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West Virginia’s Wild & Wonderful State Parks

aerial view of ravens rock and cheat river in west virginia

The State of West Virginia is often regarded for its beauty. An excellent way to observe the diverse flora, fauna, waterfalls and breathtaking vistas is to visit one of West Virginia’s state parks, state forests or recreation areas. The state offers rail trails, several wildlife management areas, seven state forests and 36 state parks and resorts. No matter your location in West Virginia, there should be a park nearby for you to explore.

What is the Origin of West Virginia State Parks?

Work on West Virginia’s first state park began in 1925 in Pocahontas County when 4,500 acres of second growth timberland was purchased by the Game and Fish Commission. The state purchased an additional 5,107 acres in August 1934 from the Maryland Lumber Company. In 1934, Watoga changed from a state forest to a state park. It opened to the public on July 1, 1937. While the land for Watoga was purchased first, it was actually nearby Droop Mountain Battlefield state park that opened to the public as the first state park. Dedicated on July 4, 1928, this site commemorates the last major Civil War conflict in West Virginia. Based on recommendations from the Fish and Wildlife Commission, the legislature acted to secure more land for parks in 1927. The goal was to advance conservation efforts in the state while also preserving scenic areas before they were exploited for commercial and industrial use. Parks to follow Watoga include Babcock, Lost River and Hawks Nest.

The Civilian Conservation Corps was instrumental in developing many structures in the park system. It was one of the original New Deal agencies created by Franklin D. Roosevelt to move America out of The Great Depression. The goal of the CCC was to provide employment opportunities to the nation’s young men who were between the ages of 18 and 25. Members planted trees, strung electric and telephone lines, built fire stations and fire towers, and went to work developing the areas that would be West Virginia State Parks. Much

of the architecture in West Virginia State Parks shares a similar quality, evident in the detailed log structures and expert stone work, many of which are still in use today.

Types of Parks

A spokesperson for West Virginia State Parks said it best when stating that resorts are your vacation destinations. Resorts are defined by having more than your basic state park amenities — primarily golf courses, restaurants and lodges. If you are interested in a more rustic experience, you may choose to camp or stay in a cabin in one of West Virginia’s parks. The state also has eight state forests, which are managed by the Division of Forestry. They are sites of research and are managed to be timbered. Many of these areas offer traditional recreational activities including hiking and swimming. State parks also have several wildlife management areas with activities that include swimming, camping and hiking. The goal of these areas is to create a supreme environment for game animals and fish.

West Virginia state parks and resorts have something for every traveler, for every season. There are always things to do and places to see. For those catching a hint of spring fever, take the sternwheel riverboat from Point Park on 2nd Street in Parkersburg to Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park. There, you’ll be able to tour the Blennerhassett Island Museum of Regional History, a three-story building filled with historic items used by the Native Americans who once lived in the region, as well as art, clothing and antique household furniture.

Are you looking for some relaxation? Think about taking a weekend getaway and camp out in one of the four new yurts at West Virginia’s northern most state park, Tomlinson Run, or head south to stay in one of the 14 cabins in the heavily wooded areas of Wyoming County at Twin Falls Resort State Park.

The summer months are the time to get adventurous. The Greenbrier River Trail is a 78- mile former railroad track that crosses 35 bridges and goes through two tunnels. It was once ranked as one of the top 10 hiking trails in the country by “Backpacker Magazine.” If you plan on making stops along your trek, make sure that you have your fishing license and swimwear.

If you’re looking for ways to beat the heat, drop by and take a dip in the Lost River State Park pool located in Mathias, West Virginia. It was originally constructed by the CCC and renovations have helped to maintain its rustic charm throughout the years.

For a day of pampering, be sure to head to the Eastern Panhandle where warm mineral spas await at Berkeley Springs State Park or play 18 holes at one of the nation’s 130 best designed golf courses at nearby Cacapon Resort State Park.

When things start to cool down, don’t forget to take full advantage of some of the most beautiful foliage and historic sites in the Mountain State. Head to Cass, West Virginia, and take a train ride on the Cass Scenic Railroad through the colorful hillsides of Pocahontas County. The spectacular views will make you fall in love with the autumn season.

And, if you’re wanting to take a more historic approach, Carnifex Ferry Battlefield State Park is just for you. Named after the Battle of Carnifex Ferry, this 156-acre state park is part of the Civil War Discovery Trail. Every two years in September, a live reenactment is held that depicts the Union army defending the Kanawha Valley from the Confederates.

Things to Do

West Virginia’s state parks offer a variety of activities for visitors. Parks offer camping, hiking and biking trails; fishing, swimming and boating; golf; and horseback riding. Some parks offer fishing in stocked streams, cross-country skiing, and train rides. Pipestem State Park added a zipline for thrill-seeking park-goers. Many parks offer workshops on a variety of topics including photography, bird watching, guitar, farm-to-table dinners and more. There are also several programs park enthusiasts can participate in. The Very Important Park Person program is free to join. Once you register for the program, you will receive a card in the mail with designated parks and facilities. After visiting 15 major areas and five minor areas in the West Virginia State Park system, you will receive a patch and a $25 gift card for use at a park facility. There also are special events hosted for VIPP members every year.

West Virginia’s state parks and forests offer excellent hiking trails. They also sponsor a hiking program. To enter this program, you must fill out a registration form and pay a $15 fee. Once registered, you will receive a hiking stick and a log to track the miles hiked in West Virginia State Parks. You can log your miles and periodically turn in the information to receive plaques for hiking milestones that easily attach to your hiking stick.

Whether you like roughing it in a tent, enjoying the comforts of a resort, having a peaceful stroll through nature, a thrill-seeking adventure, self-guided nature lesson or taking a tour from an expert park employee, West Virginia State Parks have something to offer you.

Jeffery Davis, WVU Extension Agent – Fayette County
Stephanie Lusk, former WVU Extension Agent