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Adventure lovers take note: there is SO much to do in West Virginia. With an average elevation of about 460 metres above sea level, it is the highest of any U.S. state east of the Mississippi River. Justifiably named the ‘Mountain State’, West Virginia is also home to the highest density of whitewater runs in the country.
Bordered by Pennsylvania to the north, Maryland and Virginia to the east, Kentucky to the southwest, and Ohio to the northwest, West Virginia has a magnitude of outdoor adventure for visitors to enjoy on the East Coast. Check out our list of some of the top activities for adventure-seekers below.
There’s no doubt West Virginia is one of the best places in the world to experience the thrills of the rapids. The New River Gorge National Park & Preserve, America’s newest national park, offers incredible rafting experiences on the New and Gauley Rivers. Over in the Eastern Panhandle (only an hour from the Washington D.C. metro area), adventure seekers will find unique opportunities at the convergence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers. The Cheat River, about an hour south of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, provides a different experience each day since the river is undamned and flows naturally.
For experienced rafters, the Upper section of the Gauley River (also known as “The Beast of the East”) is the place to be! It is ranked as one of the top five rivers to raft in the world, providing consistent Class IV and V rapids. The best time to visit are the months of September and October, also known as the “Gauley Season”, but you can also ride the Gauley in the spring and summer seasons.
ATV & off-road touring
When it comes to ATV trail destinations, West Virginia easily tops the list thanks to its renowned Hatfield-McCoy Trail System. As one of the largest off-highway trail systems in the world, the system has over 1,600 kilometres of trails conveniently developed around towns, ensuring easy access to all amenities while you ride. In addition, several touring guides in the area can provide the challenge and adventure of a lifetime, regardless of your skill level. Below are just a few of the ten trails to explore:
The Pinnacle Creek Trail System is one of the largest continuous areas of the HMT network along with Warrior, Pocahontas, and Indian Ridge trail systems and connectors – to allow extended off-road trips. Pinnacle Creek Trail is known for its stunning scenic views and proximity to world-class whitewater rafting and snow skiing (both are less than an hour away). It also has direct connections to the ATV-friendly towns of Mullens and Pineville, West Virginia.
The Devil Anse Trail System, located in the town of Matewan, is historically known for being the heart of the legendary Hatfield-McCoy Feud. Featured in the 2012 History Channel series Hatfields & McCoys, this dispute between the two families has become a storied piece of the region’s history. The Devil Anse Trail links up to two other Hatfield-McCoy Trail Systems: Rockhouse and Buffalo Mountain, totalling over 482 kilometres. The trail system has direct access to gas, food, and lodging.
Cabwaylingo State Forest's colourful name combines the four closest West Virginia counties surrounding the forest: Cabell, Wayne, Lincoln, and Mingo. The forest sits on nearly 8,300 acres of land in southern West Virginia, and riders can explore approx. 160 kilometres of trails. There’s plenty of parking for trucks and trailers, along with a trailhead facility with trail permits and Hatfield-McCoy Trails merchandise for sale.
Reach new heights in the Mountain State. West Virginia gives climbers over 4,000 established climbing routes to explore, all suitable for different fitness levels. While the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve gets most of the attention for rock climbing, there are spots all over the state to take in the scenery of Almost Heaven. Check out Seneca Rocks, located in the Monongahela National Forest, the heart of the Potomac Highlands. Seneca’s rocky fins form an awe-inspiring skyline, suitable for trad climbers with routes that require fitness and creativity. If you are looking for a fun, family-friendly climbing destination, Coopers Rock State Forest has you covered. Besides being known for its gritstone walls, many of the sectors form a rock labyrinth, where kids can enjoy their time playing hide-and-seek in the maze.
When the snow begins to fall in West Virginia, the mountainous landscape becomes a pristine winter wonderland. Home to high lofty mountains, with peaks reaching well over 1,400 meters, finding an adventure in the snowy season is easy.
No matter your skill level, the Mountain State has slopes and trails suited to you. First timer? Learn to ski or snowboard at Winterplace Ski Resort in Ghent, just off I-77. Looking to shred double black diamonds? Look no further than Snowshoe Mountain Resort. This alpine ski resort offers three distinct areas to ski and snowboard as well as a mountain village with dining, shopping, and lodging. Then, for a unique and equally thrilling experience, visit Blackwater Falls State Park, home to the East Coast’s longest sled run. While you’re in the area, local ski resorts like Canaan Valley Resort and Timberline Mountain Resort are mere minutes away.
Beyond skiing and snowboarding, there are other winter activities worth exploring. Throughout the state, travellers can enjoy alternative winter adventures. At The Greenbrier, find a state-of-the-art outdoor ice-skating rink and at Winterplace Ski Resort enjoy the largest snow tubing park in West Virginia. After an exciting day of adventure at Snowshoe Mountain Resort, explore the backcountry on an evening snowmobile tour.