How To Spend A Long Weekend In West Virginia
The Mountain State, shaped like a leaping frog, is one of the most underrated family friendly destinations in America. Not only can you participate in a myriad of adventures—whitewater rafting, fishing, rock climbing, mountain biking, hiking—but also, you can find peace and solitude amid the flora and fauna where nearly 80% of the state, according to the West Virginia Department of Tourism, is covered in forests.
Located within the Appalachian Mountain range, a trip here will be one that your family will not soon forget. Keep reading to learn about how to spend a long weekend in this viridescent state.
New River Gorge National Park
Our country’s newest national park, New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, is in southern West Virginia. The New River, which is actually one of the oldest rivers in the world, formed before the mountains, has been protected since 1978. One of the most interesting facts about this river is that it flows northward, carving through deep canyons as it moves. The park is home to over 70,000 acres of land along this whitewater river, which offers a plethora of outdoor activities. Make sure you pop in the Canyon Rim Visitor Center, Sandstone Visitor Center, Grandview Visitor Center, and the seasonally opened Thurmond Depot.
Not that you can miss it, but make sure you explore the New River Gorge Bridge from all angles. Completed in 1977, this work of art, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is the longest steel span bridge in the western hemisphere and the third highest in America. If you visit on the third Saturday in October, you can take part in Bridge Day, an annual pedestrian-friendly one-day celebration full of food, music, BASE jumpers, and rappelling.
Hiking at New River Gorge
Marked and well maintained hiking trails of various lengths and difficulty are abundant throughout the national park. Explore Lansing, Fayetteville, and Nuttallburg trails in the north end of the park; Cunard, Thurmond, and Stone Cliff trails in the center; and Grandview, Glade Creek, Brooks, and Sandstone trails in the south.
A cool trail to explore is the Long Point Trail (Fayetteville), a 1.6-mile out-and-back moderate romp that culminates with a stunning view of the gorge and the park’s famous bridge.
Rent bikes from Arrowhead Bike Farm if you’d prefer to bike the Long Point Trail, hiking the last quarter mile to the rim. The on-site restaurant, The Handlebar + Kitchen, is a great place to celebrate afterward with a beer and tacos. Don’t miss the goats—it is a farm after all.
A big draw for this neck of the woods are the whitewater rafting adventures on the New River. You’ll find that ACE Adventure Resort operates like a well-oiled machine. These trips are led by expert guides who will fill you in on all-things West Virginia along the way.
Families with young kids, under 12, will love the Upper New River Gorge rafting experience, where the waters are calmer, and families with older kids in tow will dig the Lower New River Gorge, the most popular and exciting route. For the latter, choose the full-day journey, which includes lunch, to get the whole experience. You’ll travel 8—13 miles, over 6—7 hours, paddling through whitewater, swimming in stiller spots, and even taking time to jump off rocks.
For something that nearly everyone in your family can do, consider the Bridge Walk. While not for those afraid of heights, this safe and secure guided tour leads groups across the New River Gorge Bridge via the catwalk, 25 feet beneath the bridge. As you make your way from one end to the other, walking the entire 3,030 feet, you’ll feel and hear the traffic flow overhead, vibrating your body just slightly. The catwalk is 24” wide and, of course, there are handrails to keep you safe, in addition to a harness and safety cable system. Kids eight years-old and above can participate. Visit during Bridge Day to see the BASE jumpers.
New River Gorge Scenic Drive
Another great activity that everyone in the family can do is the New River Gorge Scenic Drive. This three-hour trip travels over 83 miles, encircling the national park. Fayette Station Road will give you an up-close view of the bridge and driving the curlicue roads with hairpin turns is an experience like no other. Of course, there are plenty of places to stop along the way, hike, and explore the area’s coal mining history.
You’ll really understand the meaning of John Denver’s words when he sang, “Almost heaven, West Virginia. Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River. Life is old there, older than the trees, younger than the mountains, growin’ like a breeze. Country roads, take me home, to the place I belong. West Virginia, mountain mama, take me home, country roads.”
Zip-lining and Canopy Tours
The Adventures on the Gorge’s Treetop Zip-line Canopy Tour, ideal for ages 10 and up, is a year-round adventure that should most certainly be on your to-do list while in West Virginia. Travel past oak, maple, birch, and hemlock trees on this leafy guided tour as you zip, rappel, hike, and walk across swinging bridges.
The three-season Gravity Zip-lines are ideal for ages 12 and up, where the course flies down six different lines that get progressively longer and faster. At the end, you’ll ride on the Adrena-line, a 3,150-foot zip-line, which is one of the longest and fastest zip-lines in the country.
On the same large complex, enjoy noshes and nibbles at a variety of restaurants: Smokey’s on the Gorge, Chetty’s Pub, Sweet Java Falls, and Canyon Falls Snack Shack.
Dining: Other Areas to Explore
Likely, you’ll start your adventure in the state’s capital, Charleston. There are plenty of dining options to take advantage of, including: Black Sheep Burritos & Brews, Adelphia Sports Bar & Grille, Tudor’s Biscuit World, Ellen’s Homemade Ice Cream, and Pies & Pints.
In Fayetteville, check out: Wood Iron Eatery, Wanderlust Creative Foods, Southside Junction Taphouse, The Take Out, The Stache, Firecreek BBQ & Steaks, and Cathedral Café.
Where to Stay
Most of your trip in West Virginia will likely be adventurous and thrill-seeking. When you decide you’ve had enough, and you need a siesta or a good night’s sleep, look no further than Country Road Cabins. You’ll go from extreme to serene with a stay in a luxury glamping tent, cabin, yurt, or treehouse. Each stand-alone house is private, fully equipped, lovingly decorated, and outfitted with a deck and a hot tub. You’ll have easy access to all that the New River Gorge area has to offer, while at the same time, you’ll enjoy a full immersion into nature and solitude.