Photographer standing on a cliffside illuminated by sunset atop Spruce Knob in West Virginia

The Wilds of West Virginia: Top Spots for Nature Lovers

Photographer standing on a cliffside illuminated by sunset atop Spruce Knob in West Virginia

The Wilds of West Virginia: Top Spots for Nature Lovers

West Virginia offers the outdoor enthusiast endless adventure: Whitewater rafting, rock climbing, boating, fishing, BASE jumping, mountain biking and more.

When it comes to adventure, lovers of the great outdoors don’t need to look any further than wild, wonderful West Virginia. Spending time outside is a way of life in the Mountain State, and residents and visitors alike enjoy tranquil hikes, extreme adventure sports, and numerous other activities in the area. Add these can’t-miss attractions to your itinerary when you’re ready to explore West Virginia’s natural beauty.

Whitewater Rafting

The state’s numerous rivers offer plenty of opportunities to get wet and wild on the rapids. The New River Gorge is a popular destination for all types of exciting outdoor exploits, including whitewater rafting. Trips on the Upper New River offer a gentler ride for younger and beginner rafters, while the Lower New River portion provides bigger bumps and waves.

For a more intense rafting experience, check out the Gauley River, ranked one of the nine best whitewater rafting rivers in the country by Fodor’s Travel. With 100 rapids, ranging from Class III to V, and with names like Sweet’s Falls and Heaven Help Us, the river never fails to deliver plenty of thrills.

Boating, Fishing & Swimming

Summersville Lake, located just outside the town of Summersville in southcentral West Virginia, offers a full range of water activities. Rent kayaks, pontoons, canoes, or stand-up paddleboards (SUPs) to get out on the water. Stay in a cabin, or camp in an RV or tent next to the lake. Climb the lake’s lighthouse, erected in 2012, to get a 360-degree view of the woods and water.

An enchanting view of Blackwater River within Blackwater Falls State Park in West Virginia
Source: West Virginia Division of Tourism

With its storied history, Cheat Lake is a beloved destination for water enthusiasts who love everything from kayaking and canoeing to fishing and SUP yoga. With a little exploring, you can find swimming holes, rock slides, and waterfalls around the lake as well.

Rock Climbing

With the Mountain State as its nickname, West Virginia doesn’t disappoint when it comes to rock climbing. Coopers Rock State Forest offers scenic overlooks of the Cheat River Gorge. Hike across trails that weave through the forest and over craggy ridges.

Located in the Monongahela National Forest in the northcentral highlands of West Virginia, Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area is another favorite of avid climbers. At 4,863 feet above sea level, Spruce Knob is the highest peak in the state, and Spruce Knob Tower offers a breathtaking panoramic view of the forest’s natural beauty below.

BASE Jumping

Every October, extreme sports enthusiasts take the suggestion — go jump off a bridge(!) — literally at the New River Gorge Bridge’s Official Bridge Day celebration. One day a year, the bridge is closed to vehicles and turned into pedestrian Party Central. BASE (Building Antenna Span and Earth) jumpers hook up their parachutes and free fall more than 850 feet from the bridge to the river below. If you’re brave enough to participate, you can highline, rappel, or bungee jump from the top of the bridge as well.

Mountain Biking

With its dense forests and mountainous terrain, West Virginia offers a plethora of challenging biking trails. Best-known as a ski resort, Snowshoe Mountain also has a bike park with nearly 40 trails to get your adrenaline pumping. If you’re new to mountain biking, you can take lessons onsite.
Timberline Four Seasons Resort is another ski resort where you can ride the chairlift to the top of the mountain and then zoom down one of 17 trails to experience thrilling cross-country and downhill mountain biking.

Birdseye view of the Hanging Rock Raptor Observatory in Union, West Virginia
Source: West Virginia Division of Tourism

Snow Sports

In addition to Snowshoe and Timberline, Canaan Valley Resort , which boasts the highest mountain valley east of the Rockies, is a top-ranked destination for cross-country and downhill skiing and snowboarding. Its quarter-mile sledding hill amuses both the young and the young at heart. Also, like Snowshoe and Timberline, Canaan Valley is open year-around for seasonal outdoor activities.

Caving

Take a trip below the Earth’s surface for a self-guided tour of the stalactites and stalagmites of Lost World Caverns near White Sulphur Springs. For a muddy adventure that goes even deeper, book a four-hour Wild Cave Tour. You can also visit family-friendly Seneca Caverns in Riverton or Smoke Hole Caverns near Seneca Rocks for guided tours and gemstone mining.

Hunt for Tasty Treasure

West Virginia’s woods and streams offer a smorgasbord of things to eat. Hunting and fishing are popular pastimes, but with a keen eye and some patience, you can also put together a tasty spread by doing some foraging. The state’s forests are home to a variety of mushrooms, including safe-for-human-consumption puffballs, chanterelles, hen of the woods, and highly-coveted morels. Ramps are ready in early spring. Nutrient-dense watercress and dandelion are plentiful, as are many types of sweet, juicy berries.

When you feel the urge to indulge in some fun outdoor adventures, consider the wilds of West Virginia as a destination. Share your photos of your outdoor vacation with us on Facebook.

Travel