West Virginia Travel Regions
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The Best of West Virginia
architecture echoes quilt
patterns and mountains.
The red, halo-shaped, multi-peaked roofline of Tamarack: The Best of the West Virginia is hard to miss as you approach exit 45 from I-77 at Beckley. That's good, because you'll be glad you visited the spacious arts center. More than 1,200 artisans and businesses are represented in this cornucopia of West Virginia handcrafts, fine art, live entertainment and good food.
From the bronze door pulls to the stained glass window panels, every detail of Tamarack incorporates the work of state artisans. Inside the retail area, natural light floods the wide, tiled walkway between colorful displays of juried crafts, artworks, food products, recordings, clothing and souvenir items from all 55 West Virginia counties. From glass to silk, from wood to ceramics, West Virginia's finest is gathered here.
With five craft demonstration studios and a 200-seat theater featuring films and live performances (including a popular dinner theater series), something is always happening at Tamarack. Visit the fine arts gallery or stroll the 1.2-mile nature trail, inner courtyard, sculpture garden and herb gardens. Children love the playground and festival meadow. And the food is worth the visit: enjoy regional specialties and classic cuisine at the "Taste of West Virginia" restaurant.
The complex is also a tourist information center with information about attractions throughout the state.
Follow the Leaders: The Legends of Golf Trail
Challenging terrain and spectacular mountain vistas have attracted legendary golf course designers to the Mountain State, resulting in some of the best courses in the Mid-Atlantic region. Experience six of the finest, all in one trip, by following the West Virginia Legends of Golf Trail. Three of the Legends of Golf courses are in the New River/Greenbrier Valley region; avid golfers will want to take in all six. With the purchase of a $60 West Virginia Golf Association card, you can play these and more than 100 other courses in West Virginia and Virginia.
Ready for more? You'll find great golf in every area of the state. Try out one of the world-famous courses at The Greenbrier, for instance. Or take a trip back in time at 1884 Oakhurst Links in White Sulphur Springs, the oldest organized golf club in the US, where sheep do the mowing and the game is played with old-style equipment from Scotland and England.
- At the eastern terminus of the trail, Cacapon State Park's championship course was designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. and has been rated one of the 130 best-designed courses in the US.
- United Airlines' Hemispheres magazine has rated Canaan Valley Resort's 18-hole, par-72 course, designed by Geoffery Cornish, among the prettiest in the East. Even on hot summer days, the high elevation makes for a comfortable round of play.
- Gary Player designed Snowshoe mountain's Hawthorne Valley course to make the most of the rugged contours and spectacular backdrop provided by the Allegheny Mountains.
- Framed by mature trees, George Cobb's course at Glade Springs Resort has a reputation as a challenging exceptionally attractive course.
- A mountaintop lodge overlooks the picturesque Geoffery Cornish course at Twin Falls Resort State Park. It's smaller than some, but tight and demanding.
- Cornish also designed the 18-hole championship course at Pipestem Resort State Park, which rests on the edge of the Bluestone River Canyon.
Whitewater: A Family Affair
With nearly 2,000 miles of streams surging down from our mountains, West Virginia has been recognized for over 30 years as the destination for the most challenging whitewater in the East. But more and more families are discovering that a whitewater excursion can combine outdoor fun - at any level of skill, and for children as young as six - with much, much more. A nature learning vacation. A fascinating exploration of West Virginia history. Golf, biking, rock climbing, horseback riding, hiking or a combination of activities to suit everyone in the family. Outdoor theater, fairs and festivals. Tours of an exhibition coal mine or a hands-on science museum. Art, craft and antique shopping. Gourmet cuisine.
More than 25 rafting companies operate in West Virginia, many of them along the New and Gauley rivers. They offer services and packages from basic to ultra-luxurious, with levels that range from a leisurely float through river mist, watching herons and deer, to seriously demanding rapids for skilled and seasoned paddlers. Trips can last from half a day to five days or more, with accommodations ranging from wilderness camping to comforting bed-and-breakfast establishments to fine inns and hotels.
For family reunions, grandparents and grandchildren, anniversaries and special celebrations - or simply to relax with one another, surrounded by a spectacular natural environment of sparkling waterfalls and rhododendron thickets - a West Virginia whitewater vacation can help make the most of the precious time your family spends together. Call (800)CALL WVA and ask for your free guide to America's best whitewater.
The scenery and the pace change as you enter West Virginia's Greenbrier Valley from the east on I-64. The forests are deeper and greener, the towns smaller and more picturesque.
The first visitors to this valley found abundant natural mineral springs that were remarkably varied in taste - some sulphurous, others distinctly sweet. Following the lead of Native Americans, European settlers attributed curative powers to the water. Dozens of grand resorts flourished, catering to thousands of visitors who flocked to the spas each summer.
At White Sulphur Springs, The Greenbrier continues to welcome princes and presidents. Here, at the five-star resort that sprawls over 6,500 meticulously groomed acres, the original 1830s springhouse still stands, and spa goers still enjoy therapeutic baths in the naturally carbonated water - along with every other imaginable spa luxury (see "Springs Fever" on page 103). Beneath it all is another surprise - today's guests can tour a massive, two-story bunker built in 1958 and maintained in strict secrecy until the early 1990s, designed to house the US Congress, family members and staff in the event of nuclear war.
Just to the west of White Sulphur Springs is Lewisburg, one of the state's most captivating towns in many ways: in a beautifully preserved 18th- and 19-century setting, now designated as a National Historic District, visitors discover dozens of boutiques, galleries, antique shops and several excellent restaurants, along with gracious, antique-furnished country inns and other comfortable lodgings.
Excellent walking and driving tours guide visitors around this area where Colonial and Civil War history remain very much alive. At Lewisburg's own 1902 Carnegie Hall, a gift from steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, performers include international names like Isaac Stern and Kathy Mattea, as well as a popular outdoor concert series. North House Museum delights young and old with hands-on history lessons. From cookware to artwear, from health foods to haute cuisine, you'll find Lewisburg to your liking.
Blue ribbons attest to the juiciest of jams and the heftiest of hogs at West Virginia's State Fair, held each August at Fairlea, just south of Lewisburg. This year marks the 75th annual celebration of agricultural excellence, which also features horse racing, national performers in nightly grandstand shows, carnival fun and educational exhibits.
Rivers and Trails
Canoeists float beside the unspoiled scenery of several state parks and a national forest along the Greenbrier River; beside the river, hikers and bikers take to the 76-mile Greenbrier River Trail. This gentle rails-to-trails route, featuring several lovely bridges and tunnels, is part of the Allegheny Trail, a 330-mile footpath that stretches all the way from the state's northern border with Pennsylvania to the top of Peters Mountain at the south of the state.
The Greenbrier Valley is richly underlaid with caverns, some as yet unexplored. Among the approximately 100 caves that have been named is Scott Hollow Cave, discovered in 1984 and still in its original condition, just south of Lewisburg. North of Lewisburg on Route 219, Lost World Caverns, a registered natural landmark, offers room after room of fantastic sculpture, including some of the largest stalactites in the nation. Another cavern in nearby Ronceverte, Organ Cave, is one of the oldest explored caves in the region, having sheltered pioneers and Civil War soldiers.
For intrepid explorers, outfitters teach caving skills and lead spelunking expeditions through less-traveled underground passageways.
Something Old, Something New
North of Hinton, the eons-old New River takes on the waters of the Greenbrier and plunges into a 1,000-foot-deep gorge where 53 miles of its course are designated the New River Gorge National River.
The National Park Service operates visitors centers at Canyon Rim, Glen Jean, Thurmond, Grandview and Hinton.
The Hinton Visitors Center provides an orientation to the New River's southern reaches, including information on Hinton's history as a railroad town and scenic wonders such as Sandstone Falls.
At Canyon Rim Visitors Center, near the New River Gorge Bridge on US 19 at Fayetteville, you'll see a stunning view of the gorge and the world's longest single-arch steel bridge spanning it. Each October, as many as 100,000 people celebrate the elegant bridge at a festival that features food, crafts and entertainment including parachuted BASE jumpers who fling themselves over the edge and float 876 feet to the river below.
Grandview, a mountaintop park near I-64 and the city of Beckley, overlooks Horseshoe Bend from the southwest rim of the New River Gorge. On summer evenings here, Theatre West Virginia brings to life some of the state's most famous historical characters in professional outdoor drama productions.
Wet and Wild - or Mild
Voted "Best Whitewater River" by 315,000 readers of Blue Ridge Country Magazine in 1998, the New River is well known for outstanding whitewater rafting and kayaking. The stretch of river below Cunard, the Lower New, deserves its national reputation for technically challenging, thrilling rides on Class IV and V rapids. The Upper New is gaining an equally well-deserved reputation as a beautiful setting for gentle family float trips, with whitewater wild enough to whoop over but not too intimidating for youngsters or active seniors. Boat cruises, jet boat excursions, canoeing on the upper reaches, interpretive history walks, nature hikes and smallmouth bass fishing are also popular along the Upper New.
Rocks, Rolling, and Rock 'n' Roll
Rock climbers flock to the sandstone cliffs of the lower gorge near Fayetteville to test their skills and thrill onlookers. And, in ever-increasing numbers, mountain bikers are discovering the region's single tracks, trails, rail trails and country roads. Area outfitters provide guidance, maps and all the necessary equipment for challenging steep mountain trails or coasting along gentle rail beds.
On the northeast rim of the New River Gorge near Clifftop, Babcock State Park, with its picture-pretty Glade Creek Grist Mill, welcomes travelers with 1930s log cabins, campsites, a pool, lake and stables. Adjacent to the park and accessible by a lovely hiking trail is historic Camp Washington-Carver, a satellite division of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History and home of the Appalachian String Band Music Festival and Doo-Wop Saturday Night, an oldies festival.
Park on the Gorge
On the rim of the Bluestone Gorge, south of Hinton and easily accessible from I-77, is Pipestem Resort State Park. An aerial tram takes visitors into the gorge for fine dining. With cottages, campsites, riding stables, indoor and outdoor pools, golf and 4,000 acres of scenic plateau and gorge, Pipestem is unrivaled among state parks. Six miles away, Bluestone State Park offers cabins, a campground, an outdoor pool - and the beautiful Bluestone Lake as its centerpiece.
Historic Hinton's lodgings, shops and museums welcome visitors who arrive by Amtrak's Cardinal three times a week. The train travels beside the New River Gorge National River.
Handcrafts and History
The city of Beckley, just south of the New River at the intersection of Interstates 77 and 64 and US 19, offers a variety of food, lodging and shopping options. The town was founded by General Alfred Beckley, the first Clerk of Congress during the administrations of Washington, Adams and Jefferson. His 1838 home, Wildwood, is now a museum open to the public May through September. More recently, another landmark has made Beckley worth a stop: just north of Beckley and accessible from I-77 is Tamarack, a showcase of West Virginia's finest arts and crafts.
Coal Culture Up Close
At Beckley's New River Park, open spring through fall, former coal miners guide guests on a 45-minute tour of an exhibition coal mine. Next-door, the Coal Museum preserves local coal history, and a genuine, three-room coal company house from the turn of the century stands nearby, along with a relocated and restored mine superintendent's home, a miner's shanty and a small one-room schoolhouse.
Also at the park is the Southern West Virginia Youth Museum, an always-lively place with a planetarium, hands-on science exhibits and a delightful reading nook. Nearby, the museum's Mountain Homestead features a two-story log house, one-room school, weaver's shed, blacksmith shop, barn, moonshine still and country store.
Upscale and Downhill
At Daniels, east of Beckley, 4,000-acre Glade Springs Resort extends a standing invitation to the good life. Fine dining, championship golf, tennis, squash, racquetball, swimming and horseback riding are just a few of the amenities.
Camp Creek State Park, just south of Beckley off I-77, is a 500-acre getaway with 25 modern and 12 rustic campsites, game courts, playgrounds, picnic facilities and hiking trails. The neighboring state forest offers an additional 5,000 acres for outdoor lovers.
When the snow flies, head southeast of Beckley on I-77 to New WinterPlace Ski Resort for skiing until 10 p.m. daily.
King Coal and Its Barons
Coal has played a key role in West Virginia's development, and the state's southern counties offer the genuine experience. The Coal Heritage Trail links Beckley and Bluefield via a string of towns in four counties - Raleigh, Wyoming, McDowell and Mercer - winding past company stores, miners' houses and massive railroad yards.
Downtown Bluefield, off I-77, overlooks a vast network of railroad tracks, often loaded with car after car of glittering black rock. The Eastern Regional Coal Archives, housed in Craft Memorial Library, maintains an extensive library of coal company records, diaries, oral histories and mining tools and artifacts. The Bluefield Area Arts and Science Center features art exhibits and a lively interactive science museum as well as community theater.
A few miles northwest of Bluefield off US 52 is tiny Bramwell, home to more than a dozen coal-made millionaires during the early 20th century - and still a fairy-tale town of turrets, gables, slate and tile roofs, leaded and stained glass, ornate woodwork and wide porches. Tours of historic mansions take place in May and December or by appointment.
For another view of coal country, drive southwest from Beckley on WV Route 97, the Rhododendron Trail, to Twin Falls Resort State Park near Mullens. An intimate complex with a 20-room lodge, cottages and facilities for small conferences or reunions, Twin Falls is well loved for its quiet trails, 18-hole golf course and carefully reconstructed pioneer farm.
Following History's Path
Running east/west across the New River/Greenbrier Valley is US 60, the historic Midland Trail Scenic Highway. Originally a segment of the James River and Kanawha Turnpike, the portion from the Chesapeake Bay to Kanawha Falls was ordered cleared by George Washington in 1790. The important route was also the scene of much action during the Civil War. From Booker T. Washington's boyhood home in Malden to The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, the Midland Trail offers rich history at every turn.
Among the Civil War landmarks is Contentment, the antique-filled 19th-century home of Confederate General George Imboden and his 15-year-old bride, in Ansted. The small town is also home to the African-American Heritage Family Tree Museum, featuring a large collection of historic photographs.
Where the New and Gauley Rivers meet to form the Kanawha is Gauley Bridge. Nearby are two watery wonders - gentle Kanawha Falls is a mile west of the town, and a beautiful wayside waterfall, Cathedral Falls, is just to the east.
At Hawks Nest State Park off US 60, you'll gaze down on a treasured view of the New River Gorge National River as it ends in Hawks Nest Lake. The park's lodge rests on the rim of the gorge, offering spectacular views, and an aerial tram carries visitors to the lake's paddleboats and pontoon cruiser. A small museum with a 1920s-era exhibit of frontier artifacts is worth the walk up the mountainside.
Coursing and Casting
The New River/Greenbrier Valley region boasts 57,000 acres of wildlife management areas. Whitetail deer, black bear, wild turkey, grouse, pheasant and squirrel abound in national and state forests.
Fishing lakes include Moncove, Bluestone, Stevens, Little Beaver, Sherwood, Plum Orchard, Boley, Horse Creek and R.D. Bailey.
Blazing a Trail
The New River/Greenbrier Valley region offers every opportunity to escape the ordinary, whether you seek high adventure, sumptuous comfort, breathtaking scenery - or all of the above. Follow an ancient trail - or create your own vacation route - through age-old rivers and mountains, ever changing yet always the same.