12 Must-See West Virginia State Parks: What the Locals Love

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West Virginia State Parks - Blackwater Falls State Park

Known appropriately as the Mountain State, West Virginia evokes images of serene natural settings and picturesque rolling hills.

As a lifelong resident of the state, I can tell you it lives up to its moniker. And its beauty is matched by the friendliness of its people.

Some of the best places to experience West Virginia’s beauty, hospitality and heritage are in its 2 national forests, 6 state forests, 34 state parks and 6 national parks, including the nation’s newest, the New River Gorge.

But, whew… that’s a lot of ground to cover.

Never fear, fellow travel warriors. I’ve found 12 of the best West Virginia state parks to get you started. Because no matter what mountain getaway you’re looking for, there’s sure to be a WV state park to cure your wanderlust.

West Virginia State Parks -  Whitewater Rafting
World class whitewater rafting is located near Hawks Nest State Park. Photo credit: Candi Hurst

Hawks Nest State Park

Turns out that West Virginia is not only full of beautiful state parks. It’s also home to the newest national park, New River Gorge National Park. And the best place to get a bird’s eye view of the New River Gorge in that park is from, you guessed it, Hawks Nest State Park.

Hawks Nest sits atop Gauley Mountain in Ansted, West Virginia.

It’s in the heart of some of the best whitewater rafting regions in the country. Hiking trails, a 270-acre recreational area, and a jet boating outfitter all offer guests plenty of other things to do as well.

Hawks Nest’s  ocation provides easy access to other parks to check out. The aforementioned New River Gorge National Park of course deserves a look. So does Carnifex Ferry Battlefield State Park and Babcock State Park. Carnifex Ferry is part of the Civil War Discovery Trail, which links 16 sites that were instrumental during the war. And Babcock State Park features a fully functional (and totally Instagrammable) replica of a mill.

West Virginia State Parks - Blackwater Falls State Park
An easy hike takes visitors to the centerpiece of Blackwater Falls State Park. Photo credit: Candi Hurst

Blackwater Falls State Park

A visit to Blackwater Falls in Tucker County allows visitors to glimpse some of the most photographed nature in West Virginia.

Cascading waterfalls dot the park. The star of the show is the one for which the park is named.

The walk to the main waterfall is only about 10 minutes. But about 20 miles of hiking trails are located throughout for longer hikes.

The park also has a restaurant, boating and fishing opportunities, a lodge, cabins, and campground sites.

Blackwater Falls can be enjoyed year-round. For winter fun, the park is home to the longest sledding magic carpet ride on the East Coast. The quarter-mile run makes for a perfect family adventure day.

For more winter activities, Canaan Valley Resort is located just 7 miles away. It’s one of 4 ski resorts in the state.

West Virginia State Parks - Biking the Rail Trail near Cass Scenic Railroad State Park
Biking the Rail Trail near Cass Scenic Railroad State Park is a fun family activity. Photo credit: Candi Hurst

Cass Scenic Railroad State Park

While nature certainly takes center stage in WV state parks, it’s not the only game in town.

The state is also packed full of history. And Cass Scenic Railroad State Park is a great place to explore it.

Located in the town of Cass, the area was first established in 1901 as a logging town. Today, visitors can see what it was like to live there at the turn of the century. Accommodations include company houses for rent, and a company store and soda shop are on-site. A museum and theater showcase the history of the park.

Visitors can also take a 4-and-a-half-hour train ride to Bald Knob or a 2-hour train ride to Whittaker Station.  And as the endpoint for Greenbrier River Trail, the park is a great place to hike, bike, or horseback ride on a portion of the rail trail.

West Virginia State Parks - Hiking in West Virginia State Parks.
Hiking in West Virginia State Parks. Photo credit: Candi Hurst

Watoga State Park

Watoga State Park’s claim to fame is its sheer size. The largest of all WV State Parks, it encompasses over 10,000 acres in Pocahontas County.  And it sits super close to Beartown State Park, Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park, and Calvin Price National Forest. So, the total footprint of all combined is massive.

Watoga is a great place to fish, hike, bike, enjoy the recreational facilities, and explore the outdoors. And an observation tower provides a good way to see the park’s natural beauty.

This park is also the oldest park in WV’s state park system. Yet, it received a new accolade in 2021. The park was awarded Dark Sky Park status. That means artificial light sources are restricted. Overnight visitors are often treated to exceptionally starry nights, which also helps promote the scientific exploration of astronomy.

West Virginia State Parks - Ziplining at Pipestem Resort State Park
Ziplining is offered at Pipestem Resort State Park. Photo credit: Candi Hurst

Pipestem Resort State Park

This sprawling park, which encompasses over 4,000 acres, is one of the most unique in the state.

Yes, it features great opportunities for hiking, biking, and fishing like other parks in the state. But, what makes it so special is that one lodge here is only accessible by a 3,000-foot aerial tram. Open May through October, the resort’s 30 rooms feature a view of the Bluestone River.

If you prefer a more traditional way to get to your state park lodging, there’s also a 111 room resort that offers guests rooms and suites. Camping sites and cabins are available as well. And several restaurant options make sure no visitor goes hungry.

Guests of Pipestem Resort State Park can also enjoy golf, horseback riding, ziplining, and snow sports. Multiple water activities, including those found at the park’s splash park, are available too.

Pipestem Park is located in a town of the same name, in southern West Virginia, between Beckley and Bluefield. While in the area be sure to also explore Bluestone State Park, located 20 minutes away, and Little Beaver State Park, located about 45 minutes away.  

West Virginia State Parks - The mansion at Blennerhassett Island
The mansion at Blennerhassett Island. Photo credit: Candi Hurst

Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park

You’ll find West Virginia’s tie to the Hamilton craze tucked on a small island that sits along the Ohio River.  Hamilton died at the hands of the man who made this place infamous in a strange twist of history.

After the duel between Aaron Burr and Hamilton, Burr retreated to Blennerhassett. He and the owners of the estate conspired to form a new nation.

The original home was destroyed. But, visitors can now tour a reconstructed version of the Palladian mansion that once stood on the grounds. The luxury mansion has been compared to Mount Vernon and said to have been one of the most beautiful homes west of the Alleghenies.

The site is accessible by a 20-minute sternwheeler ride that leaves from Parkersburg.

Guests should allow time to walk or bike the expansive grounds and visit the museum. Horse-drawn carriage rides are also a favorite activity here.

While in the area be sure to check out North Bend State Park. The park gives visitors a taste of the nature found in the mid-Ohio valley area of the state.

West Virginia State Parks - Rock formations in WV State Park
Rock formations in WV State Park. Photo credit: Candi Hurst

Beartown State Park

Another unique WV State Park is Beartown. Rock formations create dramatic landscapes that look almost otherworldly.

Visitors can get up close to the geologic wonders relatively easily. Two walkways have been designed to create a loop around the most visited part of the 110-acre park.

Special care has been taken to protect the flowers, plants, and trees. A raised boardwalk provides space so hikers can explore without leaving a trace.

Development has been minimal otherwise by design. The simplicity of the park allows nature to take center stage.

This park is located in the eastern summit of Droop Mountain in Greenbrier County. We love the location because it’s also just 45 minutes from The Greenbrier Resort, another must-see West Virginia spot.

Cacapon Resort State Park

Cacapon Resort State Park boasts the newest lodge in the WV state park system. Although the resort dates back to the 1920s, the new 120-room lodge opened in 2021.

The 6,000-acre park offers a ton to do. Things like an 18-hole golf course, horseback riding, sporting clays, a lit walking trail, hiking paths, and tennis and game courts keep guests busy on land. A lakeside beach with swimming, boats, canoes, kayaks, paddleboards, and fishing provides plenty to do on the water.

The park has two restaurants, a conference center, and a separate 12-room inn.

Cacapon Resort State Park is located in the town next to Berkeley Springs. While in the area, visitors can check out what many regard as the country’s first spa.

West Virginia State Parks - Idyllic streams in WV State Parks
Idyllic streams provide beautiful backdrops in WV State Parks. Photo credit: Candi Hurst

Lost River State Park

For a view of five counties from one outlook, visit Lost River State Park. It’s located in Hardy County in the eastern panhandle. The site is where an important battle was fought during the French and Indian War in 1757.

The approximately 4,000 square foot is a serene setting where guests can fish, hike, bike, or horseback ride. Sports courts and a swimming pool are located on the grounds as well.

This park is one of a few in the state that feature Tentrr tents. The safari-style tents take just a bit of “rough” out of roughing it. They provide a platform, adirondack chairs, a queen size bed, a fire pit, and a separate pop-up tent. Campers bring their own bedding.

West Virginia State Parks - Cabins at 20 parks around the state
Cabins of various sizes and layouts are available at 20 parks around the state. Photo credit: Candi Hurst

Holly River State Park

Holly River State Park is the second largest park in West Virginia’s state park system, boasting over 8,000 acres within its borders.

The park has an interesting history that dates back to the 1930s. At that time a governmental agency developed the Kanawha Head Project to move families from marginal farmland.  The park was later established and developed into what it is today.

Winding country roads bring visitors to the serene and rural location. Many parts of the park are truly a “get away from it all” experience. A vast array of flora makes it a beautiful park.

Other parts encompass a swimming pool, softball, and baseball fields, as well as courts for basketball, tennis, and other sports. Seasonal activities are planned such as outdoor movie nights, hayrides, and guided nature hikes. Hiking, biking, horseback riding, and fishing are other popular activities.

Cabins, camping sites, and the Holly River State Park Restaurant are open during the summer for visitors as well.

West Virginia State Parks - Beech Fork kayaks, rowboats, and canoes for rent
Beech Fork has kayaks, rowboats, and canoes for rent Memorial Day through Labor Day. Photo credit: Candi Hurst

Beech Fork State Park

Beech Fork makes our list because it’s one of the closest parks to the capital city of Charleston, located about an hour away. So it makes a good day trip from the capital. Situated in Barboursville, it’s also the closest state park to West Virginia’s second-largest college, Marshall University.

The park has over 275 campsites located in four areas. Almost 100 of the sites are on the lake that is the centerpiece of the park.

The 270-acre lake provides some great fishing and boating opportunities, as well as mountain biking and hiking trails. There are also 6 cabins and an on-site convenience store.

West Virginia State Parks - Pricketts Fort Structures
Structures like these can be toured at Pricketts Fort. Photo credit: Candi Hurst

Pricketts Fort State Park

History comes alive at this day-use state park located five miles from Fairmont. The land is the site where early settlers lived in 1776 and beyond.

Today, interpreters demonstrate late 18th-century trades in recreated buildings set amongst a fort.  Spinners, weavers, blacksmiths, and others can be found showing visitors what it was like to live during the colonial era. And a gun shop houses period firearms.

The 1859 house of Job Prickett, Captain Jacob Prickett’s grandson, is located close to the fort. It showcases how developments in building and furniture manufacturing changed in the eight decades between the construction of both sites.

It’s not only history that makes this park a fun family day though. Guests of the park can also utilize the boat launch at Prickett’s Creek and Bay to boat the Monongahela River. They can explore nature trails, rent bikes, fish, or picnic as well.

Valley Falls State Park and Tygart Lake State Park are within 40 minutes to the south and Coopers Rock State Forest is 30 minutes northeast. So those wanting to camp or explore more of West Virginia’s nature have plenty to do nearby.

I believe travel is one of life’s great educators. I use it to inspire my kids and myself to learn. In between shuffling kids to sports’ practices and homeschooling 2 of my children, I love to get away on family trips, couple’s retreats, and girls’ getaways. With 2 boys and 2 girls and 10 years between my oldest and youngest child, I know traveling can also be challenging. It requires a great plan. So, once the house is quiet, you’ll often find me with iPad in lap, researching my family’s next great adventure. I’ve found some travel gems, made lots of memories, and had my share of travel flops. I believe knowledge isn’t to be owned, but rather to be shared. So sharing what I’ve learned makes me (almost) as happy as getting the window seat on a plane. What really makes me happiest is writing about how we can use travel to make the world better than we found it. (What can I say? You can take the girl out of social work but you can’t take the social worker out of the girl.) You’ll also find a huge smile on my face when I’m writing about my first love (Disney), my newest love (traveling with teens), or my never ending love (practically anyplace I haven’t been before).
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