West Virginia is a state in the southeastern region of the United States of America. It's often called the "Mountain State", being the only state in the USA to lie completely within a mountain range (the Appalachians), and having the highest mean elevation of any state in the east. With its small cities and tiny towns tucked among endless forested mountains and hills, beautiful West Virginia is wonderful for outdoor lovers.
Originally part of the state of Virginia, the residents of the counties that became West Virginia split from the rest of the state in part due to a disagreement over the issues of slavery and secession. These counties elected to remain with the Union during the Civil War, and the new state was born on June 20, 1863. The population of the state today is around 1.8 million people. The capital city is Charleston, and the state motto is "Mountaineers are always free."
|Metro Valley |
The state's urban center containing its 2 largest cities, which includes the capital. This region borders Ohio and Kentucky
|Ohio Valley |
Bordering the Ohio River and the western panhandle of the state. Contains the state's 4th and 5th largest cities, small industrial river towns, rural farmlands and hills. The northern panhandle is relatively close to and influenced by Pittsburgh.
|New River and Greenbrier Valleys |
The southernmost part of the state, with whitewater rafting and beautiful parklands and small towns. New River Gorge National Park and Preserve features the deepest canyon in eastern North America.
|Mountains and Lakes Country |
West Virginia's technology corridor, containing its third largest city and second largest urban cluster bordering the south of Pennsylvania; and containing the very rural central part of the state, with lots of lakes, rivers and streams.
|Potomac Highlands |
Tucked away in the Allegheny Mountains and the Monongahela National Forest, with much of the state's skiing and caving, this mostly very rural region contains the state's highest and lowest point, an important part of the state's Civil War heritage, and its more populous eastern panhandle is relatively close to and influenced by Washington DC and Baltimore.
- 1 Charleston — the largest city, state capital and cultural center.
- 2 Beckley — home to Tamarack Marketplace ("the best of West Virginia") and an exhibition coal mine. The closest larger town to New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.
- 3 Bluefield — West Virginia's highest elevation major city, nestled in the East River Mountains on the border with Virginia.
- 4 Charles Town — a historic town founded by George Washington's youngest brother Charles.
- 5 Harpers Ferry — a major Civil War site and West Virginia's most popular tourist destination.
- 6 Huntington — 2nd largest city, stomping grounds of the Marshall University Thundering Herd.
- 7 Morgantown — 3rd largest city, stomping grounds of the West Virginia University Mountaineers.
- 8 Parkersburg — location of Blennerhassett Island.
- 9 Wheeling — Victorian architecture and a popular casino.
- 1 Blackwater Falls State Park — the most photographed location in West Virginia, running through a gorge along the Blackwater River.
- 2 Monongahela National Forest — over 919,000 acres (3,700 km2) of forest stretching across the eastern half of West Virginia from near Elkins to Richwood. Includes the highest point in West Virginia: Spruce Knob; and the famous Seneca Rocks and Dolly Sods to the north; and the Highland Scenic Highway and Cranberry Wilderness and Cranberry Glades to the south.
- 3 New River Gorge National Park and Preserve — the deepest canyon in eastern North America.
- 4 Coopers Rock State Forest— A popular nature preserve outside Morgantown with rock outcroppings and overlooks.
- 5 Summersville Lake – The largest lake in West Virginia, famous for its cliff-lined shores and clear water. Created by a dam on the Gauley River.
Almost heaven, West Virginia,
—John Denver, "Take Me Home, Country Roads"
Once considered the southernmost of the North, the northernmost of the South, the easternmost of the West, and the westernmost of the East, West Virginia is nestled between the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east and the Ohio River to the west. Rich in natural resources, physical beauty, and traditional culture, West Virginia's charm is that of being "off the beaten path". West Virginia is a destination for white water rafting, kayaking, skiing, climbing, golf, mountain biking, hiking, and off-roading. It is the only state that is entirely contained in Appalachia. Its location between the mid-west and eastern seaboard of the United States means that over 60% of the United States population lives less than 500 miles (800 km) from West Virginia. West Virginia is bordered by five states: Virginia to the south and east, Maryland to the north and east, the north by Pennsylvania, the north and west by Ohio and Kentucky to the west.
West Virginia is abundant in natural resources, being primarily known as a major producer of coal since the 1800s — in fact, it produces the second most coal of states in the U.S. However, it has never been a particularly wealthy state, particularly outside the larger towns; per capita income is quite low, and the poverty levels are some of the highest in the nation. From the point of view of the traveller, this isn't necessarily a negative. The people in rural areas may not have much material wealth, but they're down-to-earth, grateful for what they have, and very friendly and hospitable, and this attitude toward life generally applies to people in the larger cities as well. You'll receive a very warm welcome, as long as you respect their Southern politeness and try to return it in kind (which means: be patient, smile, and engage in small talk).
As a visitor, you'll find that West Virginia has a lot to offer. There's beautiful natural scenery, quaint mountain towns, delicious down-home country food, traditional handicrafts, lots of pioneer and Civil War history, outdoor activities of the rollicking and stately varieties, and great cultural opportunities. The pace of life is slow and relaxed, but with so many exciting things to do, West Virginia is a wonderful destination for a quiet getaway or a weekend adventure.
West Virginia lacks any truly large cities, the state contains two large urbanized clusters of population; the Charleston-Huntington area in the southwest, and the Morgantown-Fairmont-Clarksburg area in the north central region. Other larger cities are Parkersburg and Wheeling both on the Ohio River bordering Ohio; other large towns of regional importance are Martinsburg, Beckley, Bluefield, Princeton and Weirton. Despite their smaller size, West Virginia's cities are more walkable, dense and urban in scale than one may expect; the state's steep terrain makes building infrastructure difficult and costly, so urban development is clustered in the available flatter, buildable places. Main streets are lined with impressive historic brick buildings and neighborhoods are welcoming with small front gardens and big front porches.
The expansive Monongahela National Forest covers large areas of the more rural eastern part of the state, where the elevation of the land rises towards the border with Virginia in the high Alleghenies. New River Gorge National Park and Preserve is home to the deepest canyon in eastern North America, in southeastern West Virginia. The elevation decreases as one travels west and the true, uplifted, folded mountains give way to a deeply dissected plateau region covering the majority of the state. To the northwest, the hills of the plateau can often have a more steeply-rolling nature, while to the southwest the sides of the hills become extremely steep, very cliff-like in places and higher. No part of West Virginia is truly flat; small areas of flatter land can only be found along the banks of major rivers, especially the Ohio; and the state's relatively small portion of the Shenandoah Valley in the eastern panhandle.
The overlapping manner in which West Virginia's attractions within its various regions are located relative to one another and its population centers makes the state especially conducive to several varieties of road trip; It is possible to see many sites while traveling straight across the state; as well as making a large swinging loop through several regions or using one city or town as a base from which to take day trips. For example; Charleston is within about an hour of both Huntington and Beckley, near western reaches of New River Gorge National Park; while Beckley, near New River Gorge National Park, is a logical base from which to further explore the entire park, surrounding smaller towns like Fayetteville, Hinton and Mullens and areas within an hour to the north and northeast including Summersville, Lewisburg, and the southern reaches of Monongahela National Forest. Elkins can be a logical base from which to travel to the northern reaches of Monongahela National Forest, Blackwater Falls State Park, Thomas and Davis, the Canaan Valley; and these attractions are easily reached by a day or extended trip to or from the North Central West Virginia area, anchored by Morgantown. Most of West Virginia is less than a day's drive from large cities like Pittsburgh, Washington DC, Columbus and Cincinnati. West Virginia's reputation as among the poorer states undeservedly all too often keeps tourist interest elsewhere; those who choose to visit will find this state one of America's best kept secrets.
West Virginia used to be part of Virginia until the American Civil War when the fact that slavery had taken less deep roots in the area and that Richmond often ignored demands from Western areas of the state led to a high number of unionists in the area who ultimately formed a rival state government and split away, gaining statehood in 1863.
Given its position as a boundary state between the North and the South, your perception of the West Virginia dialect will probably depend on where you're from. People from the North think that West Virginians have a Southern accent, whereas people from the South perceive them as speaking a more Northern dialect. Nevertheless, most West Virginians do have at least a bit of a Southern twang, particularly if you venture into the more remote mountain communities.
There is no single West Virginia dialect. In areas of the state which border Ohio and Pennsylvania, the pronunciations tend to be more northern, with the primary marker being the long "I" sound. Some will voice the diphthong "aye" in the northern style, while others make the "ah" sound. Those in the interior of the state speak in a manner more like people from Kentucky or southern Virginia. In the southern counties particularly, you will find a very pronounced southern twang.
Variations in dialects can be traced to immigration patterns. The coal fields of the southeastern part of the state were the destination of miners immigrating from Ireland, Scotland and Wales. In the more industrialized areas along the Ohio River, the immigrant population was comprised of large numbers of Eastern European immigrants.
In the most southern part of the state, there are communities which are almost entirely African-American. During the mine wars of the late 1800s, mine owners hired former slaves from the Southern states to replace striking miners. Because these communities tend to be segregated (nowadays by choice), the dialects of the Southern slaves live on in their speech.
There are three main interstates in West Virginia: I-64 crosses the lower third of the state from Kentucky into Huntington, through Charleston and Beckley, and then past Lewisburg into Virginia. I-77 moves up the western third of the state, from Virginia into Bluefield, through Charleston and then past Parkersburg into Ohio. I-79 begins in Charleston and continues through Morgantown into Pennsylvania.
- Interstates that only cross a piece of West Virginia include I-70, which crosses from Ohio to Pennsylvania through the northern panhandle, past Wheeling; I-68, which branches off I-79 near Morgantown and passes through Preston County into Maryland; and I-81, which crosses from Virginia into Maryland and Pennsylvania through the eastern panhandle, past Martinsburg.
- Amtrak offers two routes that pass through West Virginia.
- West Virginia is served by one major airport:
- There are over 30 smaller airports in the state, six of which offer regular commercial flights to other cities:
The best way to see the state is definitely by driving, as West Virginia is generally lacking in reliable statewide public transportation. Many towns are basically inaccessible except by car, as is some of the best scenery. But be careful — off the main highways, the roads often loop around the mountaintops, which makes for some stunning views but also requires careful driving. Hairpin curves around mountain roads are not to be taken at high speeds, and the smaller country roads don't always have guard rails. Many such turns are also at steep inclines - make sure you engine brake and obey all speed limit signs. Do not follow too closely to coal trucks, lest your windshield be cracked by falling hunks of coal.
Motorcyclists will tell you that the best way to see the state is definitely by motorcycle. The warnings about hairpin curves and smaller country roads do apply, but those roads are motorcycling nirvana - endless curves and elevation changes. The state even encourages motorcycle tourism, offering pamphlets with suggested tour routes.
Although there aren't any statewide bus lines, many of the metropolitan areas have their own inter-area bus systems. Information on transit can be found here.
There are several scenic train lines, if you want to view some of West Virginia's picturesque landscapes from the comfort of an excursion train:
- The Cass Scenic Railroad offers trips on a restored locomotive near Marlinton in Cass.
- The Durbin and Greenbrier Valley Railroad has several picturesque lines that travel through the eastern part of the state.
- New River Excursions[dead link] offers fall foliage trips through the New River Gorge Valley.
- The New River Gorge Mystery Train boards passengers primarily in Huntington, Charleston, Beckley and White Sulphur Springs for scenic day, overnight or weekend trips to West Virginia beauty spots or historic destinations in the eastern US.
- The Potomac Eagle in Romney follows the course of the Potomac River on weekends from May through September, and daily for three weeks in October.
- The beautiful natural scenery. Just driving around backwoods West Virginia, with its hills and creeks and rivers and forests and mountaintop vistas, is a wonderful experience in and of itself. There are lots of out-of-the-way wonders to be discovered, and quite a few scenic routes, including the Coal Heritage Trail from Bluefield to Beckley, the Midland Trail along route 60 from Huntington to White Sulphur Springs, and the Highland Scenic Highway from Richwood to north of Marlinton.
- Blackwater Falls State Park is named for the falls of the Blackwater River whose amber-colored waters plunge five stories then twist and tumble through an eight-mile (13-km) long gorge near Davis. The "black" water is a result of tannic acid from fallen hemlock and red spruce needles. The falls are one of the most photographed sites in West Virginia.
- Charles Town in the eastern panhandle near Harpers Ferry was founded by George Washington's youngest brother Charles. Today, the quaint downtown is host to shops, restaurants and antiques. Take a walking tour and see the Courthouse where John Brown was tried for treason or see the Civil War meeting site of Generals Sheridan and Grant where they planned the Shenandoah Valley Campaign. The town is also host to several festivals including the Charles Town Heritage Festival.
- The Greenbrier, in White Sulphur Springs near Lewisburg, is probably the best-known resort and spa in West Virginia. It's a beautiful white building on 6,500 acres (26 km2) of land with golf courses, shops, and even a once-secret underground bunker for the President to use in the event of an international crisis.
- Harpers Ferry was the site of a raid on the US Arsenal by abolitionist John Brown in 1859, an event that was a precursor to the Civil War. Today there's a national historic park on the site.
- West Virginia University in Morgantown has museums, an arboretum, and a loyal football following.
- Visit the Victorian downtown, scenic Ohio River waterfront and Oglebay Park in Wheeling. In nearby Moundsville, you can see the country's largest Adena burial mound, with an adjacent museum explaining the culture and customs of this Native American tribe.
- The Swiss village of Helvetia, founded in 1869, with Swiss-themed events and festivals during the year.
- Paranormal buffs might enjoy visiting Point Pleasant, site of the famous Mothman sightings in the 1960s. There's a Mothman festival every September.
- The state capitol, Charleston, boasts a gold-covered Capitol Dome and some of the best cultural activities in the state.
- The Huntington Museum of Art in Huntington features the largest collection of art in the state and the state's only public tropical plant conservatory, exhibitions often focus on West Virginia artists. The home of Marshall University, Huntington is the filming location for many scenes in We Are Marshall.
- The nation's oldest five-and-dime store, Berdine's Five and Dime, is located near Parkersburg in Harrisville.
- Blennerhassett Island is a historical state park near Parkersburg with a mansion, hotel, wagon ride tours and nature walks.
- History buffs will also enjoy touring Jackson's Mill Historic Area, which has links to the family of Stonewall Jackson, near Weston.
- West Virginia is the site of the famous Hatfield and McCoy feud; the Hatfield family cemetery, with a marble statue of patriarch "Devil Anse", is near Logan.
- Civil War Discovery Trail. Which covers 32 states, has 14 sites in West Virginia.
- West Virginia's rugged nature lends itself well to outdoor sports like fishing, hunting, horseback riding, hiking, biking[dead link], camping, golfing, windsurfing, water skiing and scuba diving. However, much of West Virginia's outdoor tourism comes from two particular sources:
- If you like to hit the slopes, there are several popular ski resorts in the state:
- White-water rafting is also extremely popular and can be done on several rivers in the state, although the most popular — and the most commercial — are the New River and the Gauley River near Fayetteville.
- West Virginia also has an abundance of caverns and underground grottos to tour.
- There are 48 state parks and forests in West Virginia; some of the notable ones are:
- Berkeley Springs State Park near Berkeley Springs, with its warm mineral-water spas.
- Cathedral State Park near Aurora is a national historic landmark with old-growth forest.
- Hawks Nest State Park near Fayetteville features a tram up to a lodge overlooking the New River Gorge.
- Pipestem Resort State Park near Princeton has scenic overlooks of the Bluestone Gorge.
- Stonewall Jackson Lake State Park near Weston is home to the Stonewall Resort, one of West Virginia's premier resorts and conference centers.
- On Bridge Day, in October, experienced parachutists can go BASE jumping or rappelling from the scenic New River Gorge Bridge near Fayetteville, the longest steel-arch bridge in the western hemisphere.
- Explore West Virginia's coal heritage by driving the Coal Heritage Trail from Bluefield to Beckley, where you can visit the Exhibition Coal Mine.
- Being a coal state, West Virginia gift shops routinely stock coal sculptures, which are surprisingly lightweight and make for a unique souvenir. However, they're frequently tacky (with googly eyes glued onto bears, turtles, what have you), so you'll have to keep your eyes peeled for the really nice ones.
- A major West Virginia industry is handblown glass, with several very nice factories whose wares can be found in gift shops statewide. Some of the major ones are below, although other prominent local glass factories and sales outlets can be found in Weston, Morgantown and Wheeling.
- If you're looking for a one-stop-shop to peruse a variety of local specialties, there are a couple of really good markets in the state:
- Tamarack is a statewide collection of handmade crafts, art and cuisine showcasing the best of West Virginia. It's located in a large complex near Beckley, and is well worth a stop if you're travelling up I-77 and want to purchase something really nice from the state.
- Sutton is home to Poplar Forest, a cooperative representing over 200 juried West Virginia artists and craftsmen.
Traditional West Virginia cooking is broadly similar to Southern cuisine, but it's considered part of the Appalachian style of cooking, which was mostly subsistence-based, meaning that people ate what they could grow or catch themselves. This style of cooking emphasizes wild or cultivated plants, berries, nuts, wild game and corn. While this does mean that some West Virginians eat opossum, squirrel and raccoon, you won't find them on any restaurant menus (unless you visit the Roadkill Cook-off in Marlinton). Foods like fried chicken, sausage, cornbread, green and pinto beans, greens, squash casserole, mashed potatoes, fresh cucumbers and onions, ripe tomatoes, pickles and berry cobbler are commonly found throughout the state.
- The pepperoni roll is an unexpected little West Virginia specialty that was reportedly invented in Fairmont in 1927, and was often used as a miner's lunch in early days. It's a soft bread roll with pepperoni baked inside, yielding a moist and spicy snack; variations include slices versus strips of pepperoni, the inclusion of cheese (pepper jack, mozzarella or provolone), tomato sauce and banana peppers. They're popular throughout the state, ubiquitous in convenience stores, and can be found from small family bakeries up through local eateries. Country Club bakery, the reported home of the original pepperoni roll, is still making them.
- One of West Virginia's most famous foods is the ramp, or wild leek, a wild onion similar to a scallion that is much beloved in the area, even though the flavor is so potent that the garlicky scent will linger on a person for days after consuming them. There are even ramp festivals throughout the state in spring, with the best-known being held in Elkins, Richwood and Helvetia. Usually served family style, typical offerings include ham, fried potatoes, stewed and raw ramps, and soup beans.
- As with many country communities, home canning is a popular activity in West Virginia. You'll see lots of home-canned vegetables, pickles, jellies and jams for sale around the state, with apple butter being a particular favorite. In fact, West Virginia's state fruit is the apple — specifically, the yellow Golden Delicious, which was discovered in West Virginia and has been grown in the state since 1912. There are apple butter festivals every September near Logan and October in Berkeley Springs and Salem, as well as apple festivals in October in Martinsburg and Clay, the home of the Golden Delicious.
- West Virginia has lots of mountain streams brimming with river fish, and the brook trout — the state fish — is commonly found on local menus.
- Buckwheat from Preston County, used (along with local pork) to make their famous annual buckwheat cake and sausage dinners in September.
- Swiss cheese from Helvetia, a local tradition since the 1800s.
- Heirloom green beans or "half runners" are a heartier stringed bean with a deep, rich flavor; well suited to longer cooking times, traditionally braised with pork, onion, garlic and basic seasonings.
- Pawpaw is the largest native fruit; its rich taste can only be experienced during a couple months of late summer/early fall.
- Although not among the top producing states by volume, West Virginia produces very high-quality maple syrup.
- The West Virginia style hot dog originates in Huntington, and has spread throughout the state and into the Carolinas by migrating West Virginians. Typically consisting of a hotdog with a thin chili sauce (simply called 'hot dog sauce' in Huntington), onions, mustard, and coleslaw (except in the north of the state, where the sauce is spicier and the coleslaw is omitted).
- Black Walnuts are celebrated at the annual Black Walnut Festival in Spencer.
Although most people probably think of home-distilled whiskey and moonshine when they think of West Virginia, the state has a burgeoning wine industry these days. Wineries can be found all over the state; some also produce specialty products like mead and fruity melomel, and cooking wine made from ramps. A small selection of wineries is below:
However, if you really want to sample local moonshine, you can still get it at legal distilleries in the state:
West Virginia also has a number of microbreweries, including:
The southeastern part of West Virginia is inside the National Radio Quiet Zone, a huge area of land where radio transmissions are strongly restricted to protect the Green Bank Observatory. The result is that cell phone service is mostly nonexistent. Radio stations are limited, too, with just the Allegheny Mountain Radio network operating a handful of low-power FM rebroadcasting stations.
Most West Virginia telephone numbers consist of +1 304 plus a seven-digit number, but the state is now served by an overlay complex of two area codes, with +1 681 as the second. A local or in-state telephone call now requires all ten digits of the local number be dialed (omitting just the leading +1 from a local landline call).
Signage on many established businesses may still display the original seven-digit numbers; dial 304 before these if no area code is indicated.
Be careful when driving on mountain roads, especially in the winter. The roads can be very steep, hairpin turns are common, most roads outside main traffic routes are unpaved, and if you're driving in the mountains, you may find yourself on the edge of a very steep drop with at most a guardrail to protect you. In the winter, West Virginia is susceptible to fairly large snowfalls, which can make the roads treacherous if not impassable, particularly if your car doesn't have good traction on the inclines.
As you're driving, you'll also notice road signs at certain locations advising you to be alert for rockfalls in the vicinity. Many of the roads in the state were cut right through the mountains, giving you interesting geological sights as you drive, but bad weather and erosion can lead to rocks coming loose and tumbling down onto traffic below. It's not at all common, but it does occur, so pay attention to the signs and keep alert.
If you're in the state to partake of its outdoor adventures, be sure you follow the usual precautions. During hunting season, wear hunter's blaze orange clothing if you go into the woods. If you're canoeing or whitewater rafting, be sure to keep a lifejacket on. And if you're into extreme sports, don't take unnecessary risks; experienced BASE jumpers have perished at the annual Bridge Day festivities in 1980, 1987, and 2006.
Unleashed dogs are abundant, especially on back roads. Carry a large walking stick and pepper spray when hiking and don't venture uninvited onto posted property.
In the woods, it's also wise to take precautions against insect-borne diseases. Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are both spread by ticks, and West Nile virus is transmitted by mosquitoes, both of which are common in West Virginia forests. Fortunately, the diseases themselves are fairly uncommon in the state, but it never hurts to stay safe. Wear long clothes that cover your skin, use a good insect repellent, and check your body for ticks as soon as you return indoors. The Eastern Diamond Back Rattlesnake and Copperhead Snake are both indigenous to all forests in the state.
Stay out of abandoned coal mines, which can be full of hazards such as rotten timber supports, unstable ground, rats, snakes, undetonated explosives, blasting caps, explosive methane gas, and pockets of "blackdamp" or air without enough oxygen to support life.
In terms of natural disasters, West Virginia is quite a safe place to be. Earthquakes are practically nonexistent, it's far enough inland that hurricanes are rarely a major problem, and tornadoes are rare, although the state does average about two per year. The most common type of natural disaster in the state is flooding, which can be a serious problem, so pay attention to news bulletins during periods of heavy rain, and stay away from affected areas.
- Ohio - The Buckeye State is West Virginia's northwestern neighbor, offering the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton.
- Pennsylvania - West Virginia's northeastern neighbor is home to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Known for its revolutionary war era historical sites (mainly in Philadelphia), Gettysburg battlefield, and its steel industry.
- Maryland - West Virginia's eastern neighbor is where The Star Spangled Banner was written and is home to the US Naval Academy.
- Virginia - The state's southeastern neighbor, of which West Virginia was originally a part, has Shenandoah National Park and Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson.
- Kentucky - To the west, Kentucky is rich in horse related attractions, including the Kentucky Horse Park and the Kentucky Derby, as well as the natural wonder of Mammoth Cave National Park.