West Virginia, aptly known as the “Mountain State,” is home to some of the most stunning landscapes in the United States.
It’s a haven for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts, offering a diverse range of recreational opportunities from hiking and mountain biking to fishing and wildlife watching.
In this article, we will journey through the 10 best National Parks in West Virginia, each one boasting its unique charm and beauty.
Also, I’ll explore the majestic sceneries, rich biodiversity, and fascinating histories that these parks have to offer.
So strap on your hiking boots and get ready to discover the natural wonders of West Virginia.
- 1 10 Best National Parks in West Virginia
- 1.1 1. New River Gorge National Park and Preserve
- 1.2 2. Harpers Ferry National Historical Park
- 1.3 3. Bluestone National Scenic River
- 1.4 4. Monongahela National Forest
- 1.5 5. Gauley River National Recreation Area
- 1.6 6. Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge
- 1.7 7. Appalachian National Scenic Trail
- 1.8 8. Green Bank Observatory
- 1.9 9. Beartown State Park
- 1.10 10. Seneca Rocks State Park
- 2 Things to Consider Before Visiting National Parks in West Virginia
- 3 Conclusion
10 Best National Parks in West Virginia
Here is the brief overview of each park:
|National Park||Location||Key Features||Activities||Best for|
|New River Gorge National Park and Preserve||Fayette, Raleigh, Summers, and Nicholas counties||One of the oldest rivers on the continent||Hiking, fishing, white-water rafting||Adventure seekers|
|Harpers Ferry National Historical Park||Harpers Ferry||Rich Civil War history, scenic beauty||Hiking, historical tours||History buffs, hikers|
|Bluestone National Scenic River||Summers and Mercer counties||Protected free-flowing river||Fishing, bird watching, boating||Nature lovers, anglers|
|Monongahela National Forest||Eastern West Virginia||Diverse plant and animal life, high altitude wetlands||Hiking, camping, wildlife viewing||Outdoor enthusiasts, wildlife lovers|
|Gauley River National Recreation Area||Nicholas and Fayette counties||Known for its thrilling white water rafting||Rafting, kayaking, fishing||Thrill-seekers, water sports enthusiasts|
|Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge||Tucker County||Largest inland wetland area in the United States||Hiking, bird watching, hunting||Bird watchers, hunters|
|Appalachian National Scenic Trail||Stretching across 14 states, including West Virginia||One of the longest continuously marked footpaths in the world||Long distance hiking, backpacking||Long-distance hikers, nature lovers|
|Green Bank Observatory||Green Bank||Home to the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope||Tours, educational programs||Science and space enthusiasts|
|Beartown State Park||Greenbrier County||Noted for its unusual rock formations||Hiking, photography||Geology enthusiasts, photographers|
|Seneca Rocks State Park||Pendleton County||Famous for its large rock formation||Rock climbing, hiking, fishing||Rock climbers, hikers|
1. New River Gorge National Park and Preserve
New River Gorge National Park and Preserve is one of the most awe-inspiring sights in West Virginia.
A natural wonder that spans over 70,000 acres in the southern part of the state, it is home to diverse wildlife, breathtaking scenery, and an array of recreational activities.
Established in December 2020, it became West Virginia’s 63rd National Park, and the latest addition to the list of the best National Parks in the state.
The centerpiece attraction of the park is the New River Gorge, which is one of the oldest rivers in the world, running over a billion years old.
The river cuts through the Appalachian Mountains, offering visitors spectacular scenery of rugged cliffs, stunning waterfalls, and cascading rapids.
The park has over 10 miles of hiking trails, which provide hikers with accesses to some of the most stunning views of the river and the gorge.
Apart from hiking, the park provides visitors with an opportunity to enjoy many other outdoor activities such as rock climbing, birdwatching, fishing, hunting, and even whitewater rafting.
With numerous outfitters available within the park, tourists can safely embark on a thrilling adventure down the river’s rapids, which range from Class I to Class V in difficulty.
The park also offers several historical sites of interest, like the abandoned coal mines and towns that serve as reminders of the region’s bygone industrial era.
Visitors can take a guided tour of the ghost town of Thurmond, or learn about the Civil War history at Camp Brookside.
Lastly, New River Gorge National Park has a rich biodiversity and is home to numerous species of animals, including black bears, bald eagles, and otters.
Fishing enthusiasts will be delighted to know that the river is home to some of the best smallmouth bass, catfish, and muskellunge fisheries in the country.
2. Harpers Ferry National Historical Park
As one of the most popular and revered national parks in West Virginia, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park is a must-visit destination for history buffs and outdoor enthusiasts alike.
Nestled at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, this iconic park offers visitors a unique opportunity to immerse themselves in the rich history of the region while exploring some of the most stunning natural landscapes in the country.
For many, the most compelling attraction at Harpers Ferry is the historic town itself. Founded in 1763, this picturesque community played a significant role in the American Civil War and was the site of John Brown’s famous raid in 1859.
Today, visitors can explore the town’s restored buildings and museums, which offer a fascinating glimpse into the area’s complex history.
But Harpers Ferry is much more than just a historic site. The surrounding landscape is also an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise, with hiking trails, bike paths, and water-based activities available throughout the park.
Hiking is a particularly popular activity, with trails ranging from gentle loops through the scenic river valleys to more challenging routes that take hikers up to stunning vistas overlooking the river.
One of the highlights of Harpers Ferry is the Appalachian Trail, which winds its way through the park en route to its final destination in Maine.
Whether you’re looking for a leisurely stroll or a more challenging hike, the views along the Appalachian Trail are sure to take your breath away.
With its rich history, stunning scenery, and endless opportunities for outdoor recreation, it’s no wonder this park remains one of the most beloved national parks in the state, if not the entire country.
3. Bluestone National Scenic River
When it comes to exploring the great outdoors, there are few places that compare to West Virginia.
The state is home to an impressive array of national parks and natural wonders, each with their own unique beauty and appeal.
Of these incredible destinations, one that simply cannot be missed is the Bluestone National Scenic River.
Located along the southern edge of the state, Bluestone National Scenic River is renowned for its stunning landscapes and breathtaking views.
The park encompasses over 10,000 acres, much of which is comprised of verdant forest, rolling hills, and lush meadows.
However, the real star of the show is undoubtedly the Bluestone River itself.
The river winds its way through the heart of the park, creating a picturesque setting that is perfect for a range of outdoor activities.
Visitors can hike along the riverbanks, fish in its crystal-clear waters, or take a leisurely float down the gentle rapids.
For those who prefer a more tranquil setting, the park also boasts several scenic overlooks where you can take in the stunning vistas in peace and quiet.
But there is more to Bluestone National Scenic River than just its natural beauty.
The park is also home to a number of historic sites, including the old Mann’s Creek Railroad Grade and the Indian Creek Covered Bridge, which offer a glimpse into West Virginia’s rich history and heritage.
4. Monongahela National Forest
Monongahela National Forest is one of the best national parks in West Virginia.
Located in the eastern region of the state, this vast forest spans more than 919,000 acres of land, making it one of the largest national forests in the eastern United States.
This natural wonderland is home to a variety of diverse ecosystems, including lush oak and hickory forests, fertile grasslands, and stunning mountains.
One of the main attractions of Monongahela National Forest is its hiking trails, which offer some of the most scenic views in the state.
Visitors can take a leisurely stroll through the serene forests, or challenge themselves with more strenuous hikes up the mountains.
The park’s trails vary in difficulty, making it accessible to both novice and experienced hikers.
The park is also home to the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area, which is known for its unique landscape and beautiful wildflowers.
The area is perfect for hiking and camping, with plenty of trails and campsites to choose from.
Apart from hiking and camping, Monongahela National Forest offers a range of other outdoor activities, including fishing, hunting, and skiing.
The park is home to several trout streams and rivers, which are ideal for fly-fishing. Visitors can also hunt game such as deer, turkey, and bear in designated hunting areas.
So, if you’re looking for an adventure in the great outdoors, look no further than Monongahela National Forest.
5. Gauley River National Recreation Area
The Gauley River National Recreation Area stands out among the many stunning national parks in West Virginia.
Located in the southeast part of the state, the park attracts thousands of visitors annually who come to experience the thrill of whitewater kayaking and rafting, as well as the serenity of the surrounding forests and mountains.
The Gauley River is a renowned destination for adventure seekers, garnering recognition for being one of the best whitewater rivers in the world, let alone the United States.
The river cuts through 25 miles of forest, mountains, and gorges, offering a diverse set of breathtaking views.
The park is also home to six major rapids and numerous smaller ones. These rapids provide challenging conditions for experienced kayakers and rafters, while also providing opportunities for beginners to learn how to navigate the wild waters.
Beyond the whitewater, the Gauley River National Recreation Area offers an array of activities for visitors to enjoy.
Hiking trails wind through the Appalachian mountains while rock climbers take on the cliffs that flank the river. Anglers cast their lines in the clear waters of the river and campers can pitch a tent under the stars.
But the Gauley River National Recreation Area is more than just outdoor recreation.
The park is also steeped in history, offering visitors a glimpse into the early homesteading days when the first settlers, fueled by the timber and coal industries, made their way into the wilderness.
6. Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge
Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge stands as one of the most captivating and picturesque landscapes in West Virginia.
Comprising over 16,000 acres, the refuge is located within the Allegheny Mountains, featuring an array of stunning natural beauty like no other.
The main attraction of the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge lies within its breathtaking views of the mountains and valleys.
The lush greenery of the tall trees surrounding the valley floor offers an awe-inspiring view that speaks to the grandeur of nature.
What’s more, this refuge is home to a vibrant and diverse ecosystem that is a natural wonder in and of itself.
With its pristine grasslands and peaceful wetland habitats, this refuge plays host to an array of native wildlife, including deer, turkeys, and black bears.
The refuge’s nature trails and boardwalks offer wildlife enthusiasts and hikers a chance to soak in the sights and sounds of the natural world at its purest.
There is simply no better place in West Virginia to witness the majesty of nature than in the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge.
Being a wilderness gem, the refuge offers visitors ample opportunities to engage in outdoor activities such as hiking, fishing, camping, and hunting.
The fall foliage is also a must-see sight for nature lovers, as it adds an extra touch of beauty and adds to the overall experience of visiting this majestic wonderland.
From its stunning mountain vistas and breathtaking views of the valley floor to its vibrant ecosystem and numerous outdoor activities, this refuge offers something for everyone.
It is truly a paradise for nature lovers and one of the best national parks in West Virginia.
7. Appalachian National Scenic Trail
West Virginia is renowned for its scenic beauty and stunning landscapes.
Amongst the bevy of natural treasures that adorn the state, one particular gem that stands out in its glory is the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.
This awe-inspiring trail spans over 2,200 miles, traversing through 14 states, and boasts of some of the most breathtaking views in the country.
The Appalachian National Scenic Trail provides a plethora of opportunities for hikers to explore the natural beauty of the Appalachian Mountains.
The trail meanders through the rugged terrain, and hikers can experience stunning vistas, cascading waterfalls, and verdant forests.
The trail is divided into sections, each with varying levels of difficulty, allowing both seasoned hikers and beginners to explore its magnificence.
Hikers can choose to take a day hike or embark on a multi-day trek, with several shelters and campsites dotting the trail.
One of the most full-of-life sections of the trail is the Harpers Ferry section, which overflows with the town’s rich history.
The trail has something for everyone, from gorge-crossing footbridges to the rolling hills of the Shenandoah Valley, each with its charm and unique appeal.
The Appalachian National Scenic Trail is not only of significant ecological importance, but it also holds immense historical and cultural significance.
The trail is home to many historic sites dating back to the Civil War, such as the John Brown’s Fort, the former fort of abolitionist John Brown, who led one of the most remarkable uprisings against slavery in American history.
8. Green Bank Observatory
As we explore the best national parks in West Virginia, the Green Bank Observatory is undoubtedly one of the top destinations that should not be missed.
Established in 1958, this observatory has been at the forefront of radio astronomy, offering visitors a unique opportunity to learn about the mysteries of the universe.
Located in the heart of the Allegheny Mountains, the Green Bank Observatory is known for its impressive size and remarkable engineering.
With a diameter of 100 meters, the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope is one of the largest and most technologically advanced radio telescopes in the world.
It allows astronomers to observe a wide range of cosmic phenomena, from pulsars and black holes to distant galaxies and stars.
One of the distinctive features of the Green Bank Observatory is its location.
Surrounded by thousands of acres of pristine forest, it is situated in a national radio quiet zone, where no cell phones, radio stations, or Wi-Fi signals are allowed.
This allows the telescope to capture the faintest signals from distant objects with incredible precision and accuracy.
Visitors to the Green Bank Observatory can enjoy a variety of educational programs, tours, and exhibits, including the famous Science Center, which features interactive displays and multimedia presentations about radio astronomy.
The staff of the observatory are highly educated and passionate about sharing their knowledge of the universe with visitors of all ages.
9. Beartown State Park
Nestled in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia lies the beautiful Beartown State Park.
This hidden gem is a must-visit for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts alike, offering a unique combination of stunning scenery, hiking trails, and geological wonders.
The most captivating feature of Beartown State Park is undoubtedly the natural rock formations known as the ‘beehive’ and ‘formation.’
These impressive formations have been sculpted by thousands of years of rain, wind and erosion, giving them a striking appearance that has to be seen to be believed.
For those who enjoy hiking, there are a number of trails that are suitable for all skill levels.
The Rock Garden Trail is a popular choice, offering a gentle walk through the park’s notable rock formations.
For those who are looking for a more challenging hike, the Beartown Ridge Trail is a steep climb that rewards hikers with breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains.
Visitors to Beartown State Park can also enjoy a variety of other activities such as picnicking, camping, and fishing. The park is home to several species of trout, making it a popular destination for anglers.
To preserve the natural beauty of Beartown State Park and its unique geological features, visitors are reminded to stay on designated trails and avoid climbing on the formations.
This will help ensure that future generations can continue to enjoy the awe-inspiring beauty of this remarkable park.
10. Seneca Rocks State Park
Seneca Rocks State Park is one of West Virginia’s most picturesque natural wonders.
The majestic, towering limestone cliffs, reaching over 900 feet, are a popular destination for experienced rock climbers who come from far and wide to tackle the challenging routes.
For those who prefer to keep their feet on the ground, numerous hiking trails provide stunning views of the rocks and the surrounding scenery.
At the very top of Seneca Rocks, you’ll find an observation platform that offers unbeatable views of the rolling mountains and valleys that make up the Monongahela National Forest.
The platform is accessible via a steep, strenuous hike up the mountain, but the reward is well worth the effort.
The park also boasts a visitor’s center, where you can learn about the geology, flora, and fauna of the area.
The visitor’s center offers interpretive exhibits, educational programs, and guided hikes.
Outside the park, the surrounding area is home to endless opportunities for outdoor recreation, including fishing, kayaking, and camping.
The nearby town of Seneca Rocks is a charming, quintessentially West Virginian community that offers restaurants, shops, and other amenities.
Whether you’re a seasoned rock climber or a casual hiker, Seneca Rocks State Park is a must-visit destination for anyone exploring West Virginia’s natural wonders.
Things to Consider Before Visiting National Parks in West Virginia
Seasons and Weather
Climate Variations: West Virginia experiences significant seasonal changes. Summers can be hot and humid, while winters are often snowy and cold. Check the weather forecast before your visit.
Park Accessibility: Some parks or trails may be closed or have limited access during certain seasons due to weather conditions. Always check the park’s official website for updates.
Packing Essentials: Your packing list should reflect the season. Include warm clothing for winter visits and lightweight, breathable items for summer. Always pack rain gear, as weather can be unpredictable.
Wildlife Activity: Different seasons bring different wildlife activities. For instance, spring is usually a great time for bird watching.
Crowd Levels: Peak tourist seasons can lead to crowded parks and trails. If you prefer a quieter experience, consider visiting during the off-peak seasons.
Permits and Fees: Some parks require entrance fees or permits for certain activities. Check the park’s official website for detailed information.
Pet Policies: If you plan to bring a pet, check the park’s pet policies. Not all areas are pet-friendly.
Camping Rules: If you’re planning to camp, familiarize yourself with the park’s camping regulations, such as fire restrictions and food storage.
Trail Etiquette: Respect other visitors and protect the environment by following trail etiquette, including staying on marked trails and disposing of waste properly.
Wildlife Interaction: It’s crucial to remember that feeding or approaching wildlife is usually prohibited for safety reasons.
Hiking Trails: Research the hiking trails available in the park. Consider your fitness level and choose trails that are suitable for you.
Water Activities: Some parks offer water activities like canoeing, kayaking, or fishing. Check if you need to bring equipment or if rentals are available.
Wildlife Viewing: Find out what types of wildlife you can expect to see and the best spots for wildlife viewing.
Photography Opportunities: Research the most scenic spots in the park for photography.
Guided Tours: Some parks offer guided tours or ranger-led programs. These can be a great way to learn more about the park’s history and ecology.
Camping Options: If you plan to camp, research the campgrounds available, their amenities, and reservation policies.
Nearby Hotels or Lodges: If camping isn’t your style, look for nearby hotels or lodges that suit your comfort and budget.
Backcountry Camping: For a more adventurous stay, check if backcountry camping is allowed and what the requirements are.
Availability and Booking: Popular campgrounds and hotels can fill up quickly, especially during peak season. Book well in advance.
Check-in and Check-out Times: Be aware of the accommodation’s check-in and check-out times.
Wildlife Safety: Educate yourself about local wildlife and how to react if you encounter them.
Health Preparations: Ensure you are physically fit for outdoor activities. Bring necessary medications and a first aid kit.
Emergency Contacts: Keep a list of emergency contacts, including the park’s ranger station.
Hiking Safety: Always let someone know your hiking plan and estimated return time. Never hike alone in unfamiliar areas.
Weather Preparedness: Sudden weather changes can happen. Bring appropriate gear and know how to seek shelter.
Transportation: Determine how you’ll get to the park and how you’ll get around once you’re there. Some parks may have shuttle services.
Itinerary: Plan your itinerary ahead of time, but leave room for flexibility.
Local Attractions: Look for attractions in the vicinity of the park to maximize your trip.
Supplies: Make a checklist of supplies you’ll need, such as food, water, and camping gear.
Park Maps: Familiarize yourself with park maps and trail routes.
Respecting the Environment
Leave No Trace: Familiarize yourself with Leave No Trace principles. Always take your trash with you and respect nature.
Respect Wildlife: Observe wildlife from a distance. Never feed or disturb them.
Preservation: Avoid picking flowers or moving rocks. Leave everything as you found it.
Stay on Trails: Wandering off the trail can harm the ecosystem and lead to getting lost.
Quiet Hours: Respect quiet hours in campgrounds and limit noise to avoid disturbing wildlife and other visitors.
As we conclude our exploration of the 10 best National Parks in West Virginia, it’s evident that the “Mountain State” is more than deserving of its nickname.
Each park offers a unique blend of natural beauty, outdoor adventure, and a chance to connect with nature in a profound way.
From the rugged trails of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail to the tranquil waters of the Bluestone National Scenic River, and the historical richness of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, there’s something for every type of traveler.
Whether you’re an avid hiker, a history buff, or simply someone seeking peace in nature’s embrace, West Virginia’s national parks are sure to leave you awestruck.
So, pack your bags and set off on an unforgettable journey into the wild heart of West Virginia.