, Siriani’s is best known for their pizza or switch it up with a burrito from Hellbender’s. I also love the unique dishes at Milo’s Cafe & Restaurant.
Finish the night with a nightcap and stay at Billy Motel (I actually didn’t get to stay at the Billy Motel but I stopped by and wow – I love a well curated space paired with a farm fresh menu).
Both of these towns make great basecamps for exploring Blackwater Falls State Park, Dolly Sods Wilderness, and the greater Monongahela National Forest.
Next, you may already know about Monongahela National Forest’s main attraction, Seneca Rocks. If you’re a climber, Seneca Rocks should be at the top of your Best Places to Visit in West Virginia list. Seneca Rocks is West Virginia’s most well-known rock formation with a maintained trail and platform lookout at the top. The rocks are fascinating and dramatic next to the rolling hills; and you can climb and camp at the location. If you do plan to visit, I would encourage going early or midweek as it can get pretty busy.
You can hike to the top of Seneca Rocks in just 2.7 miles total (out and back) but don’t underestimate the elevation gain. It’s about 840 ft in just over one mile up which is quite the workout!
Good to know: the Seneca Rocks trailhead has parking, a visitor’s discovery center, and multiple bathrooms (outhouses) available
Just 15 minutes down the road from Seneca Rocks trailhead is Seneca Caverns – a great addition to your trip or an alternative for a rainy day! Seneca Caverns are a set of underground caves available for guided tours, gem mining, and other activities. It’s believed that the Seneca Caverns were originally used by the Seneca Indians for ceremonies and has been commercialized since 1930.
Did you know there are 275 waterfalls in West Virginia? Well, third on our list is Blackwater Falls State Park which has some of West Virginia’s most beautiful waterfalls. In fact, the park is named after its main attraction: Blackwater Falls. A quick google image search and you will most likely see Blackwater Falls, Douglas Falls, Elakala Falls, all from Blackwater Falls State Park as it’s West Virginia’s most photographed and most visited park.
You can easily spend a long weekend or more at the park exploring Blackwater River and its many trails and waterfalls. Make sure to check out the affordable lodge or the camping options for easy access to the park. Luckily Blackwater Falls is so accessible you can just as easily drive around to the main attractions and pull up to the overlooks all in one day. Just another reason why it’s one of the best places to visit in West Virginia.
My personal favorite itinerary would be a stop in Thomas and Davis, WV for coffee and snacks then heading to Blackwater Falls State park for some waterfall hikes and sunset at Lindy Point!
Moving along to number four on our list is Dolly Sods Wilderness. Dolly Sods Wilderness is one of the best places to visit in West Virginia for its backpacking, camping, day hikes, and sunrise/sunset viewpoints. Dolly Sods is perfect for those looking for some remote solitude or wanting to test their wilderness abilities. There are no facilities and roads are largely unmaintained so it’s important to be prepared before venturing out into the literal wilderness. A couple things to know before you visit Dolly Sods:
Choosing a trail in Dolly Sods depends on weather, conditions, and how far you’d like to go.
It’s common to combine some of these hikes into loop trails – check out Alltrails for different combinations. Again, be sure to have a map (purchase online, in Davis/Thomas, or any outdoor shop in Canaan Valley). And be prepared for unmarked trails that will most likely throw you off course.
Bear Rocks is a super popular sunset or sunrise point in Dolly Sods. No hiking necessary but it’s next to a few trailheads so it’s a great add-on to start or end your day!
Now an official national park, New River Gorge in Fayetteville WV has long been a favorite spot for West Virginians and rafting enthusiasts. One of its main attractions is an iconic steel bridge, the New River Gorge Bridge, which is one of the longest and tallest bridges in the world! The surrounding town of Fayetteville WV has been featured by the Matador Network as one of the Top 10 Coolest Towns in the US.
With camping, cabins, all kinds of river activities and various trails, New River Gorge National Park is great for outdoor enthusiasts and families. Next to New River Gorge is the Grandview section of the park, previously named Grandview State Park after its grand views of the river gorge. Make sure to stop by for the scenic overlooks of the river.
Next up, Nelson Rocks Via Ferrata is my absolute favorite on this list of best places to visit in West Virginia! If you’re unfamiliar, a Via Ferrata is essentially assisted rock climbing using a metal cable, a series of metal rungs bolted into the rock walls, and a harness that allows you to stay attached to the cable at all times. There are only a handful of Via Ferratas in the United States and Nelson Rocks Via Ferrata is one of the best.
The Nelson Rocks Via Ferrata is an amazing adventure that will get you as close to rock climbing without needing the technical training for rock climbing. Nelson Rocks is privately owned and can only be climbed by guided tour, operated by Nrocks Via Ferrata, which I highly recommend. They will provide all of the gear you need, review safety tips, and work with you on the route. You’ll get to climb with lots of exposure, cross a suspension bridge 150feet above ground and hang out at the top for a snack before hiking back down. The entire Via Ferrata will take about 3.5-5 hours and you’ll gain over 1,000 feet of elevation!
This list could actually be called Best Places to Visit in Monongahela National Forest being that the national forest has so many must-see spots like North Fork Mountain! North Fork Mountain is much lesser known but its views are spectacular, especially in the fall when the trees light up with gold and amber tones. You can do a day hike on North Fork mountain for views of the Ridgeline (which is what I did), backpack the entire route, or do a long hike in one day and catch a ride back to your car.
For the day hike, check out North Fork Mountain Trail to Chimney Top on Alltrails. It’s marked as a difficult hike, gaining close to 2,000 feet in elevation over 5.3 miles but it is well worth it! Limited parking is available at the trailhead and along the road so make sure to go early if you’re planning a visit on the weekend.
At this point, you probably get why West Virginia’s anthem is Country Roads take me home, right? The state is made up of mostly forests, countryside, rolling hills, and small towns. And that’s why we love it! Cooper’s Rock State Forest is over 12,000 acres of forest next to Cheat Lake and Cheat River. What is it best for? You guessed it: hiking, mountain bike riding, rafting, all of our favorite outdoor activities. The park also has pavilions, bathrooms, and a little convenience store, too; which makes Cooper’s Rock great for hosting outdoor events. I even saw a wedding reception taking place on my last visit!
Yet another favorite in Monongahela National Forest and number 9 on our list is Spruce Knob. At 4,863 feet above sea level, Spruce Knob is West Virginia’s highest point. You can drive all the way to the top where there’s an observation tower and beautiful views of the surrounding areas. It also has picnic tables, bathrooms, and ample parking which make Spruce Knob a great spot to stop for lunch or a sunset picnic.
Last but certainly not least, I couldn’t let this list of best places to visit in West Virginia go by without a shoutout for my fellow science and space lovers! The Green Bank Observatory is located in Green Bank West Virginia and known for the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope listed at 300 feet! Fun fact: Named after Robert C. Byrd, the Green Bank Telescope played a role in the latest NASA Perseverance Mars Rover Landing.
If you plan to visit the Green Bank Observatory, make sure to take a look at their events calendar. They host astronomy events, seminars, special exhibits, and you can even take a tour of the telescopes. Green Bank is a great place for families with kids and anyone who can appreciate learning about space and how we study it.
And there you have it! Planning a visit to West Virginia? Can’t choose where you want to go? Do a road trip! You can easily loop all of these locations into a week long road trip through West Virginia. Start your trip at New River Gorge and head north through Green Bank and into Monongahela National Forest. End your trip at Thomas WV or Cooper’s Rock!
Have you been to any of these places or think I missed a spot? Let me know in the comments 😉