West Virginia Travel Guide

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Allegheny Mountains - Within just a few hours' drive of a dozen big cities, it is the most extensive wilderness area near the east coast. The entire 140-mile crest is protected as part of the Monongahela National Forest, within which numerous state parks highlight the most spectacular sights. There are no cities and few towns, public transportation is nonexistent, and not much goes on after dark, but if you like to backpack, ski, cycle, climb, canoe or just wander around the great outdoors, the Alleghenies are well worth a visit. For maps and more detailed information, contact the state tourist office, or the Monongahela National Forest Supervisor, 200 Sycamore St, Elkins. Tel: 304/636-1800.

Charleston - This is West Virginia's state capital and largest city. The riverfront state capitol, designed by Lincoln Memorial architect Cass Gilbert and completed in 1932, is pleasant enough to visit, with a small monument to black activist Booker T. Washington on its grounds. The West Virginia Cultural Center is in the same compound as the capitol, and acts as the state museum, with extensive displays in the basement on coalmining, forestry, wars and general social history. The main live showcase of traditional West Virginian culture takes place here during the annual Vandalia Festival, Appalachia's largest celebration of folk arts and crafts, held on Memorial Day weekend and featuring lively bluegrass music and tall-tale-telling contests. The annual Regatta on Labour Day weekend is one of the city's other big events, and should not be missed.

Harpers Ferry - This ruggedly sited 18th-century town, now restored as a national historic park, gives many visitors their first look at West Virginia. Many of the town's forty-odd brick and stone buildings date from the days when George Washington set up the country's first national munitions factory here to arm the young Republic. After suffering the ravages of the Civil War and a series of torrential floods, however, it was all but abandoned, the empty shells of its homes and factories slowly becoming overgrown by the dense forest that covers the surrounding hills. Almost all of Harpers Ferry has since been reconstructed as an outdoor museum, combining historical importance and natural beauty. Enough of the original buildings and cobbled streets survived to give a good sense of how things used to be, and the restoration project has so far managed to re-create the townscape without making it feel too much like a theme park.

New River Gorge - Despite its name, it is one of the oldest rivers in North America, and one of West Virginia's most spectacular river canyons. The New River Gorge lies just thirty miles west of Lewisburg. Stretching for over fifty miles, and now protected as a national park, the thousand-foot cleft was carved through the limestone mountains by the New River. There is no easy access to most of the gorge, and apart from one daily train, visitors have to get out on the water, with the help of any of over fifty professional rafting companies, to see it. Fortunately for car-less travelers, Amtrak trains from Washington DC pass right through the gorge, on one of the most stunning railway journeys in the East. The ride itself is memorable enough.

Outdoors

Whitewater Rafting Great river rafting in West Virginia include the Cheat River, part of the largest free-flowing watershed in the eastern United States. High water levels afford exhilarating rides through the wild, secluded Cheat Canyon. The upper Gauley River, not for the timid, drops sharply through the rugged, unspoiled canyon. The unpredictable New River cuts through a deep sandstone gorge and the Tygart River in the northern hills of West Virginia thrill experienced kayakers. The famous Greenbrier River Trail is a great hike, bike and float trip through beautiful scenery. The Bluestone River is an unbelievable experience when swollen by the spring rains. The south branch of the Potomac River takes canoeists through stunning scenery and the Meadow River is a whitewater gem boasting some 60 rapids. The Shenandoah with its colourful history and beautiful scenery is great for fun-filled family outings and first-time paddlers.

Bicycling Cycling in West Virginia is challenging but very rewarding; taking one through small towns, farmlands, valleys, mountains and massive parklands of immense beauty. Cycling is a good way of touring which appeals to backpackers. West Virginia is a world class destination for Mountain Bikers and the abundant trails through the vast Monongahela National Forest to the Greenbrier River Trail is a fantastic experience. Biking the Greenbrier River Trail of 120 km (77miles) takes you through 2 tunnels, over 35 bridges, many small towns and along the valley next to the beautiful Greenbrier River surrounded by the Allegheny Mountains.

Golf Oakhurst Links in White Sulphur Springs, established in 1884, was the first organized Golf Club in America. This nine hole course you share with sheep, which keep it trim! There are many modern, challenging golf courses in West Virginia most of them designed by golf professionals, among them Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead, Pete Dye and George Cobb. A golf getaway promises challenging golf and spectacular scenery.

Skiing West Virginia's Alpine resorts boasts great skiing, everything from downhill, cross-country, snow tubing, snow boarding, sleigh riding and more. Constant snow, perfect temperatures and magnificent mountain slopes provide ideal skiing conditions. Canaan Valley Resort is a complete winter playland where skiers of every level enjoy a great instructional program, cross-country skiing, snow tubing and snow-shoeing. There is an ice rink, a year-round pool, a program for children and wonderful evening activities. Snowshoe Mountain is a true Big Mountain experience and the adventure of snow mobiling, sleigh riding and snow tubing is utterly exhilarating. Winterplace is an all inclusive, full service ski resort for the whole family, a winter wonderland. Timberline is nestled in a very beautiful valley high up in the Allegheny Mountains. The elevation of over 4000ft and an abundant snowfall makes Timberline an ultimate ski destination.

Moving around

With its many mountains and rivers making straight, flat roads virtually nonexistent, getting around West Virginia is as much a part of its attraction as is any specific destination. A bike and a stout pair of legs, or a motorcycle, would be ideal, but a car is pretty necessary if you really want to see the state. Greyhound is basically useless here, and Amtrak, apart from serving Harpers Ferry from Washington DC, has only one, albeit spectacular route, running through the New River Gorge to the capital, Charleston.

National festival and holidays

Bridge Day - The Bridge Day celebration takes part on the New River Gorge Bridge, near Fayetteville, on the third Saturday in October, a date not simply chosen at random. This is the time of year when the fall colours of the New River Gorge are typically at their peak. When Bridge Day arrives, more than 200,000 people converge over the course of the day to take part the day-long festival. Base jumpers parachute off the New River Gorge Bridge diving 876-feet into the New River Gorge below. Rapellers descend on ropes like caterpillars beneath the mighty bridge, and more than 200 vendors provide delicious foods and fantastic entertainment.

Annual Bramwell Oktoberfest - This premier beer festival in West Virginia is held annually, early in October. The festivities include a guided outdoor tours of the 'Home of the Millionaires'. The Bramwell Oktoberfest is known for its excellent live musical entertainment, with traditional folk, blues, bluegrass and alternative artists performing throughout the day. Bramwell, the "Home of the Millionaires", is located near Bluefield on the Virginia/West Virginia Border near I-77 south.

West Virginia Strawberry Festival - The Annual West Virginia Strawberry Festival is held every third week in May, situated in Buckhannon. The Festival is a unique, traditional celebration to promote the strawberry harvest. Enthusiastic volunteers collectively, with the support of a proud community and the State of West Virginia, work throughout the year planning and organizing to provide a variety of creative, good, family style entertainment that offers exciting educational and cultural events for everyone. The Festival is highlighted by three days of parades that echo down Strawberry lane with High School bands marching and competing for up to $100,000 in scholarships. Children and adults alike will enjoy the fun and thrills of the carnival. Take a stroll through the arts and craft exhibits, quilt show, photography show, or the souvenir shop. Enjoy the variety of Jaw Bone Park and Courthouse entertainment, or stop by the band competition, car show, strawberry auction, or your favourite sporting event.

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