West Virginia State Travel Guide....
WILD OUTDOOR ADVENTURES
To say that I love being outdoors in West Virginia is to put it mildly. After hundreds of outdoors adventures throughout the Mountain State, Im always ready to return for more. Whether its whitewater rafting, learning a new sport like snowboarding, jumping on a bike or taking a hike, theres always something wild (or mild) for everyone just around every West Virginia corner, mountain, or river bend.
Whitewater rafting serves as a magnificent microcosm of adventure in West Virginia, and rafting the Gauley gives you West Virginia at its wildest.
Every September, some of the best river guides from around the world converge on West Virginia. They come to guide more than 60,000 people down the Gauley River, whose riverbed drops more than 800 feet in 27 miles. Many of these rafters are trying it for the first time and several are heading down the Gauley for their 50th or more wild and wonderful ride.
The ruggedly carved canyon has two distinct river sections the Upper Gauley and the Lower Gauley. Guides and their rafters must make their way through more than 100 rapids, 56 of which are classified from Class III to Class V+.
Of course, there are other excellent rivers for whitewater rafting in the state, including the Cheat (which is at natures mercy, as it has no dams or locks) and the New. The Upper New is great for families and first-timers, while the Lower New provides a wilder ride, depending on water level. The Cheat River is different every day, making for lots of return rafters. As with the Gauley, the New and Cheat experience can vary from mild to wild.
If whitewater's not your style, there are plenty of other ways to get out on the water in West Virginia - scuba diving Summersville Lake, kayaking the Monongahela River in Morgantown or taking a pleasure cruise down the Ohio River. Why not take a canoe-camping trip for the whole family, or a father-son fishing trip on one of the Mountain State's well-stocked trout streams? House boating on Stonewall Jackson Lake puts a new twist on enjoying fall color - burnished coppers and bronzes reflected in the still waters make for a mildly wild time. Whether its raging whitewater, a lazy river, a calm lake or a spring-fed stream, West Virginia has "H2O to go" for every visitor.
Mountain biking seems to have been invented for West Virginia and me. The states quiet country roads often lead to dirt trails that only a two-wheel traveler can appreciate.
While most folks may think of mountain biking as a wild sport for those who like to head downhill in a hurry, its actually an activity open to practically anyone who enjoys biking. Most of my mountain biking has been on not-so-steep downhill and uphill slopes that most people can conquer. Ive also enjoyed the states many excellent rails-to-trails possibilities (such as the Greenbrier River Trail) and a wide variety of biking opportunities throughout the state.
As with many biking enthusiasts, I cut my mountain biking teeth, so to speak, in the Canaan Valley region of Tucker County, where Canaan Valley Resort State Park and a great little bike shop in Davis called Blackwater Bikes provide the perfect bases of operations for my adventures. Highlights include: 10-plus miles on the Blackwater Canyon Rail-Trail; Blackwater Falls; colorful fall foliage biking and recovering from it all back at the state park. Incredibly, Canaan Valley is just one example of great two-wheeling locations throughout the state.
Take a Hike
I love telling people that Ive hiked the entire length of West Virginias portion of the Appalachian Trail. And, if pressed, I even admit that the Appalachian Trail only spends about four of its 2,174 miles in the northern part and 21 miles in the southern portion of the state.
However, its a great four miles in the north and enough for the trails information center and national headquarters to be situated in historic Harpers Ferry, where the legendary trail passes right through town. Like whitewater rafting the Gauley, hiking this short portion of the trail provides a microcosm of everything thats wild and wonderful about the state.
With elevations ranging from 265 to 1,200 feet, the trails mostly wooded path in West Virginia enters Harpers Ferry by way of a footbridge over the Potomac River. It actually passes within a quarter-mile of its headquarters, where many stop to pay homage to hikers who have come before them.
The great thing about hiking in West Virginia is the variety available. From old railroad grades making for mild elevation changes to seriously steep and challenging climbs thoughout the state, West Virginia is a hikers paradise for those who have boots made for walkin.
The entire state has thousands of miles of hiking trails that make the Appalachian Trails 25-mile stretch look like a walk in the park. The options include 300-plus miles on the Allegheny Trail (a mini-Appalachian Trail that is the longest in the state and is managed by the West Virginia Scenic Trails Association), several rails-to-trails options that are as good for hikers as they are for bikers, many excellent state parks and other public lands (including the huge Monongahela National Forest) that are ideal for hikers of all abilities. Unlike the Appalachian Trail, however, you never have to leave the state to take a great hike.
Surfin on Snow
Its easy for everyone to love winters in West Virginia. There's nothing I like better than a Mountain State resort with some fresh snowfall.
But sometimes, you need a new adventure, and I found it with snowboarding. Now, before you picture me as some teenager with a need for speed, you should know I'm a middle-aged balding guy with a bit of a beer belly (have you tried West Virginia's microbrews?). But neither my age, hairline nor physique kept me from learning to snowboard at Snowshoe Mountain in Pocahontas County.
My first lesson at Snowshoe was with Mark Rotellini, the training center director at the time. He said I'd be amazed at how easy the sport was to pick up, and I replied that he'd soon be amazed at how hard I am to pick up when I fall.
Within 10 minutes, he actually had me sliding around Snowshoe's appropriately named Skidder slope. After another 15 minutes, I was combining small turns.
Mark had me making it all the way down Skidder in less than an hour, where we took well-deserved breaks at the lift. For me, the hardest part was just getting on and off the lift.
After my morning lesson, I regrouped over a huge bowl of hot soup and then headed out for an afternoon lesson. My new instructor looked like your stereotypical snowboarder young, tan, and talented until I found out he was my age. I attacked my second lesson with vigor, thinking I had discovered the fountain of youth right there in West Virginia.
We laughed our way through the hour, but real progress was being made. I wasn't exactly ready to hit Snowshoe's fabled Shays Revenge, but I was truly having fun on my first day of snowboarding.
Though I haven't sold my skis yet, Ive since been snowboarding at all of West Virginia's resorts, where some of the regions best downhill skiing, cross-county skiing, and many other winter wonders are also available. This winter, Im going to try snowshoeing. I figure you're never too old for a new Mountain State sport.
Its a Family Affair
Adventures in West Virginia can certainly be wild, but there are also many mild possibilities for kids -and kids at heart. Though there are age limits on the Gauley River, other West Virginia rivers, such as the Cheat in Mountaineer Country, make family whitewater rafting trips a great way to see the mild side of West Virginia adventures. Of course, mothers and fathers have long found that Mother Nature in West Virginia means family fun anywhere they venture. Other family-friendly options throughout the state include: camping; horseback riding; hiking; biking; canoeing and kayaking; fishing; hunting; wildlife watching; caving; rock climbing; and a wide array of winter sports, including skiing, snowboarding, tubing and snowshoeing.
Hatfield-McCoy Trails: Trails Heaven
With more than 500 miles of trails already open and rave reviews from everyone who visits this southern West Virginia landmark, the Hatfield-McCoy Trails have been a huge hit. What were once old mining and logging roads are being re-used as trails to adventure. Though mostly know as a haven for ATVs, Trails Heaven is also a popular spot for dirt biking, horseback riding, mountain biking and hiking.
The Mountain State boasts hundreds of rock climbing venues, including breathtaking rock formations where you can rappel or climb, and some outfitters offer instruction, as well as guided climbs. If you'd rather check out rocks under the ground, try spelunking in one of the state's 2,000 caverns, including the famed Organ Cave and other commercialized caverns such as Lost World, Smoke Hole and Seneca. As with rock climnbing, outfitters offer day trips into wild caves.