10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in West Virginia
West Virginia boasts some of the most beautiful scenery on the east coast. No matter the season, outdoor adventures are endless in this wild and scenic mountainous state. Ski resorts in the snow-capped mountains offer year-round fun, and the state's densely-forested wilderness areas and fast-rushing rivers provide the perfect playground for hiking, camping, caving, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, boating, and fishing. In addition to the state's natural beauty, visitors will find fascinating museums, the impressive State Capitol building in Charleston, and a few unusual tourist attractions thrown into the mix.
1 New River Gorge National River
Among the oldest rivers on the continent, the New River lies amid sloping mountains and offers whitewaters suitable for tubing, rafting, and canoeing. An abundance of other recreational opportunities are nearby, such as hiking, zip lining, hunting, fishing, bird watching, camping, biking, and rock climbing. Make sure to take a ride over the heart-stopping New River Bridge to see a bird's eye view of the river. And there are plenty of great little towns, shops, and eateries to explore, too. Bordering a section of the New River Gorge National River, Hawk's Nest State Park is a hot spot for whitewater rafting enthusiasts. Also at the park is a lodge and a cable car that ferries visitors up to the highest points for panoramic views. More outdoor activities await south of New River Gorge National River at Bluestone State Park where nature lovers can hike, fish, camp, and boat on the large lake behind the Bluestone Dam.
2 Seneca Caverns
The formation of Seneca Caverns began 460 million years ago when the cavern's limestone bed first formed. In the 1400s, the first human dwellers and the cavern's namesake, the Seneca Indians, began to use them for shelter, storage, and special ceremonies. The caverns were then privately owned until they opened to the public in 1930. The Stratosphere Cave is the oldest recorded cave in the state dating back to 1760. Today, guides lead one-hour tours that drop 165 feet below the entrance. Pathways are well-lit, and cement steps with handrails are provided to help visitors navigate deeper into the caverns. For those with a desire to head underground, the Smoke Hole Caverns are not to be missed. A weird and wonderful world of stalactites, stalagmites, and even helictites, await the visitor.
Address: 3328 Germany Valley Road, Riverton
3 Blackwater Falls State Park
Blackwater Falls State Park received its name from the seemingly dark-colored waters of the Blackwater River. Tannic acid from fallen hemlock and red spruce needles gives the water its dark color. Visitors can enjoy camping, hiking, boating, swimming, or fishing at the park. Just be sure to take the trail to the main attraction - Blackwater Falls. While these falls aren't as tall as some, they're equally beautiful. The park also provides a great escape for winter with tubing, skiing, and ice skating nearby, as well as an enchanting, frozen view of the falls. Dining and lodging options are also available in the park.
Address: 1584 Blackwater Lodge Road, Davis
4 Harpers Ferry
At Harpers Ferry, visitors can step back in time as living history exhibits offer the opportunity to meet Civil War era characters. There are also many worthwhile walks to enjoy. Head across the train tracks to explore the rocks where the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers meet. (Local outfitters offer tubing excursions.) Another great walk is up to St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church. Visitors can then continue past the church and up the hill to explore the old cemetery and take a hike on the Appalachian Trail for amazing views of the town and rivers.
5 West Virginia Penitentiary
One of the most unlikely top attractions in the state, the West Virginia Penitentiary welcomes guests from April through November to tour the walls that sometimes held more than 1,000 prisoners at a time. Visitors can tour the building during the day, and brave souls have the opportunity to explore the reportedly haunted location at night. Many teams of professional paranormal researchers have investigated the location to investigate evidence of the penitentiary's hauntings. Visitors who take the night tour can decide for themselves.
Address: 818 Jefferson Ave., Moundsville
6 Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum
About two-and-a-half hours from the West Virginia Penitentiary, the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum played host to a different kind of resident. A nationally recognized landmark, this structure offered shelter for the mentally ill in the mid-1800s. The asylum, constructed between 1858 and 1881, is one of the largest hand-cut stone masonry buildings in the Western Hemisphere. It was designed by the renowned architect Richard Andrews, who called for long rambling wings arranged in a staggered formation, assuring that each of the connecting structures received an abundance of therapeutic sunlight and fresh air. Like the West Virginia Penitentiary, the asylum has also been a research location for paranormal investigators and offers ghost hunts and tours year round. Call ahead for details and reservations.
Address: 71 Asylum Drive, Weston
7 Monongahela National Forest
With elevations ranging from around 1,000 feet to 4,863 feet above sea level, the Monongahela National Forest offers visitors the opportunity to experience beautiful views, wildlife, and some of the highest points in the state. Because of the area's varying precipitation and terrain, the Monongahela National Forest is one of the most ecologically diverse forests in the country. Visitors should also make plans to stop by the Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, which is located in the park and offers some of the best rock climbing on the east coast. Please contact the national forest for recreation and other passes and permits.
Address: 200 Sycamore Street, Elkins
All types of winter activities await guests in Snowshoe. This beautiful mountain resort, which is kind of a mini-city on a mountaintop, has everything visitors need - restaurants, shopping, entertainment, and even a spa. Though the resort is known for its winter fun, guests can enjoy the warmer months with hiking, biking, fly fishing, horseback riding, zip lining, swimming, and riding the lift. Visitors who want to explore the surrounding area can head to nearby Cass Scenic Railroad for a train ride to the mountaintop or to Greenbank to see the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.
Address: 10 Snowshoe Drive, Snowshoe
9 West Virginia State Capitol
Visitors to Charleston often gape in awe at the 293-foot golden dome at the state capitol, which is five feet higher than the US Capitol's dome. Designed by Cass Gilbert, who also designed the world's first skyscraper, the capitol reflects Greek and Roman architectural influences. During the building process, which lasted from 1924 to 1932, more than 700 train carloads of limestone and 4,500 tons of steel were used. Guided tours are available throughout the day.
10 West Virginia State Museum at the Culture Center
Visitors can tour the West Virginia State Museum in Charleston to learn about the state's culture, art, paleontology, archaeology, and geology. This museum, which represents West Virginia and its people, showcases a collection that began in 1890. In addition to permanent exhibits, the museum also features temporary exhibitions throughout the year.