A Week in West Virginia

As a proud West Virginian, I’m always excited to offer travel suggestions for those coming to visit this wild, wonderful state! I was fortunate enough to show one of my close friends around my home state a few weeks ago, and though I don’t think one week is anywhere near enough time to explore all that West Virginia has to offer, it’s a great introduction to the state!

West Virginia became a state in 1863 after seceding from Virginia and the Confederacy in order to join the Union. Tensions between the area that would become West Virginia and the rest of Virginia has been running high for some time; West Virginians didn’t feel represented in the elite Richmond government for a variety of reasons. When Virginia voted to secede from the Union, this was basically the last straw for the counties that already felt so separate from the rest of Virginia, and in 1863 Lincoln signed the state of West Virginia into existence.

Cacapon Ridge

Today, the popular image of West Virginia is not the most positive one; West Virginia most often makes national news in relation to the devastating opioid epidemic or other tragedies (like the Sago Mine Disaster or the Elk River Chemical Spill). Stereotypes about hillbillies and rednecks have been exacerbated by 20th century images from the War on Poverty and by modern TV shows like Buckwild. And while, yes, West Virginia has problems (like any other place), it is not a backwards place full of tragedy.

In reality, West Virginia is one of the most beautiful, underrated places in the United States, if not the world. Thrill-seekers come from all over to raft and climb in the New River Gorge. The quiet of the mountains led to the establishment of Green Bank Observatory where cutting-edge astronomy research continues to be done by the world’s scientists. And West Virginia has long been a leader in pushing for worker’s rights and a fairer economic system – from the Mine Wars of the 1920s to the 2019 strike by West Virginia teachers. The people here are some of the kindest and most welcoming you will ever meet, and if you have a chance to visit West Virginia, you shouldn’t pass it up.

Itinerary

A general idea for One Week in WV:

  • Days 1-2: Charleston
    • Clay Center Museum
    • WV State Museum (at the Cultural Center)
    • Shopping: Kinship Goods, Taylor Books, Capitol Market, and more!
    • Kanawha State Forest
    • Live on the Levee/FestivAll (Depends on time of year)
  • Day 3: Route 60 road trip
    • Kanawha Falls and Cathedral Falls
    • Hawks Nest
    • New River Gorge National Park
    • Babcock State Park
    • Fayetteville
  • Days 4-6: Monongahela National Forest Loop – More information on this in my post about Monongahela National Forest
    • Day 4, leave Charleston and go to
      • Beartown State Park and/or Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park
      • Green Bank Observatory
      • Spruce Knob (highest point in WV)
      • Stay in this area for the next two nights
  • Day 5
    • Seneca Rocks – do this trail
    • Smoke Hole Caverns
  • Day 6
    • Dolly Sods
    • Blackwater Falls State Park
    • Buckhannon WV for lunch
    • Return to Charleston
  • Day 7: Day trip from Charleston, such as
    • Point Pleasant
    • Blennerhassett Island
    • Pipestem
    • Or something else!
Tygart Valley River

First up on the itinerary is just spending a couple days around the Charleston area.  Taylor Books and Kinship Goods are my personal favorite stores that I insist on visiting with or without guests, but there’s a lot going on.  The Clay Center is a  great museum for kids, but it  also offers an art gallery and various musical performances for adults.  The State Museum is of course great for anyone interested in history, whether from West Virginia or not.  Depending on the time of year, there may also be a chance for Live on the Levee or FestivAll, and a Power game is a must for any baseball fan!  (Sadly, Power Baseball is no longer; it’s unclear what the future will be at Power Park.) And if you’re in Charleston, you’re also close to Kanawha State Forest, which is great for hiking or just a beautiful drive. Or you can just take a drive in search of the town Big Ugly.   Finally, the Capitol Market is a fun place to walk through to see and buy local produce, chocolates, and souvenirs.

From Charleston, it’s easy to take one of my favorite day trips along Route 60 to visit some waterfalls (Kanawha Falls and Cathedral Falls), Hawks Nest, New River Gorge National Park, and Babcock State Park.  You see a lot of awesome parks and views on this trip, and if  you have to chose between this and anything else,  I  recommend this.  If you’re just going to the New River Gorge, you can also take the interstate, but in my opinion, it’s not nearly as fun.  My post on this, linked above, has more details of what to do.

Dolly Sods on a snowy spring morning

Also worth a visit is Monongahela National Forest which is something that is best done over a couple days as outlined in the itinerary.  As I explain in the post on this, there are so many things to do up here.  It’s a great way to get away from the fast-paced world, especially since cell service doesn’t exist in most of the area.  My suggestion is to make this into a 3-day trip in order to visit a number of places and take the time to really enjoy them. If you have to limit yourself though, Green Back Observatory, Blackwater Falls, and Dolly Sods Wilderness are my top recommendations in this area.  Dolly Sods is also just fun to drive or walk through without a schedule, though if you have one, you can just go up to Bear Rocks and back.

Finally, to finish up your week in WV, take one more day trip! I’m in the process of writing more posts about all the fun little trips that are possible in West Virginia, but for now, you can check out the tag I link in the end of this post or just choose from one of the options I gave in the itinerary. Even though it’s a smaller state, West Virginia has a lot to offer, and I love sharing even just a few tips like these on my favorite places. 

Gazebo next to the Sam Black Church

Final Notes

West Virginia is amazing and not something to be passed over. The trip I outlined here is just scratching the surface of what there is to do in West Virginia. For example, you can go cryptid hunting and look for Mothman in Point Pleasant and the Flatwoods Monster in (you guessed it) Flatwoods. Or, you can check out some of my other West Virginia posts to get ideas for other places to go and ways to expand your trip!

Oh, and don’t forget to eat lots of biscuits at Tudor’s while you’re here!

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