Monongahela National Forest has always been one of my favorite places in West Virginia. It’s a huge area, and there’s so much to do, but since I was there recently, I’ll include some of my favorites. This is a great place to go for a weekend getaway – there are lots of places to rent a cabin or room for the night, and you can really just road trip around the area.
Green Bank Observatory
Everyone loves space, and radio astronomy is one of the main ways we learn about the stars in the 21st century. I’ve been to Green Bank several times, and it’s always amazing. First off, the drive there is spectacular, and when you arrive there’s a museum in the Science Center dedicated to Radio Waves, so you can understand some of the work that goes on here. There are tours every day, except Tuesdays, where you turn off your cell phones and drive out to the telescopes, including the huge Robert C. Byrd Telescope. Even if you just stop by without a plan, Green Bank is amazing, but if you have the time to plan ahead, they also offer things like the SETI tour or, for school groups, a chance to use one of the smaller telescopes. (I’ve done this, and it’s awesome!). Places where you can really get up close and personal with science are always fantastic in my opinion, so I really love visiting Green Bank. Brochure
Not too far away from Green Bank, you reach Seneca Rocks. This is another place with a lot going on. Even just stopping for pictures is a nice way to stretch your legs, but if you really want to get active, there’s lots of trails and hiking. There’s the short trail that just takes you up to a better viewpoint, and then there are the various trails and climbs up the rocks. Once again, they also have a little museum in the visitor’s center to learn about the history and geology of the area. It’s a beautiful place to get out in Nature.
Dolly Sods Wilderness Area
Okay, anything with “Wilderness Area” in its name has to be cool, and Dolly Sods does not disappoint. It’s a little confusing since a GPS generally doesn’t show the roads, but asking at some visitor’s center will get you decent instructions, and as long as you stay on the roads, you’ll get out at some point. Just driving or wandering around is fantastic; although, it is usually a little colder up there than further down the mountains. Still, it’s worth it for the views and the whole experience of not being able to see any buildings. Although you do get cell phone service, which you do not get in most of the rest of the area, so it’s also a good place to send a couple texts before you find the next wifi hotspot.
Perennially beautiful, Blackwater Falls is great rain or shine – but the amount of water when it’s rainy is pretty amazing. The water also has its trademark color, which is more amber than black, but whatever. The color actually comes from tannic acid that is in the needles of some of the trees, which fall into the water and change its color. It’s a beautiful spot, and probably one of the best known in the state, so if you’re already in the area, you’ve got to go.
As I said, there’s a lot more to do in the area from Seneca Caverns to skiing in Canaan Valley, not to mention all the cute small towns like Petersburg and Parsons. You’ll get some amazing views both while walking and driving, and it’s such a fun area, that I really think everyone should visit at least for a few days, and as a weekend trip out of Charleston, it’s perfect.
Bonus Tip: Bring bottled water and snacks – you may have a bit of a drive to find a convenience store, and especially if you’re doing any hiking, you will want that sustenance!