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12 Top-Rated Outdoor Adventures in West Virginia

Written by Anietra Hamper
Mar 10, 2020

The natural landscape in West Virginia is the ultimate playground for outdoor enthusiasts. Climb the steep cliffs, hike the plush forests, or test your endurance on moody rivers that serve up raging waters on one end and tranquil waterways to float on the other. From the Appalachian Trail to the New River Gorge and Gauley River, the scenic backdrop for outdoor adventures is unmatched.

Hiking in George Washington National Forest

State and national parks cover the landscape in West Virginia, giving you ample access to tackle your favorite activities, or find new ones. Whether your thrill is skiing, kayaking, hiking, fishing, or paragliding, you can find the best places to visit with our list of the top outdoor adventures in West Virginia.

1. White Water Rafting

White Water Rafting | Photo Copyright: Adventures on the Gorge

White water rafting is one of the top things to do in West Virginia because there are world-class rapids. The five best whitewater rafting rivers in West Virginia in the Appalachian region cater to all experience levels. The Tygart River, Cheat River, and Potomac River are options for beginners and mid-level rafting, but adventure seekers head to the south for the big action.

The New River features the Upper New, suitable for beginners, and the Lower New, with Class IV rapids that take you past the New River Gorge Bridge. The Gauley River is one of the most popular for experienced rafters, with Class V rapids and the nickname the "Beast of the East." Rapids are most intense here in the fall.

It is best to hire expert guides from reputable outfitters to help you determine the rafting experience most suitable for you. One of the most reputable outfitters in the region is Adventures on the Gorge, where you can book the whitewater rafting trip that fits your experience level. For proximity to your white water adventure, you can book cabins at Adventures on the Gorge or stay in modern lodging in Lansing at Opossum Creek Retreat.

2. Hiking

Hiker in West Virginia during autumn

There is no shortage of hiking trails in the Appalachian region to explore. The steep inclines, wooded terrain, and breathtaking, scenic overlooks are just some of the reasons avid hikers head to West Virginia for a new challenge. A portion of the Appalachian Trail runs through Harpers Ferry, where the trail headquarters is located.

There are numerous West Virginia State Parks and forests like Coopers Rock State Forest, where the Raven Rock Trail will lead you to West Virginia's northernmost gorges. National parks, including the Monongahela National Forest, New River Gorge, and the American Discovery Trail, offer some of the most diverse hiking options with both casual trails and backcountry ridges.

You can earn rewards for exploring West Virginia's Trails through the State Park Hiking Program by collecting stamps at each park you visit. Historic Harper's Ferry has plenty of lodging, from B&Bs like The Ledge House Bed and Breakfast to hotels like the Clarion Inn. Staying in town keeps you close to the trails and restaurants after a long day of hiking.

3. Fishing

Anietra and expert guide Sean Wishart landing a smallmouth bass on the New River | Photo Copyright: David Peters

West Virginia has a wide range of fishing opportunities throughout the state. Trout fishing in West Virginia on the lakes and rivers is popular, especially for anglers looking for the rare golden rainbow trout. Anglers also enjoy West Virginia waters for other species, too.

The New River is one of the top rivers in the country to fish for smallmouth bass. The clean water, age of the river, and its natural structure make it ideal to fish during a float trip like those offered from Adventures on the Gorge, where you cast from a moving raft.

The Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers are known for large populations of tiger muskie, walleye, and largemouth bass. The Bluestone River has warm-water species like rock bass, smallmouth bass, and bluegill as well as some of the most scenic wilderness in the state. The Gauley River is another preferred waterway in West Virginia.

Some of the popular lakes for fishing are Summersville Lake, Bluestone Lake, and Beech Fork Lake. The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources stocks more than 200 waterways with brook, rainbow, brown, and golden rainbow trout mostly in the eastern part of the state in the mountain streams.

4. Mountain Biking

Mountain Biking

Casual and competitive mountain biking are popular activities in the West Virginia mountains. For casual rides that are suitable for families, the Rails, Trails, and Towpaths have easy grade rides. The C&O Canal Towpath, through Harpers Ferry and Shepherdstown, is one of the most enjoyable.

West Virginia State Parks and Forests offers more advanced trails. Coopers Rock State Forest, Blackwater Falls State Park, and Kanawha Forest all have specific trails suitable for mountain biking. You can also find trails at Mountwood Park in Parkersburg, New River Gorge, and North Fork Mountain.

The most extreme mountain biking adventure is at the Snowshoe Mountain Resort bike park, where you'll find 40 lift-service trails with steep drops. If you are new to mountain biking, you can rent freeride and downhill bikes at the resort and take lessons before you hit one of the trails.

5. Rock Climbing

Anietra rock climbing at Summersville Lake | Photo Copyright: Adventures on the Gorge

Whether you're a hard-core rock climber or wanting to learn, the Mountain State is full of opportunities to chalk up and get your hands on real rock. The New River Gorge is the top spot in the state for experienced climbers, with more than 24 challenging sandstone-climbing areas.

The Endless Wall above the New River is one of the most popular climbing destinations in the eastern United States. Seneca Rocks, which was once a training ground for WWII soldiers, is another popular location. If you want to try rock climbing and don't know where to begin, go with a guide to Summersville Lake, West Virginia's largest lake, where there are some moderate climbing rocks that are suitable for beginners.

The Via Ferrata at NRocks Outdoor Adventures is another beginner's option that combines scaling the cliffside on steel rung steps at 200 feet in the air. More advanced climbers can find dedicated climbing spots at Coopers Rock State Forest, Seneca Rocks, New River Gorge, and 183 climbing routes in the Meadow River corridor.

6. Ziplining

Ziplining | Photo Copyright: Anietra Hamper

One of the top outdoor adventures in West Virginia is ziplining because the steep natural landscape lends itself to high-flying adventure. The longest zipline on the East Coast, the AdrenaLine, is part of the Gravity course by Adventures on the Gorge.

You can see three counties from the platforms, and the last run launches you on a 3,150-foot zipline going nearly 60 miles per hour. You can try a superman-style zip at River Riders in Harpers Ferry as you lay in the harness going 50 miles per hour head first along the 2,100-foot zipline.

NRocks Outdoor Adventures offers a canopy tour with 12 ziplines at 80 feet in the air in the trees of the North Fork Valley. This zipline experience takes you across several sky bridges for a break from the adrenaline rush.

Possibly the shortest zip line in West Virginia is at the ACE Adventure Resort in Minden. It is only 350 feet long, but you sit backwards on the platform before taking the plunge. The top areas for ziplining are at the New River Gorge, Northern Panhandle, and Eastern Panhandle.

7. Caving

Luray Caverns, West Virginia

West Virginia below the ground is as naturally stunning as the landscape above it. Some of the caves in the state require experience with climbing, rope work, and navigation. Other caves are more accessible, allowing you to admire the breathtaking white calcite formations. Seneca Caverns in Riverton descends 165 feet below the surface.

Oregon Cave in Greenbrier County has more than 45 miles of underground passages and hundreds more that are not yet exposed. The Lost World Caverns in Lewisburg has a rich history and beautiful scenery of stalagmites and stalactites.

Smoke Hole Caverns, near the Seneca Rocks and Spruce Knob National Recreation Area, is another option if you are looking for a full resort experience with caverns and additional outdoor experiences, as well as lodging. The caverns on the property were used by the Seneca Indians. All of these caverns offer tours.

8. Kayaking

Kayaking near Harpers Ferry

Kayaking in West Virginia can take on several forms. You can kayak at a slower pace on one of the state's many lakes and calmer sections of rivers to get a better look at the scenery, or you can dive into the rapids for a whole new kind of white water experience. There are a number of water trails that are a good place to start if you are new to kayaking in the state.

The flatwater trails along the Coal River, Cheat River, and Elk River have various shoreline access points along the way for you to stop. There are many scenic lakes like Sutton Lake, Beech Fork Lake, and Summersville Lake that can keep you on the water for the entire day with coves to explore and cliffs to observe.

9. Skiing

Snowshoe Mountain

The mountains in West Virginia not only provide great scenery but spectacular skiing opportunities. Several ski resorts are located throughout the state, with slopes for every skill level. Canaan Valley Resort, Snowshoe Mountain Ski Resort, Timberline Four Seasons Resort, Winterplace Ski Resort, and Oglebay Resort all offer skiing trails.

In addition to downhill, some resorts have freestyle terrain parks, with jumps and obstacles for expert level skiers. Backcountry ski trails are at Elk River Touring Center, on the edge of the Monongahela National Forest.

10. Bridge Jumping

Bridge Jumping | Photo Copyright: Anietra Hamper

One of the most captivating events for outdoor enthusiasts in West Virginia is Bridge Day, which allows BASE-jumping to pre-approved jumpers one day a year. Hundreds of elite parachuters leap or are launched from the New River Gorge Bridge to a small landing 876-feet below.

The event is always held the third Saturday of October and draws more than 80,000 spectators and tourists. In addition to the main attraction, you will see rappelling and highline ziplining right off the bridge. If you want to experience the bridge without having to leap from it, you can take a Bridge Walk excursion across it with an experienced guide.

You are harnessed in as you walk across on a small catwalk just below the roadway. The open sides that let you see to the water below will get your heart pumping. The Bridge Walk is open year-round, weather permitting.

11. ATV Trails

ATV Trails

A variety of ATV trails throughout West Virginia give you a wild ride through valleys, forests, and scenic terrain. One of the best trail systems is the Hatfield McCoy Trail System, which has seven types of off-road trails, each with different characteristics that take you through southern West Virginia.

This system has interconnecting "trail towns" throughout the 600-miles of terrain, where you can stop for lodging and meals. The Burning Rock Outdoor Center in Tams has more than 100 miles of ATV trails at its Adventure Park.

There are a number of outfitters in West Virginia that offer ATV rentals and tours. If you are inexperienced, this is a recommended option due to the steep and natural terrain in West Virginia.

12. Paragliding

Paragliding | Photo Copyright: Canaan Valley Resort

One of the newest outdoor adventures in the state is paragliding. Canaan Valley Resort has partnered with the Mountaineer Hang Glider Association to offer a public launch site in West Virginia's Allegheny Mountains.

You launch from a 4,400-foot summit and soar through the sky as you take in the best panoramic view of the mountains before landing several miles away. The launch can be accessed by the Canaan Valley Resort ski lift. Pilots need to complete an application before using the launch site.

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Ohio Outdoor Adventures: If you enjoy the adrenaline in West Virginia, you will want to explore the outdoor adventures in Ohio just across the border. Ohio has thousands of hiking trails that range from casual and paved in Metroparks to more advanced trails in the national and state parks. If ziplining and biking are your preference, Ohio has many outfitters that offer tours, or you can step out on your own and bike the networks of Rails to Trails that run through the state. Fishing in Ohio is great throughout the year, from the perch and walleye fishing on Lake Erie to the ice fishing on inland lakes in the winter.

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