West Virginia is full of hidden gems that will satisfy every outdoor lover’s cravings. With scenic train rides, picturesque drives, off-the-beaten-path watering holes, and great food from locally-owned eateries, the Mountain State’s country roads lead to adventures.
Here are 11 things you don’t want to miss on a West Virginia road trip.
1. Potomac Eagle Scenic Railroad
The Potomac Eagle Scenic Excursion Train, also known as the Bald Eagle Train, is bound to be a memorable part of your West Virginia road trip. The 3-hour Trough Trip boards in Romney and journeys through the Trough of the South Branch Potomac River to Sycamore Creek (and back). A highlight of the trip is the American bald eagle nesting area—don’t forget your binoculars and camera.
2. NROCKS Outdoor Adventures
NROCKS’ motel-style lodging is located at Nelson Rocks (15 miles from Seneca Rocks), a haven for climbing enthusiasts. Climbers can scale over half a mile of sandstone rock to reach the summit, which offers views of the Allegheny Mountains. Zipline canopy tours are also available here.
3. Green Bank Observatory
With its 2.3-acre dish surface (equivalent to two football fields), this telescope is not a typical tourist attraction—but it’s quite a wonder to see. The Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope is the world’s largest steerable telescope, standing 485 feet tall (taller than the Statue of Liberty). Trees and mountains provide natural radio frequency interference protection, but cell phones and wireless devices are banned in the town of Green Bank, located in the National Radio Quiet Zone surrounding the observatory.
4. Audra State Park
Audra State Park is a great place to take a break and stretch your legs. Picnic tables are available if you’d like to dine in nature. Have your swimsuit handy as the miniature waterfalls are a great place to take a refreshing dip. Children and adults will have a good time sliding on the rock formations.
5. Summersville Lake
Rent a pontoon and cruise through the sunset on Summersville Lake. The lake, formed by a rock-fill dam, is the largest in West Virginia. Swim in the pristine water or be awed by the stunning sandstone cliff scenery. While at the lake, climb 122 steps to reach the top of the Summersville Lake Lighthouse, made out of a recycled wind turbine, for a 360-degree view of Summersville Lake and the Gauley Ridge National Recreation Area.
6. Fran’s Family Restaurant
Don’t let this hole-in-the-wall diner fool you, it’s a true Midwest hidden gem. At family-owned Fran’s Family Restaurant, the food is always delicious. The best part is that all patrons are treated like one big family. When dining for breakfast, you can’t go wrong with the biscuits and hash browns.
7. Fayette Station Road and New River Gorge National Park and Preserve
Fayette Station Road is an 8-mile, 100-year-old road that winds down to the bottom of the New River Gorge, across a narrow bridge, and up the other side. Along the way, you’ll take in stunning vistas of New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. Park your vehicle at the bottom of the bridge to take a plunge in the calm patches of water as rafters swiftly drift past.
For adventurers and non-acrophobics, Bridge Walk offers guided tours of the gorge from a different vantage point: 876 feet above. Visitors are fastened onto a safety cable and walk 3,030 feet on the cast iron catwalk beneath the famous New River Gorge Bridge. On the 2- to 3-hour tour, you will have the opportunity to take in the spectacular sights of the rapids, white water rafters, sandstone cliffs, and forests. On the annual Bridge Day, more than 400 daredevils partake in BASE jumping, rappelling, or high line riding off the bridge.
8. Camp with Tentrr at Hawks Nest State Park
Hawks Nest State Park is located at the center of where all whitewater rafting takes place, and if fishing is your forte, Hawks Nest Lake is full of catfish, muskies, and panfish. Set up for the night at one of Tentrr’s campsites, which come with a tent, mattress, chairs, a table, dry box, sun shower, fire pit and grill, privacy loo tent, heater, and a garbage can. You should bring your own bedding and toiletries.
9. Cathedral Café
Pop in for breakfast or lunch at Cathedral Café, a unique eatery that you may not have guessed serves food. The building was a Methodist Church from 1905 until 1985 when it became a storage facility for 10 years before turning into a café. The exterior still displays a cross and the interior retains its beautiful stained-glass windows.
10. Hinton Historic District
Hinton is a cute little town packed with history. The Victorian-era-looking railroad town is home to the Hinton Railroad Museum, the Campbell-Flannagan-Murrell House Museum, and the Hinton Depot, which was an important migration passageway for thousands of African Americans, and a vital stop for those who came to work in the coal mines.
11. Camp Washington Carver
Opened in 1942, at a time when 44 of the state’s 55 counties had 4-H camps for white children only, Camp Washington Carver became the first 4-H camp for Black youth in the U.S. Its name was inspired by both Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver. In the 1950s, the camp hosted about 1,600 campers each year and would teach kids music, drama, crafts, nature, and swimming. Today the Appalachian String Band Festival, the Heritage Arts Camp, and other festivities take place at the site.