West Virginia Holiday Planning Guide
Located entirely within the Appalachian Mountain region, the aptly nicknamed "Mountain State" represents the highest state east of the Mississippi River with an average elevation of about 460 m (1,500 ft) above sea level. With an official motto of "Mountaineers are always free," West Virginia is home to a fiercely independent people, proud of their state's rich natural resources, geographic beauty, and traditional culture. Because the state is often overlooked by tourists, major West Virginia attractions retain an off-the-beaten-path character and exemplify a laid-back pace of life. West Virginians like to describe their part of the country as both wild and wonderful, a claim you can easily test on a holiday here by exploring the green mountains, white-water rivers, and historical small towns.
Places to Visit in West VirginiaHarpers Ferry
: Small but charming, historical Harpers Ferry remains one of the top places to visit in West Virginia, boasting wineries, shopping, and excellent Civil War museums. Wheeling
: A former British colony and railroad haven, Wheeling is a popular addition to any West Virginia itinerary for its sightseeing, shopping, and historical sites. Victorian architecture and a nearby casino complete the town. Berkeley Springs
: Affectionately known as Berkeley Spring due to the sign on the post office, the incorporated town of Bath is a vibrant, artistic community with historical connections and nearby mineral springs. Charleston
: The state's capital and largest city, Charleston offers a wealth of cultural attractions and museums dedicated to the development of this economic hub. Lewisburg
: Lewisburg is a common addition to any history buff's tour of West Virginia; as witness to some important 18th-century and Civil War events, today the historical town is lined with shops and quaint bed and breakfasts. Lansing
: Full of scenic nature spots, Lansing offers plenty of adrenaline-pumping outdoor activities such as river rafting, hiking, and high-ropes courses.
Things to Do in West Virginia
Popular West Virginia Tourist AttractionsHarpers Ferry National Historical Park
: Take a step back in time at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, where a 19th-century town is brought to life with the help of museums, battlefields, a blacksmith shop, a wax museum, and a jewelry exhibit. Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum
: The fascinating Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum recounts tales of psychiatric patients that stayed here throughout the end of the 19th century (and rumor has it that the hospital is haunted). New River Gorge Bridge
: Take in a panoramic view of the river and the Appalachian mountains from the vantage point of New River Gorge Bridge, a scenic bridge and the third-highest in the country.Snowshoe Mountain Resort
: A year-round West Virginia attraction, Snowshoes Mountain Resort offers skiing, hiking, and snow sports trails. Tamarack
: Visitors flock to this facility for its collection of handmade artwork for sale, including pottery, jewelry, hand-blown glass, and wood pieces. Stop by one of the five onsite artist studios to see creation in progress. Oglebay Park
: This nature area offers something for everyone, including hiking trails, an outdoor pool, a zoo, a planetarium, and a golf course. Blackwater Falls State Park
: Named for the color of the water that runs through it, Blackwater Falls State Park is coursed by a river of tannic acid-darkened water. Numerous hiking trails through the surrounding forest make it a perfect stop during your tour of West Virginia. Berkeley Springs State Park
: Chock-full of goodness, Berkeley Spring State Park centers around its famed mineral spa, featuring salubrious natural mineral waters loaded with magnesium carbonate. Cass Scenic Railroad State Park
: Home to the state's heritage railroad, Cass Scenic Railroad State Park is a retired lumber town frozen in time, with all the authentic buildings in place for you to explore.West Virginia State Capitol
: Renowned for its stunning architecture, the State Capitol represents the political heart of West Virginia, ornately decorated in marble and granite.
Planning a West Virginia Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in West Virginia with Kids
West Virginians take great pride in the beauty of their state--something visitors young and old can appreciate. The scenery and history here combine to give you lots of West Virginia vacation ideas for the whole family. Wheeling
will excite locomotive enthusiasts with its railroads and historical sites, while Oglebay Park's
annual winter lights festival remains a crowd-pleaser and family favorite. If you're traveling with older children, look no further than Lansing
for a wealth of outdoor recreational activities that all can enjoy.
Things to Do in West Virginia with KidsSnowshoe Mountain Resort
makes a great starting point when planning a West Virginia itinerary with kids. The resort is bursting with activities, so there's no fear of youngsters growing bored. For some wholesome, kid-friendly entertainment, head to Camden Park
: this old-fashioned amusement park is geared toward younger visitors, complete with shorter lines to make sure no one gets impatient. Delve into West Virginia's coal-mining history in a fun and engaging way at Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine and Youth Museum
, where kids can explore a coal mine through interesting exhibits.
Tips for a Family Vacation in West Virginia
When traveling through West Virginia by car, be wary of the winding mountain roads and hairpin turns. It's also wise to exercise caution if embarking on any hiking trips with kids, as the terrain is uneven.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in West Virginia
Cuisine of West Virginia
The cuisine of West Virginia blends traditional southern-style cooking with an Appalachian "subsistence approach"--that is, you serve only what you can grow and catch yourself. Thus, berries, wild nuts, game meat, and corn feature prominently on menus throughout the state. Take advantage of your West Virginia vacation to try the hearty local fare, including fried chicken, sausage, cornbread, beans, squash, mashed potatoes, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Don't miss the chance to sample a ramp: a wild leek or onion similar to a scallion.
West Virginia lays claim to the invention of the pepperoni roll, which has naturally become one of the mainstays of the cuisine. Canning of fruits and vegetables is a popular pastime, as is fishing for brook trout. Many microbreweries and wineries dot the state, so seek them out in shops and restaurants.
Shopping in West Virginia
Being a coal-mining state, it's not uncommon to encounter gift shops selling coal sculptures. However tacky, they do make for a lightweight, unique souvenir of your West Virginia holiday.The region is also known for its stunning hand-blown glass. You can buy this in gift shops, or head directly to a factory like Appalachian Glass
to choose from a wide selection of pieces. Tamarack
is well known for its collection of handmade crafts and art, and the best place to look for the perfect souvenir. If you're looking for an edible treat, keep an eye out for homemade apple butter made from West Virginia's very own variety, the yellow Golden Delicious.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to West Virginia
History of West Virginia
The history of West Virginia dates back to prehistoric times, evidenced by artifacts of mound builder cultures discovered throughout the state. Before European settlers arrived, some Native American tribes used the area for hunting, while others developed advanced systems of agriculture. By the time the first Europeans arrived, however, all the Native American villages were gone; the land was used exclusively as hunting grounds by Shawnee, Cherokee, Delaware, and Iroquois tribes. The first European settlement took place in 1727, with the first permanent settlement in 1731 in Berkeley County.
Eastern and western Virginia remained united until 1861, when northwestern counties sympathetic with the abolitionist Union seceded from the rest of Confederate Virginia. In 1863, on condition that the new state's constitution provide for the emanicpation of all slaves, President Abraham Lincoln granted West Virginia statehood--making it the only state to be designated by a presidential proclamation. But West Virginia's independence came at a price, as the Supreme Court ruled that it owed more than $12 million to Virginia.
During the 19th century the Confederates of the Civil War ravished this key border state, conducting countless destructive raids. The state was the site of many a battleground, the effects of which remained long after. Visit historical West Virginia attractions like Harpers Ferry National Historical Park
to learn more about the state's role during this critical period. In 1882 the Hatfield-McCoy feud over the border between West Virginia and Kentucky broke out. Violence again ensued, involving the governors of both states in lengthy and heated controversy until resolution in 1896.
First discovered in 1742, coal quickly became an important natural resource to West Virginia. The fossil fuel's popularity grew in the 1800s, and the development of railroads enabled economical methods of transporting the state's natural resources.
After the Civil War both European and African-American immigration boomed in West Virginia, and the surplus labor force led to serious unemployment and poor working conditions in the mines. Threats to unionize and strike were high, and often accompanied by heavy violence and federal military intervention. The mining and steel industries saw unprecedented boom, however, during both World War I and World War II, largely due to the chemical industry that was founded as a result. A rise in energy prices during the 1970s brought further prosperity to West Virginia, but a reversal of fortune wreaked havoc on its economy when the value of coal plummeted in the 1980s. West Virginia's coal industry continues to power electricity in many other states, though safety and ecological concerns present major challenges.
History buffs on a West Virginia vacation won't want to miss a trip to West Virginia State Museum
to learn more about the state's fascinating history.
Landscape of West Virginia
The landscape of West Virginia benefits from its key position in the Appalachian range, earning the nickname "Mountain State" for being almost entirely mountainous. The elevation and ruggedness drop as you get closer to the large rivers. Thick forestry decorates the southeast Virginia border, where you'll find the highest point at 1,482 m (4,863 ft) amid a boreal forest dense with spruce trees. Rich in biodiversity, the state enjoys plenty of scenic, lush green landscape to feast your eyes on. Admire the natural beauty at Blackwater Falls State Park
, or view some fascinating geologic rock formations by adding Seneca Rocks State Park
to your West Virginia itinerary.
Holidays & Festivals in West Virginia
Ever proud of its natural resources, Berkeley Springs
is not one to disappoint. The town hosts an International Water Tasting competition every February, where competing cities face off for the best-tasting tap water. For flavors of a different sort, head to the Strawberry Festival in Buckhannon to kick off the berry's harvest season with an array of educational and cultural exhibits.
The town of Charleston
is known for its Vandalia Gathering, a celebration of traditional arts held on the capitol grounds every May. The town also hosts an annual arts festival in June, celebrating art, music, dance, theater, and film.
Get a true taste of the local culture by including the state fair on your West Virginia vacation. Held annually in Lewisburg
, the festivities include a carnival, racing, farming, concerts, and a beauty pageant.
Lastly, if your West Virginia itinerary includes a stop at New River Gorge Bridge
, you might catch the annual Bridge Day held in October--where spectators from all over clamber to watch brave base jumpers leap from the height of the bridge.
West Virginia Travel Tips
Climate of West Virginia
West Virginia enjoys a humid continental climate, with warm to hot, humid summers and cool to cold winters. If your West Virginia holiday takes you to the heights of the mountain ridge, you may find that temperatures are closer aligned to a mountain temperate climate, with harsher winters and cooler summers. In the Eastern Panhandle and Ohio River temperatures are considerably warmer, enough to grow some subtropical plants.
Transportation in West Virginia
Not only is traveling by car the most popular mode of transportation in West Virginia, but it's also highly scenic. Moreover, some towns are accessible by car only. The state's mountainous landscape does present some challenges when it comes to driving--be wary that some roads loop around mountaintops, making for precarious driving. Another potential hazard when touring West Virginia by car is the prominence of coal trucks; be sure to leave plenty of space between yourself and them to avoid any falling coal. There aren't any statewide bus lines, but a few companies can connect you to the major cities. Alternatively, you can opt to take the train, which provides an equally scenic route.