West Virginia: Majestic peaks, surreal caverns and a high-society hangout

Visiting the United States? There are 50 states in all.

West Virginia, a southern state in the Appalachian Mountains, is known for its scenery and folk heritage.

Appalachian folk-music traditions include fiddling, ballad singing and other styles derived from Scots-Irish music, celebrated each year at string-band festivals throughout the state.

Hand-blown glass is produced at the Blenko Glass Company, in Milton, and at Appalachian Glass, in Weston. Both facilities offer tours of their studios and on-site shops. Other handcrafted products — pottery, carvings, textiles and more — can be found at Tamarack, billed as “West Virginia’s artisan retail center.”

Love the outdoors? Mountainous West Virginia has skiing, cycling, horseback riding, fishing, golfing and whitewater rafting.

Charleston is the state capital and largest city. Nearby, in Loudendale, Kanawha State Forest offers camping sites, trails, picnic areas and swimming.

U.S. map with West Virginia highlighted (State Dept.)
(State Dept.)

Nature and history, combined

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park includes the town of Harpers Ferry, the site of abolitionist John Brown’s raid on a U.S. arsenal — an event that helped spark the U.S. Civil War (1861–1865). The area features 19th-century buildings and battlefields, where you can observe artillery crews firing Civil War cannons to thunderous effect. Plus, walking trails provide stunning views of the surrounding countryside.

Glowing orange sunset over forested mountains and bridge leading to historic town surrounded by water (Shutterstock)
At Harpers Ferry, visitors can wander historic streets and learn how people lived during the mid-1800s. (Shutterstock)

Luxurious lodgings

The Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs has hosted U.S. presidents and other dignitaries for some 200 years — and it even has a bunker from the 1950s, intended to house the U.S. Congress in the event of nuclear attack. Guests can tour the now-declassified bunker, enjoy spa treatments and stroll to the North Parlor to admire a portrait of Princess Grace of Monaco (who once stayed here).

Grand white building with tall pillars and manicured garden (Bobak Ha'Eri/Creative Commons)
The Greenbrier has welcomed luminaries, including the duke and duchess of Windsor. (Bobak Ha’Eri/Creative Commons)

All aboard!

Journey through vast wilderness areas, including Bald Knob (the third-highest point in West Virginia), when you hop onto a steam-driven vintage train at Cass Scenic Railroad State Park.

Steam-engine train rounding bend on mountain with blue skies and clouds overhead (© National Geographic Creative/Alamy Stock Photo)
An engine rounds a bend at Cass Scenic Railroad State Park. (© National Geographic Creative/Alamy Stock Photo)

Below the surface

Seneca Caverns, formed hundreds of millions of years ago, offer a surreal underground landscape of stalactites, stalagmites and other rock formations. Well-lit pathways and handrails help visitors explore.

Winding passages through brightly lit cave (ForestWander/Creative Commons)
Winding passages lead from one enigmatic cave to another at Seneca Caverns. (ForestWander/Creative Commons)

Almost heaven

Blackwater Falls State Park, one of the state’s most popular attractions, is ideal for boating, fishing and swimming. The falls themselves are accessible by walking trails.

Waterfall over dark rocks, with trees all around (Blake Everett/Creative Commons)
Cascades at Blackwater Falls State Park, as seen from a viewing platform. (Blake Everett/Creative Commons)

Learn more about West Virginia and the other 49 states. If you need a visa to visit, here’s how to get one.