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A guide to exploring Southern West Virginia.

The most underated but best place to explore in the Appalachain Mountains.

By: Jared Beeler + Save to a List

Over the past two summers I have lived and worked in southern West Virginia. While I have lived here I have gotten the unique opportunity to hike, camp, fish, swim, kayak, and photograph the best part of Southern West Virginia. While in West Virginia I have traveled to several state parks, the Monongahela National Forest, and the New River Gorge National Park. The best part about visiting West Virginia is getting away from the internet and cell service. Whether you want to get away or not, most areas in the south section of the Monongahela National Forest do not have phone service due to the Greenbank Radio Observatory.

This guide is a list of things to do in Southern West Virginia and is in no particular order, all of the places I have been are equally amazing in their own way.

Watoga State Park

This may very well be my favorite state park in the country. It has a lot to offer for everyone. This is also one of those places I mentioned that is very disconnected. Here there are cabins built by the C.C.C. to stay in or three campgrounds to choose from. There is also a wonderful little lake in the middle of the park. The lake can be used to pleasurably kayak, fish, or rent a paddleboat. The state park also offers great hikes around the mountains and around the lake. Watoga State Park is also a special place because it is now one of only three places in the world to have documented synchronous fireflies. These fireflies are a spectacle to see and are extremely rare. The park is also the only place in this part of West Virginia to have an International Dark Sky park designation. This means that it is a great place to stargaze and watch meteor showers.

Beartown State Park

This state park is quite small but what's here is worth the stop. The park only offers one attraction. A boardwalk through a maze of boulders covered in moss creating an exposed cave feel. The area reminds me of something from Tolkien's “Middle Earth”.

Explore Beartown Boardwalk 

Cass Scenic Railroad State Park

The Cass Scenic Railroad is a great place for families. The park has a lot to offer but the main attraction is the working steam train from the early 1900s. The train takes you up to the top of the mountain called Bald Mountain which is the third highest peak in West Virginia. There are a multitude of options for accommodations. There are old mine and lumber company houses that have been converted into cabins. There is also an even cooler option to stay in a gutted train car on top of the mountain.

Monongahela National Forest

The Monongahela National Forest is over 900,000 acres and is split into two parts, the north and the south. I have only had the chance to visit the south zone. The south zone is full of amazing things to do and places to see. There are a few main attractions which include the Highland Scenic Highway, the Cranberry wilderness, and the Cranberry Glades. The Highland Scenic highway is a scenic highway that spans the south section of the national forest. There are many hikes off of the scenic highway and there are several scenic overlooks that offer amazing views and picnicking opportunities. There are also two campgrounds off of the highway with about 40 sites in total. The Cranberry Glades is a special place that has a cranberry bog that is the only one that exists this far south. The glades offer a boardwalk to walk safely around the glade without damaging the soil. The Cranberry wilderness is the largest designated wilderness east of the Mississippi. The wilderness offers many areas to hike and backpack. There are also many places to fish and camp along the Williams and Cranberry rivers.

Hike High Rocks

Camp at Day Run Campground

Walk around Cranberry Glades

Williams River Overlook 

Hike Red Spruce Knob

New River Gorge National Park

The newest made national park is right here in southern West Virginia and it is well worth the visit. The park is known for many things including the New River, spectacular gorge views, the longest steel arch bridge in the western hemisphere, and amazing views of the Milky Way. The river can be used for many activities such as rafting on the class 3-4 rapids and fishing. There are various ways to access the river but the roads can be hard to navigate without a map so I suggest picking one up at a visitor center before driving around. At the main visitor center there is a viewpoint that can be accessed from a boardwalk. There are also some great places to see and photograph the milky way under the bridge.

Grandview Overlook

Raft New River

Sandstone Falls

Canyon Rim Overlook

Extra photos from around the area.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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