West Virginia is full of incredible scenery, deep-rooted cultures, hiking trails, beautiful state and National parks and the Appalachian and Allegheny Mountains. Nicknamed “The Mountain State,” WV makes visitors fall in love with the world-class getaways, day trips, tourist attractions and outdoor activities. Here are 21 of the best things to do in West Virginia with kids.
I’m so blessed to have been born, raised and brought my own family up in the beautiful state of West Virginia. The majestic beauty of my state has captured the curiosity of travelers and day-trippers for years, but having one of the newest National Parks has really upped the interest. Let me share my suggestions on what to see and do in the beloved Mountain State, so you don’t miss a thing!
21 Things to See and Do in Beautiful West Virginia
1. Tour the Mystery Hole
This bizarre attraction is where the Earth’s gravity is all out of whack. Water truly runs uphill at The Mystery Hole. The guided tour is fun and quirky plus the drive getting there is beautiful (and my favorite in the state!). Both hands on the wheel; it is a little scary.
2. Camp at Summersville Lake
A great spring, summer and fall activity is boating and camping at Summersville Lake, a manufactured freshwater lake formed by a rock-filled dam. Some parts of it are up to 327 feet deep. The picturesque lake, a hotspot for kayaking, swimming, and canoeing, lies between incredible rock cliffs and has excellent fishing conditions. Bass, catfish and walleye are the popular fish you might catch. Summersville has many campgrounds, boats and cabin rentals.
3. Visit the National Radio Astronomy Observatory
Greenbank offers the world’s largest astronomical telescope. This unique scientific wonder offers too many things to list; you have to see it to believe it! I love taking my family to educational places and this is the one site I would recommend for the entire state. Wireless devices are not allowed to be used here.
4. Whitewater Raft the Gauley River
Paddlers rank the Gauley River as one of the top river destinations in the world for both technicality and scenery (think towering cliffs). Maybe that is why thousands flock to Adventures on the Gorge in Lansing (basically Fayetteville) to brave the class 5 and 6 rapids for a one-of-a-kind whitewater rafting outdoor adventure. Newer paddlers will love the Lower Gauley river portion, while daredevils will be salivating at the Upper Gauley’s challenges. These combined rivers drop 650 feet in 24 short miles. Hang on! If whitewater rafting is not for you, maybe you will prefer the zip lining options.
5. Take a Ghost Tour in Parkersburg
I first learned about this fun ghost tour through Southern Living magazine about ten years ago. In Parkersburg, presences are felt from Civil War days, haunted hotels exist, railroad ghosts thrill ghost hunters and an alien spaceship touched down here, from the “Mothman Prophecies” (there is a Mothman Museum in Point Pleasant). It is no wonder this is a spiritual world favorite. The tour is a fun way to get your feet wet. If you are fearless, spend the night at the Blennerhassett Hotel, a luxury said-to-be haunted hotel I enjoy visiting for its charm and incredible onsite restaurant.
6. Hit the Slopes
West Virginia is chock full of ski resort adventures, including snowboarding, snow tubing, and all your wintery weather offerings. Snowshoe Mountain is one of the most beloved ski resorts, also a place where you can sign up for snowmobile and off-road adventure tours. Other ski options include Canaan Valley Ski Resort, Timberline Mountain, and Winterplace Ski Resort. They all offer beginner ski lessons and are appropriate for all ages.
7. Ride the Cass Scenic Railroad Train
Springtime is the perfect time to take a train ride, and train travel is a hot attraction in West Virginia. Come aboard the Cass Scenic Railroad, an 11-mile long heritage railway, for a thrilling adventure and family fun. The scenery is sure to please, and there are several options for train rides at Cass Scenic Railroad State Park. You can even camp overnight in a train car! Purchase your tickets early because they always sell out…and fast.
8. Experience Civil War History
Harpers Ferry is West Virginia’s most famous Civil War town and a great place to introduce your children to some of the surviving and preserved 19th-century buildings. There is a Civil War Museum, John Brown’s Fort and the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park in the area. The scenic views of where the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers meet are worth the drive.
Fun Fact: Harpers Ferry is about the midpoint of the 2,178-mile Appalachian Trail.
9. Picnic at Kanawha State Forest
Kanawha State Forest is only seven miles outside of Charleston. It’s the perfect spot for a family picnic, gathering, or celebration. Playgrounds, hiking trails, and mountain biking opportunities are available, as well as covered shelters for picnics and parties. Pets are welcome, too. We hosted many camps there for Girl Scouts and our employees during our days of living in West Virginia.
10. See an Outdoor Drama at Theatre West Virginia
Watch a live show in a cool outdoor setting at a cliffside amphitheater. Hatfields and McCoys is a WV-based show that has been playing for dozens of years now. It has preserved West Virginia’s history since 1955. Upcoming shows are yet to be announced, but Theatre West Virginia is in full swing come summertime. The performances are family-friendly and concessions are sold at this picturesque outdoor venue.
11. Stay at the Greenbrier Resort
The world-renowned Greenbrier Resort is a year-round luxury resort and National Historic Landmark, which opened in 1778, is dubbed “America’s Resort.” Think elegant restaurants, high-end shops, a plethora of amenities, Instagram-worthy swimming pools, an exciting casino, a top-rated spa and a prestigious golf course. These are only some of the things you’ll experience in the gorgeous small-town of White Sulphur Springs, WV. A do-not-miss shop is the Greenbrier’s Christmas Shop at the Depot, which will dazzle mom and kids.
FYI: For a fun outing, visit the charming small-town of Lewisburg, only 15 minutes away.
12. Visit the West Virginia State Museum
Once referred to (and still by the locals) the Cultural Center, the West Virginia State Museum is an excellent place for those of all ages to explore the state’s history through interactive exhibits, artifacts, stories, and more. You’ll be in awe of the stunning chandeliers as soon as you enter the West Virginia State Museum’s Great Hall, and the gift shop will tease you with all sorts of impressive locally-made arts and crafts. My favorite part of the museum is showcasing famous West Virginians, some of which you may be surprised: Jennifer Garner, Don Knotts, Chuck Yeager, Jerry West and Brad Paisley, to name a few.
13. Go into the Earth at the Exhibition Coal Mine
Learn the fascinating history behind West Virginia’s coal industry in Raleigh County when you tour the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine. The mine started in 1889 and saw the glory days of the coal industry. It currently serves as a tourist attraction with historical buildings, museums, a camp store, church, school, and gift shop. Visitors can travel deep into the earth to see the tight quarters the miners worked in on a guided tour, which runs from April 1 to November 2. Bring a jacket—the mine is a constant 58 degrees.
14. Take a Selfie at Kanawha Falls
Kanawha Falls is an extremely wide and impressive waterfall across the Kanawha River in Glen Farris. I never drive by without capturing a photograph of its beauty and contrast of the falls shimmering behind a rusted old power plant. There are waterfalls in both directions at hidden locations from Kanawha Falls, so keep your eyes open. Glen Ferris Inn, located only a hop, skip and jump away, is a nice option to stop for lunch and homemade pies.
15. Tour the State’s New and Only National Park
It is so exciting for West Virginia to have a National Park finally, and we couldn’t be more proud for our New River Gorge to reach New River Gorge National Park and Preserve status. Located in the southern Appalachian Mountains, the New River is one of the oldest rivers on the continent (yes, you read that right) and has 70,000-acres (yes, you read that right, too) to discover. My tip for first-timers is to start at the Canyon Rim Visitor Center and then walk via the boardwalk to see the stunning New River Gorge Bridge. It is amazing!
FYI: This is one of the most popular rock-climbing areas in the nation.
16. Tour the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum
This stone psychiatric hospital in Weston, WV, was operational for 130 years and performed more lobotomies than anywhere else in the nation. TV’s “Ghost Adventures” (Travel Channel) and “Ghost Hunters” (SyFy) have visited the now-closed asylum, and it is also open for public tours. Haunted tours, that is. My friends, kids and I did a private tour years ago. Our photographs contained so many orbs that it was frightening even after the experience. Overnight opportunities occur throughout the year, especially around Halloween when the hauntings seem to spike..
17. Hike Through Hawk’s Nest State Park
Hawk’s Nest State Park is bursting with majestic beauty. Its fun comes in the form of stunning panoramic views, wildlife, hiking and a jetboat adventure ride. Rooms are affordable if you wish to stay and the restaurant is pretty good. The whole complex just received a massive facelift. I enjoy hiking the nature trails at Hawk’s Nest, taking pictures, eating lunch, and riding the aerial tram down to the river.
18. Visit WV’s Only Amusement Park
Camden Park, home of the happy clown, is a retro but still enjoyable small amusement park established in 1902. Crowd favorites of this 26-acre complex include rides such as the Big Dipper, Paratrooper and Rattler. Long-time visitors, like myself, will remember pronto pups (which you can still buy today) and the roller rink. We like to pack our lunch to save money and make the afternoon more family-oriented.
19. Watch a Baseball Game at Appalachian Power Park
Come out and enjoy America’s favorite pastime, baseball, with the West Virginia Power. The Charleston Dirty Birds is the local baseball team, also in the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball. Appalachian Power Park is remarkable and hosts many fun and charity events. The food is tasty, admission affordable, and there are plenty of fun offerings for kids.
20. Drive Through Oglebay Park’s Winter Festival of Lights
One of the top-rated Christmas light displays in America has been going strong in Wheeling since 1985. This six-mile drive features 300-acres of lights and displays. AOL Travel voted Oglebay’s Winter Festival of Lights as one of the “10 Best Christmas Light Displays” in the country. Don’t miss seeing Santa or stopping for cookies and hot chocolate at the end.
Fun Fact: In the warm months, Oglebay’s stables have a variety of horseback riding camps for all ages and abilities.
21. Walk the Grounds of the West Virginia State Capitol
West Virginia has the most beautiful State Capitol of them all, but I may be biased. The state capitol’s intricate architecture is overshadowed by its 293 ft. sparkling gold dome, while the gorgeous interiors are made of imported marble. The State Capitol grounds lie across the street from the Kanawha River, a beautiful setting. Walking the complex in springtime affords you spectacular photo-ops of the cherry blossoms, redbuds and tulips. Be sure to bring some nuts for the squirrels, who will often eat out of your hand.
I was blessed to call wild and wonderful West Virginia home for 44 years. Although this is not everything the state offers, these 21 family-friendly activities will help you see just how great the state is. Just as the lyrics of John Denver’s famous “Country Roads” song go, West Virginia is “Almost Heaven.”
For more information about the WV, be sure to stop at one of the Visitor Centers you will pass on your way into the state.
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