Southern West Virginia Should Be Your Next Road Trip Destination

Picture driving on curving roads to scenic overlooks, feeling refreshing mountain breezes, wading in flowing rivers, watching fireflies dance in a forest at dusk, and gazing at the Milky Way on a clear night. This paradise is less than a day’s drive away. So, it’s time to pack up the car and explore southern West Virginia.

Southern West Virginia is the perfect summertime road trip destination for those in eastern U.S. cities like Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Raleigh, Nashville, Columbus, Louisville, and Atlanta. Many activities and sites within the area, including New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, are conveniently located off of I-77, I-64, or U.S. Rt 19. Whether you’re looking for thrills or relaxation, southern West Virginia has unique experiences to offer every vacationer.

The Views

The winding country roads excite visitors about what they will see around the next corner. Many of the scenic viewpoints in southern West Virginia are located along roadside stops. Grandview at New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, the overlook at Hawks Nest State Park, Canyon Rim gorge and bridge overlooks at New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, Lake Stephens, and Carnifex Ferry Battlefield State Park views are all just a few steps away from a parked car. Other views, such as those from Endless Wall, Long Point at Summersville Lake, and Long Point at Fayetteville, are a little bit of a hike, but they’re well worth it.

View of the New River Gorge Bridge from the overlook at Canyon Rim within New River Gorge National Park and Preserve

If cozy hamlets and historic architecture capture your eye, southern West Virginia has much to offer. Sweet Springs Resort was designed by an associate of Thomas Jefferson and has a historic bath house for the natural hot springs (open for tours but not bathing). The Grist Mill at Babcock State Park is picturesquely nestled along Glade Creek. There are also many rail towns with unique buildings, like the depot at Thurmond, New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, Prince, Hinton, and Bramwell.

The Grist Mill at Babcock State Park

With as many creeks and rivers West Virginia has, there are plenty of waterfalls as flows descend from the mountains. The West Virginia Water Fall Trail makes sights like Sandstone Falls-New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, Cathedral Falls, Brush Creek Falls, Glade Creek Falls, and others easy to find. Though if gazing at the water is a little tame for your speed, visitors can go whitewater rafting along the New River. There are also plenty of opportunities for paddling and swimming at local lakes, like Little Beaver State Park and Lake Stephens.

Brush Creek Falls

Look at any dark sky map of the United States, and West Virginia is easy to find. Among the bright lights of a heavily populated east coast, West Virginia’s low population density limits light pollution and keeps night skies clear. Here are some spots for the best stargazing in southern West Virginia:

  • Sandstone Falls at New River Gorge National Park and Preserve in Sandstone, WV
  • Moncove Lake State Park in Gap Mills, WV
  • Hanging Rock Raptor Observatory in Gap Mills, WV
  • Scenic Overlook on Rt 19 outside of Summersville, WV
  • Greenbrier River Trail in Lewisburg, WV
  • Rhododendron Park outside of Richwood, WV
View of the night sky outside of Fayetteville

The History

The hills and hollers of southern West Virginia are home to stories from several eras in U.S. history. The land is full of historic sites, from pioneer farms to a resort for America’s earliest presidents to the man and myth of John Henry to Civil War sites to coal mines and rail towns that led to the creation of modern-day America. Explore more of our region’s historical sites here:

A tour of the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine

The Foods

West Virginian cuisine has a flavor that is uniquely American. West Virginia is famous for dishes and ingredients that draw from the cultures of early white settlers, Native Americans, and Italian immigrants.

  • Pepperoni Rolls: The origins of pepperoni rolls can be traced alongside coal mining history. In the late 19th and early 20th century, Italian immigrants sought work in West Virginia coal mines. The men needed fast and mostly non-perishable food to take with them to eat during their long shifts. Their wives would pack their pails with bread and pepperoni. In 1927, Guiseppe Argiro, an Italian immigrant who opened a bakery in Fairmont, WV, became the first person to sell pepperoni rolls commercially. The staple can be found as appetizers and main dishes throughout West Virginia. Read more about pepperoni rolls here:
  • Ramps: The mountains of West Virginia made it difficult for early white settlers to establish farms, so they had to depend on edible wild plants, including our springtime favorite—ramps. Native Americans, such as the Cherokee, originally used this wild onion to eat and use for medicinal purposes, and white settlers adopted that knowledge. Ramps are still foraged every spring in the forests of West Virginia and continue to be a staple of seasonal menus at restaurants throughout Appalachia. Learn more about ramp festivals and cooking at our blog:
  • Pawpaws: If ramps are our summertime favorite, pawpaws are our fall favorite. Pawpaws are America’s largest edible native fruit and taste like a cross between a banana and a mango. Native Americans cultivated and spread the tree species across Appalachia and the Midwest. While for much of American history, this fruit was looked down on as food for poor and marginalized groups, it is gaining widespread popularity today. Foragers can harvest the pawpaws in late August and early September. Don’t worry if you miss out on pawpaw picking; farmers’ markets in southern West Virginia sell pawpaw jellies to enjoy year-round.
  • Buttermilk Biscuits: Buttery, flakey, and warmed to perfection What else can we say about biscuits? A lot more, actually. Read more about West Virginian buttermilk biscuits, including the “Best Biscuit in the South” at Tudor’s Biscuit World, at our blog:
  • Brews, Wines, and Spirits: When people think of Appalachia and West Virginia drinks, moonshine comes to mind. Though did you know that we have award-winning breweries, cideries, wineries, and distilleries? Read more:

Find where you can satisfy your Appalachian cuisine craving here:

More to explore

This is just the start of what road trippers can experience in southern West Virginia. There are plenty of ways to explore the area once you’re here, such as ATV tours, walking under the New River Gorge Bridge, a view from the sky, going underground, and ziplining through the forests. Once you’re all out of energy from the adventures, relax in one of southern West Virginia’s many spas and resorts or see a show at one of the area’s many theaters. Don’t forget to grab a handcrafted souvenir before you leave!

Side by side ride through Mercer County, WV.

Featured image courtesy of @nationalparktravelers