18 Essential West Virginia Bucket List Activities & Food

Updated

According to the John Denver song, West Virginia is "almost Heaven." With this high praise, we should all add the state to our travel bucket list. 

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For those of you new to the term, a bucket list item is someplace you wish to visit or some accomplishment that you want to complete before you "kick the bucket." 

We have looked through travel websites to find the most popular tourist destinations within West Virginia. 

West Virginia Bucket List Trip Destinations

Most of the popular attractions in West Virginia are natural locations. Consider this beautiful state if you are looking for a travel destination that allows you to unplug and relax.

Here are the top West Virginia bucket list destinations – starting with a brand new National Park!

1. Visit New River Gorge National Park and Preserve 

In December 2020, the New River Gorge National River was designated a National Park and Preserve. It is the only National Park in the state. However, there are several other nationally designated areas. 

The National Park is located 40 miles southeast of the state's capital and offers world-class whitewater rafting, kayaking, and canoeing. Be aware that not all rafting levels are appropriate for every adventure seeker. Only experienced rafters are recommended to enjoy the Class V rapids on the Lower Gorge River.

Besides navigating the river's waters, New River Gorge National Park also offers sandstone cliffs that are extremely popular for rock climbers. There are more than 1,600 climbing routes in the park – most rated 5.9 and higher. 

Hiking and primitive camping are also features of this National Park. 

2. Learn about West Virginia's important industry by touring the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine

While adding a coal mine to a travel bucket list may seem odd, the industry has been an essential part of the West Virginia economy for decades. To get a feel for the state, consider learning how many West Virginia inhabitants made a living by visiting this educational venue. 

Located near Beckley, West Virginia, this mine opened in 1889 as a drift mine. The first coal was shipped from this location in 1906 and was in operation until 1953. 

This exhibition mine opened almost 10 years after mining stopped. It is the first historic site dedicated to educating the public about coal mining. The mine consists of 1,500 feet of passageways with 3,000 feet of vintage track. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988 and offers daily tours that allow visitors to learn about the industry and history of Appalachia. 

3. Relax at The Greenbrier’s spa

West Virginia isn't all about white water rafting and coal mining. If you are looking for more luxurious accommodations, consider The Greenbrier. The Greenbrier is a resort located in the Allegheny Mountains near White Sulphur Springs. The area has a long history – going back to the late 1770s. Currently, The Greenbrier offers 710 rooms, including 33 suites and 96 guest and estate homes. 

Besides offering spectacular views, The Greenbrier offers a championship golf course, fine dining, designer boutiques, a mineral spa, and a gaming and entertainment venue.

Outdoor Activity, Hike, and Adventure Bucket List Ideas for West Virginia

Are you ready to embrace nature on your visit to West Virginia? Here are some outdoor activities to enjoy.

4. Take a pic at Blackwater Falls State Park

You'll find images of Blackwater Falls, located in the Allegheny Mountains, on almost every West Virginia travel website and calendar. The 62-foot falls are beautiful.

The park offers outdoor recreation all year round. The accommodations range from primitive camping to lodges – making it an excellent place for a family reunion.

5. Rev up your ATV on the Hatfield-McCoy Trails

The Hatfields and the McCoys were two families made famous for their feuds after the Civil War. What better way to describe this backwood trail system than to name it after two of the most famous backwoods families?

The Hatfield-McCoy Trails feature over 1,000 miles of twisty trails. It's a perfect playground for off-roaders. 

6. Ride a steam train at the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park

Are you a railroad enthusiast? If so, the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park near Cass, West Virginia, needs to be added to your bucket list. The park features an 11-mile railway and authentic logging company town. 

Visitors are encouraged to take the train ride to the Bald Knob overlook, the third-highest point in West Virginia, but the state park also offers hiking, fishing, and geocaching.

Spring and Summer West Virginia Bucket List Ideas

Of course, we have already listed many perfect spring and summer activities on our West Virginia bucket list. However, here are a few more experiences to partake in during moderate weather conditions. 

7. Relax in the Monongahela National Forest

This National Forest preserve protects over 921,000 acres of the Potomac Highlands Region. The Monongahela National Forest includes approximately 75 tree species, including red spruce, balsam fir, and mountain ash. 

8. Visit the unique Cranberry Glades Botanical Area

You know that part of the Appalachian Mountains stretches across West Virginia, but did you know that the state also contained acidic wetlands called bogs? Bogs are more commonly found in the northern sections of the U.S. and Canada, but these unique conditions also appear in West Virginia.

Experience this spongy plant material known as peat by visiting the Cranberry Glades Botanical Area. 

9. Go boating in Summersville Lake

Just because West Virginia doesn't have a coastline doesn't mean that you can't enjoy water sports when traveling in the state. Summersville Lake was formed by a rock-fill dam on the Gauley River. It is the largest lake in West Virginia and provides hydroelectric power and recreation opportunities.

The lake is used for fishing, boating, snorkeling, and scuba diving. In fact, a small boat was sunk to give divers something to view while underwater. 

Fall and Winter West Virginia Bucket List Ideas

West Virginia turns into a winter wonderland each season. Whether you are into skiing, snowshoeing, or peeking out of a cabin window, you won't be disappointed with the views. 

10. Hit the slopes

There are several ski resorts in West Virginia. Do some research to find the one that best suits your lifestyle and ability level. No matter which resort you choose, you are sure to enjoy the breathtaking scenery as you cruise down the mountains or look out the window of your cabin.

11. Take a tour of a gothic-style penitentiary

The West Virginia Penitentiary is a beautiful gothic-style building that looks more like a castle than a prison. It is located in Moundsville and was in operation from 1876 to 1995. 

Tours are available of this unique facility. Not surprisingly, ghosts and the paranormal are themes for many of these tours. Besides being a place of violence, some legends claim the prison was built at the site of a Native American burial ground. 

12. Visit Harpers Ferry National Historic Site

Considered one of the most important historic sites in the state, Harpers Ferry is where John Brown's abolitionist uprising occurred. Brown believed he was an instrument of God who was sent to earth to end the institution of slavery – by any means necessary. His raid was unsuccessful. Eventually, Brown was executed in West Virginia for murder, slave insurrection, and treason against the state. 

Bucket List Foods and Restaurants in West Virginia

Of course, you'll need to eat during your trip to West Virginia. So while you are there, you might want to try these well-known restaurants. 

13. Hillbilly Hot Dogs

We love the name of this West Virginia restaurant that was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives. If you are visiting with your family, consider trying the 10-pound hot dog. 

Apparently, the atmosphere of Hillbilly Hot Dogs is "rustic," but you may not care after partaking in their cheese fries or fried cauliflower. 

14. Central City Cafe

Located in Huntington, the Central City Cafe was also featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. Offering comfort food in a laid-back setting, Central City Cafe is known for meatloaf, cornbread, and apple pie. 

15. Attend a West Virginia food festival

Food festivals have become popular attractions across the U.S., and West Virginia is no exception. The state has festivals celebrating pepperoni rolls, maple syrup, black walnuts, strawberries, honey, buckwheat pancakes, apple butter, and "road kill." 

What would you add to the West Virginia food bucket list

Charleston, West Virginia Bucket List Ideas

Perhaps you are narrowing your focus to Charleston as you consider visiting West Virginia. Here are some places to visit in the state capital.

16. Buy flowers and produce at Capitol Market

Charleston's Capitol Market is located in a train station and features an indoor-outdoor marketplace open all year round. Grab a coffee and people watch or buy produce to snack on during your adventures in West Virginia.

17. Learn more about the state's history by going to the West Virginia State Museum

You'll not only learn about the state's history, but you will also learn about West Virginia culture, art, paleontology, archeology, and geology.

18. Visit the Criel Mound

Criel Mound is a Native American burial mound located in South Charleston. It is one of the few surviving of the Kanawha Valley Mounds that were probably built around 250–150 BC. This archeological site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Visitors describe it as a nice, quiet place for reflection and beautiful views. Take time to read the information regarding the history of the area. 

Enjoy Your Time in West Virginia!

We hope that we have given you a few ideas of places to visit when in West Virginia. Let us know whether you agree with John Denver's famous description of the state.

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