They call it the Mountain State for a reason: when it comes to sweeping vistas, West Virginia does not disappoint. The best way to see them for yourself is by working up a sweat on the trails at these parks and forests, where you won’t just get sublime vista views, but will also be treated to a little bit of history while traversing amazing landscapes ranging from mountain meadows to thick forests. There’s no better place to get your generous serving of endorphin-inducing natural beauty than West Virginia.
Harpers Ferry National Historic Park
Right where the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers meet is Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, the site of abolitionist John Brown’s historic raid on a US arsenal. Not only is this landmark park home to museums and exhibits, it also boasts 20 miles of hiking trails that span across everything from mountaintops to Civil War battlefields.
One hike lets you see it all. The Maryland Heights Trail, a steep and sometimes rocky 6.5-mile loop, can be accessed near the park’s information center by joining the Appalachian Trail to cross the Potomac River via footbridge, then walking along a canal towpath before crossing another footbridge to the trailhead. The first leg of this hike brings you alongside the Potomac for scenic views before coming up on a naval battery from 1862. You’ll then join the Overlook Cliff Trail to experience cliff overviews of Harpers Ferry. Double back and hike past more artillery batteries, unique boulder formations and the Civil War Stone Fort before returning back on towpath.
Coopers Rock State Forest
Named after a legend about a fugitive who lived for years making barrels at a mountain hideout, Coopers Rock State Forest is wilderness as far as the eye can see along the Cheat River Gorge. Full of boulder formations and forest valleys, there’s plenty to see both in and from this state forest – plant life such as wild rhododendrons bloom feverishly in the early summer and massive cliffs provide jaw-dropping overlooks.
The beauty of the trails at Coopers Rock State Forest is that you can combine short hikes of various difficulties to see whatever you want to see: hikes ranging from less than a mile to just over four miles lead to all of the forest’s sights, including a historic iron furnace, Cheat Lake and Messinger Lake, and two overlooks – Coopers Rock and Ravens Rock.
Dolly Sods Wilderness
In the heart of the Monongahela National Forest is Dolly Sods Wilderness, 17,371 acres of preserved forest and bogs and a backpacker’s dream. Dolly Sods is jam-packed with rocky vistas, heath barrens, meadows and wind-carved boulders for a landscape that’s all its own.
The best way to see the Dolly Sods Wilderness is via a multi-day backpacking hike that can range from 15-20 miles, depending on how many sights you consider detour-worthy. Length aside, bushwhacking and rock scrambles mean this trek’s not for beginners, but devoted hikers will be rewarded with waterfalls and blueberry bogs, pine plantations and highland meadows. On your journey, you’ll get up-close-and-personal with the Red Creek, travel through forests full of red spruces and hardwoods and see unforgettable mountain views. Prepare to camp in the wilderness (a favorite site is under two near-ancient hemlock trees) and watch out for snakes.