Here’s How to Choose Your Fall Adventure in West Virginia2022-09-01
This article was published in partnership with West Virginia Tourism
With its sprawling natural wonders, endless outdoor pursuits, rich Appalachian heritage, and charming mountain towns, it’s no wonder West Virginia is known as Almost Heaven. This dynamic destination lures visitors from all walks of life throughout the year. But as autumn starts making its approach, the majestic Mountain State really kicks things into high gear.
There’s no denying the magic of the season once the annual fall foliage commences in September. Towering red oaks, sugar maples, and sycamore trees paint West Virginia’s vast landscapes every autumnal shade under the sun. After all, it’s the third-most forested state in the nation. Endless hiking, biking, and ATV trails burst to life in explosions of color as celebratory fall festivals begin cropping up in every corner of the state. And visitors from near and far can’t resist the warm hospitality of West Virginia’s cozy cabins and historic hotels.
No matter what type of autumnal getaway you’re craving, West Virginia delivers. There’s truly something for every type of traveler to experience in Almost Heaven. To help you plan an unforgettable escape, we’ve compiled some itinerary inspiration across the state based on various interests. Read on to discover what your ideal visit could look like. For even more ideas, download West Virginia’s free digital vacation guide or get a complimentary copy shipped to your door.
For the Family Man
Plan a Road Trip
West Virginia becomes a foliage fanatic’s paradise in the fall, fit for the whole family. The crisp autumn air ushers in a hypnotic display with waves of crimson, copper, and burnt umber washing over West Virginia’s dramatic topography. And considering it’s located within one day’s drive from two thirds of the country, it’s the perfect fall family road trip destination. Don’t miss your chance to witness the Mountain State in all its glory. There’s no shortage of epic drives to pick from—but timing will determine which route will put on the best show.
Late September to Early October: Head to the Potomac Highlands along U.S. Route 48. Cruise through the regal Allegheny Mountains on winding, timber-flanked roads. The little ones will love the cozy mountain towns scattered along U.S. Route 219. Some noteworthy pit stops boasting picture-perfect scenery include Canaan Valley Resort State Park, Blackwater Falls State Park, and the Monongahela National Forest.
Mid-October: Make your way to Mountaineer Country for a mesmerizing show. Spend some time exploring Coopers Rock State Forest, which blazes brightly throughout mid-October. Pro tip: The main overlook features some of the best leaf peeping in the state and makes for a once-in-a-lifetime family photo op. Then, follow the forested backroads of U.S. Route 119 to popular destinations like Prickett’s Fort State Park, Valley Falls State Park, and Tygart Lake State Park for even more jaw-dropping views.
Late October: As October comes to a close, cruise along West Virginia Route 45 and West Virginia Route 9. These picturesque drives are easily accessible from hubs like Washington, D.C. and Baltimore. Soak in the fall foliage at iconic stops like Harpers Ferry National Historic Park and Shepherdstown, the oldest town in the state.
Take a Scenic Train Ride
It seems the train travel trend is full steam ahead, and West Virginia boasts an impressive range of rail routes the whole family will appreciate. Climb aboard the Potomac Eagle Scenic Railroad to snake through imposing canyons, bordered by sepia-toned forests and craggy bluffs. Keep your eyes peeled—American bald eagle sightings are almost guaranteed. At Cass Scenic Railroad State Park, passengers can take a 4.5-hour round-trip excursion up Cheat Mountain from the comfort of an antique Shay locomotive. The overlook sits at a staggering 4,842 feet above sea level, serving up unobstructed panoramas of the changing leaves. And the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad offers several routes for tourists to choose from, including dinner trains and themed rides throughout the year. Try booking a rail adventure on the vintage New Tygart Flyer. The 46-mile route kicks off in Elkins (often ranked one of America’s best small art towns) and winds its way through rugged highlands, mountain grades, and the rushing waters of Shavers Fork river.
Find a Fall Festival
Autumn marks the start of countless fall festivals and celebratory events throughout the Mountain State. Venture to Putnam County to experience Gritt’s Fun Farm. From September 17 to October 30, kids can hit the pumpkin patch, enjoy hayrides, and navigate the farm’s corn maze. Another family favorite is the West Virginia Pumpkin Festival, held October 6 through October 9 in Milton. The fairgrounds transform into an autumnal utopia, complete with larger-than-life pumpkins, live music, and seasonal treats. For something more extreme, don’t miss National Trailfest from October 6 to October 10. ATV and dirt bike enthusiasts flock to the town of Gilbert to tear it up on the legendary Hatfield-McCoy Trail System. The event is chock-full of festive tomfoolery, including races, mud pits, casino nights, and grand prizes just waiting to be claimed.
Where to Stay: In terms of lodging, West Virginia is teeming with options to fit any family’s style and budget. Parents and kids alike will fall for Snowshoe Mountain Resort. The property boasts jaw-dropping overlooks of the Allegheny Mountains and encompasses a range of relaxing accommodations, including hotels, lodges, inns, vacation rentals, lodging and more. Families looking for a snug cabin escape are also in luck. There are tons of options hidden all over the state. Choose from luxurious outposts, like Country Roads Cabins, to more rustic sanctuaries, like the secluded Germany Valley Overlook Cabins in Seneca Rocks. And what child wouldn’t jump at the chance to sleep in a treehouse? The custom-built Holly Rock Treehouse measures 24 feet in diameter and features a canopy bridge and wraparound observation deck that’s perfect for stargazing.
For the Outdoor Explorer
Do Go Chasing Waterfalls
Seek out the state’s collection of over 200 cascading waterfalls. In fact, the newly minted West Virginia Waterfall Trail is an easy way to get started. Visitors can sign up to receive this free digital passport directly to their smartphones, which features more than two dozen waterfalls dispersed throughout the state. Check in at the designated sites to win prizes along the way—the more you visit, the cooler the reward. Stops on the trail include Blackwater Falls State Park in Davis, Kanawha Falls at the junction of the New and Gauley Rivers, and the postcard-perfect autumnal setting of Glade Creek Grist Mill Falls.
Hunt Your Heart Out
Wild and wonderful, West Virginia has long drawn skilled huntsmen. The combination of untamed wilderness and challenging game has made hunting a respected pastime in the region. Whitetail deer, red stag, wild boar, turkey, rabbit, waterfowl, and other small game can be hunted throughout the state. Explore more than 31,000 acres of public land, located mainly in the west-central region of the state. While hunting in state parks is off-limits, state forests like Cabwaylingo State Forest, Coopers Rock State Forest, and Panther State Forest are fair game. Other popular spots include privately owned Mountain Meadow Hunting Preserve in Greenville, Land Baron Outfitters in Palestine, and Wilderness Ridge Farm located in Southside. Just make sure to brush up on current hunting dates, regulations, and licensing requirements before planning your retreat. And if fishing is more your style, you can find more than 20,000 miles of sparkling mountain streams and over 100 tranquil lakes to cast a line and reel in the memories.
Explore New River Gorge National Park and Preserve
Adventure is ingrained in West Virginia’s DNA. Your next outdoor pursuit is always on the horizon, thanks to the state’s 1.5 million acres of parks and public lands. But the most buzzworthy is the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. Truly breathtaking in the fall, the country’s newest national park is an adventurer’s dream destination. Rock climbing, biking, hiking, kayaking, whitewater rafting—there are countless ways to get your blood pumping.
Don’t miss West Virginia’s famed Gauley Season, which kicks off the Friday after Labor Day and lasts until the third week of October. The scheduled water release of the Summersville Dam brings the Gauley River roaring to life, creating more than 26 miles of top-notch whitewater rafting, with rapids ranging from class III to V. Bridge Day is another time-honored tradition that can’t be missed. Held on the third Saturday of October, the iconic New River Gorge Bridge becomes a magnet, luring BASE jumpers from all over the world. The annual event draws thousands of onlookers as these daredevils jump from the bridge, plummeting 876 feet into the expansive canyon below. And if spectator sports aren’t your thing, there are plenty more stunning state parks with endless outdoor recreation activities.
Where to Stay: ACE Adventure Resort is a playground for thrill-seekers of any age. Just a stone’s throw from New River Gorge National Park, the retreat is surrounded by 1,500 forested acres. Here, guests can spend their days ziplining, fly-fishing, whitewater rafting, cycling, hiking, rock climbing, and more. Intrepid travelers also flock to the neighboring Adventures on the Gorge Resort. Perched above the national park with spectacular views of the New River Gorge Bridge, this 350-acre basecamp offers world-class whitewater rafting experiences, plus even more land, water, and aerial adventures like wild cave tours, rappelling, kayaking, and zooming along one of America’s longest ziplines. Arrowhead Bike Farm is another nearby gem with well-kept campsites, a full-service bike shop, and a fleet of Trek and Pivot mountain bikes available to rent. Take advantage of their nearby trails and biergarten stocked with craft brews. Hoping for a more rustic getaway? Book one of the Tentrr campsites, tucked away in the heart of West Virginia’s finest wilderness areas, like Hawks Nest State Park. Each site comes with thoughtful amenities, like memory foam mattresses, propane heaters, and fire pits begging for some s’mores action.
For the History Buff
Tour a Historic Town
Almost Heaven is jam-packed with historic hidden gems and enchanting towns committed to preserving the past. Get a glimpse into bygone eras by visiting downright charming corners of the state, like Harpers Ferry. This small 19th-century town is recognized as a National Historic District and its quaint architecture alludes to its past as an important transportation hub in the 1800s. Learn more by visiting the town’s museums or joining a guided tour. At one time, the exclusive town of Bramwell was home to the most millionaires per capita in the nation. Nestled on a peninsula of the Bluestone National Scenic River, Bramwell was a former hot spot for coal barons and other members of society’s upper crust. Marvel at the preserved Victorian- and Tudor-style mansions during a walking tour while hearing tales about the once bustling coal industry. You can even drop by the Bramwell depot, a replica of the original railroad station that served the region. Parkersburg is another historic pocket worth checking out. Its rich heritage is on display in Julia-Anne Square and at several area museums. Then hop on a 19th century-style sternwheeler to Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park where you can explore a Palladian mansion and museum.
Follow the Coal Heritage Trail
Visitors can learn about fascinating legacy of the area through the Coal Heritage Trail. This unique driving trail winds through the formidable Appalachian Mountains, covering 187 miles across 13 counties. Along the way, you’ll follow rushing rivers, traverse immense valleys, and discover the charming mountain towns that defined the region. The trail starts on U.S. Route 52 in Bluefield and takes approximately five hours to complete—but build in extra time to pull over and discover attractions like the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine.
Explore Historic Landmarks
There are hundreds of historic landmarks sprinkled throughout West Virginia, each commemorating a different aspect of the region’s deep-rooted past. For example, did you know West Virginia was the only state to be born out of the Civil War? Originally part of Virginia’s Old Dominion, it was granted statehood after seceding from the Confederacy. The Wheeling National Heritage Area is home West Virginia Independence Hall, considered the birthplace of the state. Drop in to get a free tour of this remarkably restored National Historic Landmark. The 16-acre West Virginia State Capitol Complex in Charleston is another captivating point of interest. The 14-karat-gold-leaf-gilded dome of the West Virginia Capitol building soars 292 feet (nearly four and a half feet taller than the U.S. Capitol building). Then, peruse the nearby West Virginia State Museum, a 24,000-square-foot center combining history, culture, art, paleontology, geology, and more. You can also spend a few days tracing the Civil War Trails, a national network encompassing more than 300 significant sites.
Where to Stay: The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs is arguably one of the nation’s most legendary hotels. Known as “America’s Resort,” the grandiose property has welcomed presidents, royals, and countless celebrities since opening its doors in 1778. But one quirky amenity that history buffs will appreciate is the secret bunker. This supersized subterranean fallout shelter was constructed during the Cold War; it’s massive enough to house all 535 members of Congress in the Eisenhower era. Want to stay on George Washington’s old stomping grounds? Book a room at the Hillbrook Inn and Spa, located in historic Charles Town. The inn was constructed in the 1920s on Washington’s first land purchase. You can even take a dip in his bathtub, tucked away in Berkeley Springs State Park. If a visit to Harpers Ferry is on your list, plan to stay at the historic Light Horse Inn. Built in the 1770s, this former private home now offers seven spacious suites that combine epic mountain views with good old-fashioned Americana charm.
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