Known as the “Mountain State”, West Virginia was once mocked for its “red-neck” country image, largely attributed to the famous family feud between the Hatfields of West Virginia and the McCoys of Kentucky. Their bickering over hogs and livestock escalated into kidnappings, affairs, murder, and retribution, finally ending in 1891 after the arrest and imprisonment of eight Hatfields, including a public hanging. West Virginia’s “hillybilly” reputation has faded into the pages of history, at least somewhat, and has been replaced by the new image of West Virginia. Today, the “Mountain State” is known as an outdoor playground for America’s east, a land of spectacular mountains, rushing rivers, and rustic scenery. Its gorgeous Appalachian Mountains and river valleys have earned it the rank of second place behind Colorado in the quality of its skiing and white-water rafting. But West Virginia with its national parks, forests, and curative mountain springs is also a golfing, hiking, biking, mountain climbing, camping, and spa destination.
West Virginia was once the hunting grounds for Native American tribes. Prehistoric mounds evidence the occupation of the state by Indians for thousands of years. European pioneers in the 18th century ventured into West Virginia, attracted by its rich forests, streaming rivers, and particularly its natural springs. George Washington and his family, for example, were frequent vacationers enjoying the curative waters of Berkeley Springs. At the time West Virginia was part of Virginia, but was largely ignored by the governors and legislators.
During the Civil War, West Virginia separated from Virginia but remained with the Union. Early Civil War battles took place in West Virginia including at Fort Sumter in 1861. During this period, the Confederates damaged the rail road lines in West Virginia as well as other property and infrastructure. The state was one of the more war-ravaged areas of the Union. But West Virginia recovered quickly after the war, and its natural resources like oil, coal, and gas helped its economy prosper well into the 20th century. Even today, the Mountain State is a major source of bituminous coal and is a significant producer of timber, stone, and chemicals.
West Virginia has been a playground and retreat for many Americans in the east coast for many years. In the early 19th century, the Berkeley Springs in Morgan and the White Sulphur Springs in Greenbrier developed into popular health retreats for the wealthy, prized for their curative mineral waters. Today, they remain visited destinations, with the White Sulphur Springs maintaining its appeal as an exclusive resort for the wealthy. Golfing in the White Sulphur Springs, in particular, has become a major attraction over the last 30 years, ever since it hosted the first Ryder Cup in 1971.
West Virginia is also prized for its Appalachian Mountains, which offer prime alpine and Nordic skiing areas. The main ski destinations are Snowshoe Mountain in the east, Winterplace in the south, the Allegheny Mountains in Slatyfork in the central region, and Canaan Valley, Timberline, and Alpine Lake in the north.
Whitewater rafting is also a major draw, particularly in the south along the New River Gorge National River and in the northeast along the Cheat River. One of the most famous rafting areas is the Gauley River in central West Virginia, once considered near impossible to navigate.
Of course, skiing and whitewater rafting are only two of the more prominent of West Virginia’s outdoor sports. Rock climbing can be enjoyed at the Coopers Rock region and the Potomac Highlands. And underground caves such as at the Lost World Caverns, Seneca Caverns, and the Smoke Hole Caverns offer awe-inspiring caving opportunities. National Forests like the George Washington National Forest in Pendleton, the Monongahela National Forest in the Potomac Highlands, and the Jefferson National Forest in Monroe County provide thousands of acres for camping, hiking, and fishing.
West Virginia is also scattered with small rustic towns in its scenic countryside where you’ll find museums and historic sites galore – from ancient Native American burial mounds, to restored pioneer settlements, to reenactments of the Civil War on the site of old battlefields like at Carnifex Ferry. You can also visit Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, which is the site of the famous John Brown abolitionist uprising in the late 1850s; Brown led a group of armed slaves against U.S. forces in an attempt to end slavery. Today, the park is lined with several museums dedicated to this event, highlighted by John Brown’s Fort which remains well-preserved. For more history, you can also trek the 400-mile Hatfield-McCoy Trails to visit the land of the Hatfields and McCoys where they fostered their notorious “hillybilly” family feud.
Landmarks of West Virginia include the New River Gorge Bridge, which is the longest steel span bridge in the world, and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, whose radio telescopes are used by astronomers to study the universe.