Springtime in West Virginia brings three great reasons to visit: whitewater rafting, scenic train rides, and birdwatching. Special packages, events, and festivals surrounding these popular activities make vacation planning a snap for friends and families of all ages and interests.
April showers bring crashing Class V rapids – and peak season — to the Cheat and Tygart rivers in north-central West Virginia. Elsewhere in the state whitewater rafting season is just gearing up— from the Class II to V, mild-to-wild waves of the New and Gauley rivers in southern West Virginia to the gentler Class II and III ripples of the Potomac and Shenandoah at their confluence in historic Harpers Ferry.
Pair your rafting adventure with a variety of other adrenaline-pounding activities to build a wild and wonderful vacation. Many river outfitters in the state offer packages that include zip line canopy tours, horseback riding, treetop aerial adventures and guided rock climbing. Lodging on the premises ranges from basic tent and RV camping sites to fully furnished luxury cabins
The Via Ferrata at NROCKS (formerly Nelson Rocks Preserve) offers a unique way to experience West Virginia’s beauty from above. Climbers are tethered to a fixed-anchor system, crossing a suspension bridge and gaining 1,085 feet in elevation. The double-fin rock formation provides a physical challenge to climbers, who are in turn rewarded with breathtaking views of the valley. Climbing is restricted to ages 13 and up but no experience is required.
Hit the rails
The Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad in Elkins kicks off its season April 4 with the Cottontail Express, an Easter-themed train ride for children. The train depot is just a hop, skip and a jump away from American Mountain Theatre and Gandy Dancer Dinner Theatre, both of which offer music and comedy variety shows suitable for the whole family. Additional scenic trains operated out of the Elkins depot, including the Cheat Mountain Salamander, the Durbin Rocket and the New Tygart Flyer, offer stunning views of woods and waterfalls in the Monongahela National Forest.
South of Elkins, Cass Scenic Railroad runs its antique steam locomotives up the mountain to a restored 1940s era logging camp at Whittaker Station and to the 4,842-foot high overlook at Bald Knob, which offers a spectacular view into two states.
Scenic trains and seasonal food combine for a harmonious offering on April 25, when the Elkins train depot hosts its 7th Annual Ramps and Rail Festival. The event features train rides, live music and a variety of dishes prepared with ramps – wild leeks harvested in the spring and celebrated at food festivals statewide. To learn more about this delicious wild plant, travel to Richwood, which bills itself the Ramp Capital of the World; the Nicholas County town hosts its 77th Annual Feast of the Ramps on April 18.
Watch for the birds
In springtime the Mountain State comes alive with bird song and flashes of color. More than 75 species of birds breed in West Virginia and the state is an excellent habitat for neotropical species that winter in Central and South America. You’ll also find many prime viewing areas for birds of prey.
A prime bird-watching area in the Eastern Panhandle – only an hour’s drive from the D.C. area – is Cacapon Resort State Park, where wind currents on Cacapon Mountain assure sightings of a variety of bird species year-round. Family-oriented activities at Cacapon include a summer nature program, Young People for Parks (YPP) and beginning birding for youth ages 6-16.
American bald eagle sightings are said to occur on more than 90 percent of excursions of the Potomac Eagle Scenic Railroad. The train travels through a remote, scenic area along the South Branch of the Potomac River in the mountains of eastern West Virginia. To West Virginia’s south, Eagle Watches are conducted in early spring with findings posted to Pipestem Resort State Park’s website: www.pipestemresort.com
Three Rivers Avian Center (TRAC) offers regularly scheduled tours of its facility and presents live raptor exhibits at venues and events throughout the state. TRAC hosts its annual Migration Celebration at Little Beaver State Park on May 9 and will bring its birds to Vandalia Gathering at the West Virginia State Capitol on May 23-24. Both events are free and open to the public. TRAC, a nonprofit raptor rehabilitation facility in Brooks, West Virginia, is a short drive from Bluestone and Pipestem Resort state parks.
The annual New River Birding and Nature Festival is April 27 – May 2. The event, featuring guided field trips, guest speakers and more, offers options to suit every individual and budget, from weeklong cabin accommodations to day trips. www.birding-wv.com
Canaan Valley Resort State Park’s high elevation, beautiful grasslands and boggy wetlands provide habitat for a wide variety of birds. Canaan hosts a Birding Festival June 4-7. Just 10 miles down the road from Canaan, Blackwater Falls State Park hosts an Owl & Warbler Weekend Workshop May 29-31. Enrollment for the Owl & Warbler Weekend is limited and preregistration is required: www.blackwaterfalls.com
Tygart Lake State Park is well known for spring and fall migration. Bird Banding and Survey weekends are popular and scheduled for May 1-3 and October 2-4. Tygart Lake Lodge offers a Bird Watcher rate for overnight accommodations.
Travelers to Pocahontas County can visit www.pocahontascountywv.com to download a free map and guide to birds of the area. The county’s 900 square miles of deep conifer forests, lush grass meadows and acidic wetlands offer prime bird-watching areas including Cranberry Glades Botanical Area, the Monongahela National Forest and the Greenbrier River Trail.
Whether your interests lean toward outdoor exploration, culture and heritage or culinary delights, you’ll find what you’re searching for in wild, wonderful West Virginia. Request your 2015 Official State Travel Guide and start planning your getaway today.
Find your adventure in West Virginia at www.GoToWV.com or by calling 800-CALL-WVA. For information on West Virginia State Parks visit www.wvstateparks.com. Join the conversation and share your wild, wonderful stories on Facebook at www.facebook.com/GoToWV or on Twitter and Instagram @GoToWV with #GoToWV.