West Virginia is one of the most beautiful states in the country. It has it all—rural retreats, country culture, steep hills, deep valleys, scenic vistas, and serious adventure.
West Virginia is known for a wide range of outdoor recreational opportunities, including skiing, whitewater rafting, fishing, hiking, backpacking, caving, mountain biking, and hunting. Nicknamed the “Mountain State” and given the tagline of “Wild and Wonderful,” West Virginia’s rugged terrain makes for incredible outdoor fun
In addition to the state’s natural beauty, families will find fascinating museums, the impressive State Capitol building in Charleston, and a few unusual tourist attractions. Here are 10 must see attractions.
West Virginia State Capitol
The West Virginia State Capital sits along the Kanawha River in Charleston. It is home to the office of the Governor of West Virginia as well as the West Virginia Legislature and it is part of an historic complex. It can be found in the Charleston area and the whole district has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
This is a striking building with fascinating architecture including a breathtaking 293 foot gold dome. It also boasts a grand and decadent interior, much of which is marble while the outside is constructed from steel and limestone.
Guided tours are available throughout the day. Visit the state Capitol grounds on Memorial Day weekend for the annual Vandalia Gathering, where you can catch the state’s best fiddlers, banjo players and guitar pickers all in one place.
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 provide a fascinating insight into the past.
There are a number of tour options available for families to tour the caverns and there are plenty of great facilities such as the restaurant, a gift shop and even picnic areas. The caverns were privately owned until they opened to the public in 1930. Touring the caverns is an exciting and unique experience. A weird and wonderful world of stalactites, stalagmites await your family.
Blackwater Falls State Park
Blackwater Falls State Park is named for the falls of the Blackwater River whose amber-colored waters plunge five stories then twist and tumble through an eight-mile long gorge. It is one of the most famous tourist attractions in West Virginia.
The lodges, cabins and restaurants are open year-round to welcome visitors from all over the country. You can enjoy different fun activities suited for your family. Enjoy superior fishing and camping opportunities in the Spring, cool mountain air in the Summer, snowy wonderland in Winter, exceptional scenic vistas in Fall. Magnificent views can found at the park in all seasons and are sure to impress your family.
The park naturalist offers a variety of programs on the park’s natural and cultural history.
Cass Scenic Railroad State Park
Cass Scenic Railroad State Park offers excursions that transport you back in time. Whether you take a railroad trip on a warm summer day or ride the rails to see spectacular fall colors, you’ll come away with an appreciation for the mighty locomotives as well as for West Virginia’s mountain vistas.
Cass Scenic Railroad State Park features a full schedule of fall train excursions, including a two hour trip and a four and one-half hour trip, as well as special season event train rides. For a unique overnight experience, you may rent a restored company house from the turn-of-the-century logging town at Cass. Caboose rentals and a wilderness cabin offer other overnight options.
New River Gorge Bridge
The New River Gorge Bridge is one of the top attractions and best photo ops in West Virginia. The bridge is 3,030 feet long and 876 feet high. It was opened in October 1977 and for many years it was the longest single span steel arch bridge the world.
A visit to West Virginia would not be complete without a Bridge Walk Tour. Guided Bridge Walk tours take place on a 24-inch wide catwalk which was built as an original structure of the bridge. The catwalk extends the entire length of the bridge. Guests are securely fastened to a safety cable making it a safe and enjoyable two to three hour walk.
National Radio Observatory
Whether you’re a science buff or just love to visit unique places, Green Bank, West Virginia’s National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) is a must-see stop. Weighing 17 million pounds, the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia is the largest moving structure on land and is over 484 feet tall and it defies description.
You can tour the complex, see the telescope and spend time in the Science Center learning about radio telescopes. Learn about our solar system as well as the other galaxies and distant objects in space by visiting the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.
Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum (Weston State Hospital)
The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum (also known as Weston State Hospital) was a psychiatric hospital that offered shelter for the mentally ill for 130 years from its opening back in 1864. Its main building is one of the largest hand-cut stone masonry buildings in the United States, and, is the second largest hand-cut sandstone building in the World (the largest one is The Kremlin.) It is a nationally recognized landmark.
The asylum has a long and interesting history. Guided daytime tours were offered as well as a haunted hospital tour at night, a haunted hayride and a treasure hunt starting on the hospital front porch. Family hayrides, arts and crafts and local music were also offered.
Harpers Ferry National Historical Park
Harpers Ferry National Historical Park offers a variety of experiences for families. Whether you enjoy recreation or historical inquiry, a quiet stroll by the river or a guided program with a ranger, there are opportunities for everyone to find their place here. Visitors can enjoy a variety of scenic hiking trails and explore the historic town which offers ranger-guided tours, museums, restaurants and craft shops.
Harpers Ferry National Historical Park includes the site of John Brown’s ill-fated slave uprising in 1859. It is also the site of the largest surrender of Federal troops during the American Civil War. This is a diverse attraction with something for everyone from fascinating museums and exhibitions through to hiking areas and battlefields. With close to half a million visitors annually, this is a very popular attraction and provides you with an enlightening and educational day out.
West Virginia State Penitentiary
West Virginia Penitentiary, a retired prison in Moundsville operated from 1876 to 1995. It has a rich and often dark history. 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.
There are also special events held here such as Zombie Walks, Kids’ nights and even mock prison riots.
Friendly people, rich history, and the beautiful landscape are enough reasons to go there any time of the year. Enjoy the wonderful hospitality of friendly folks while you discover and explore West Virginia. You’ll have to do some mountain driving to reach many of these spots, but the rewards are well worth your time. Meet some of the greatest people ever, see some beautiful lakes, ponds, and mountain streams, and waterfalls in the middle of nowhere. Experience West Virginia.