If you think of West Virginia as the Mountain State, you’ve got the right name, but only a fraction of the picture when it comes to recreational possibilities.
It’s true, the Appalachian Mountains’ peaks and ridges make for splendid views and energizing hikes. But there are many other possibilities, including world-class whitewater rafting, scuba diving in the East’s clearest lake, rock climbing, and mountain biking on endless trails.
Visitors can also ride historic trains, play foot golf on groomed courses (as well as the traditional game), or explore the New River Gorge by jet boat, airplane, or zip line. All of this lies within a half day’s drive of Washington, D.C.
Summersville, known as the “Gateway to Adventure” because of its proximity to the pounding Gauley River and Summersville Lake, is a good place to start.
Its namesake lake offers largemouth and smallmouth bass, walleye, channel catfish, crappie, and bluegill for spring anglers.
The 2,800-acre lake is also home to the state’s largest marina and Sarge’s Dive Shop. The last place you might think to go scuba diving is West Virginia, but few U.S. lakes have the extraordinary water clarity found in Summersville Lake, which is actually a dammed section of the Gauley River. In places, underwater visibility exceeds 50 feet.
Sarge’s leverages this clarity by offering a host of dive charters, snorkel trips, gear, and certification.
This inland lake also boasts a lighthouse. Its creation was a major project for local high school and college students, who constructed the 100-foot lighthouse from a wind turbine. The lighthouse yields 30-mile views of the lake to those who pay a fee to climb its 122 spiraling steps.
Summersville Lake Retreat, owner of the lighthouse, also offers camping, cabins, and boat rentals.
Parks in the south
Heading south on Route 20, travelers can stop off at the Summers County village of Hinton, where a whole island and its family-sized cabin can be rented for a true getaway. Further south, travelers enter the beautiful Bluestone River Gorge, home of Bluestone Lake State Park and Pipestem Resort State Park.
On summer mornings, fog slides out of the gorge like a backward avalanche — first a few wisps, then the whole cloud.
Insider tip: Some visitors make a daily ritual of awaiting this spectacle, coffee in hand, on the balconies of Pipestem Resort State Park’s McKeever Lodge — a grand way to start the day.
The park has three golf courses, one that shares its fairways with the new sport of foot golf that’s popular with the soccer generation.
Hawks Nest State Park on the lower New River also offers dramatic views from the rim of the New River Gorge as well as golf, nature programs, and hiking. A tramway descends into the gorge, where visitors can take a jet-boat ride upstream to the base of the New River Gorge Bridge, arching 976 feet above. The lodge and restaurant are positioned for magnificent sunsets.
The New and Gauley rivers provide white-water challenges from rollicking Class I and II rapids all the way to roaring Class V waves.
Fayetteville, on the south edge of the New River Gorge, is where rafters, mountain bikers, rock climbers, and fishermen (and women) gather for dining, nightlife, and the Historic Fayette Theater. The town has a history — it changed hands several times during the Civil War and was partially destroyed during fighting. But that’s only part of its identity.
“We’re old and new. Progressive and traditional. Fine and funky. People are friendly and the atmosphere is fun,” says Sally Kiner, who promotes Fayetteville.