West Virginia may be small, but it is a slice of (almost) heaven. Nicknamed "The Mountain State," this wild and lush landscape fosters endless adventures for weekend warriors. At the same time, it is rife with cute, relaxing, and historic small towns that can easily fill a two-day itinerary. In this article, we'll unpack six of the best options for short yet unforgettable trips. Whether you like to be pampered (we'll start here), log miles on forested trails, shop local, or delve deep into America's challenging history, these communities will deliver on multiple fronts. So queue up the classic John Denver tune, and let's explore small-town West Virginia.
"America's First Spa" has proven to be a worthy weekend getaway since 1776. Thanks to the geothermal pockets within the mountains of Northeastern West Virginia, visitors to Berkeley Springs can enjoy the soothing waters of several natural warm mineral springs. Berkeley Springs State Park is the focal point of the town and features an old Roman bath house (as well as additional newer ones) with a museum on the second floor, swimming pools, a salt cave, and a sandstone castle. Less than 10 miles South of town, Cacapon Resort State Park offers another outlet for relaxation, as well as outdoor recreation options. A satisfying weekend might entail a bit of hiking on some of the 20-mile network (perhaps, even to the top of Cacapon Mountain to take in the impressive vista) or a round of golf on Saturday before melting into spa-life all day Sunday (or vice versa).
A weekend in Fayetteville will deliver a full slate of outdoor activities and just the right dose of small-town charm. This seat of the namesake county is situated in South-Central West Virginia, next to the New River (which, funnily enough, is one of the oldest waterways on the continent) and the 70,000-acre New River Gorge National Park & Preserve. Kick things off with a trip to the New River Gorge Bridge observation decks to marvel at the scenic gorge and the feat of engineering that connected the nearly 900-foot-tall cliffs. Those undeterred by heights can even opt for the harnessed bridge-walking tour. Next, delve into the many trails strewn about the tree-lined banks – passing additional bridges, lookouts, and waterfalls along the way. Cap off the adventure with a whitewater rafting tour before settling into the pleasant rhythm of historic downtown Fayetteville – complete with cute sandwiches, souvenirs, and coffee shops.
This summer, pop over to Summersville for a weekend on the water. Fixed between the long, winding arms of Summersville Lake – the largest in West Virginia. With 2,800 acres of clean freshwater and 60 miles of shoreline that are largely marked by sheer sandstone cliffs and thick hardwood forests, this reservoir is both beautiful and replete with recreation opportunities. The prospect of boating, water-skiing, fishing, hunting, hiking/biking, climbing, and scuba diving draws approximately one million visitors each year (and is certainly a fun way to rebel against upcoming Mondays). Landlocked Summersville even has a 122-foot lighthouse (converted from a wind farm tower) that is open for the public to scale. In town, Summersville offers the blend of casual dining and brewery culture that lake-goers desire after a long day in the sun.
North-Central West Virginia's small city of Buckhannon is all about hospitality and creativity. The stately Upshur County Courthouse marks the heart of historic downtown, with the red-brick buildings of Main Street branching off from there. Tasteful murals, a co-op run by local artists (selling pottery, sculptures, glassware, and more), and plenty of locally owned shops and family restaurants will happily pass a Saturday afternoon. When the sun sets, try catching a cool flick at the Lascaux Micro-Theatre, next to the decorated Trader's Alley. The next day, bop over to Audra State Park, just 13 miles to the Northeast, for a bit of fun on Middle Fork River and maybe hole up for a night at the forested campground, lulled to sleep by the softly babbling waters.
Harpers Ferry is a picturesque town on the border with Maryland and Virginia, right where the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers meet and within Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. Visit John Brown Fort to learn about the slave raid against this famous abolitionist, check in on Storer College, where newly-freed children were first educated, and tread across important Civil War battlefields – heavy history lessons made more palatable by their happy endings and current idyllic surroundings. Speaking of scenery, explore the Blue Ridge mountains by strolling some of the Appalachian Trail, which can be accessed straight from town. The whole trail covers nearly 2,200 miles (making it one of the longest trail systems in the world), but even just a couple of miles around Harpers Ferry will give a glimpse into one of its best sections.
Another great lake town getaway can be had at Cheat Lake, just South of the Pennsylvania border. Spend Saturday somewhere along the serene shoreline of this snaking man-made reservoir, or cruise along the 1,730-acre surface until you find your perfect spot. "The backwaters" cater to those who want to rest and reflect, while other parts of the lake encourage thrill-seeking power-boaters and jet skiers. Speaking of thrills, save some energy for some treetop aerial adventures at the West Virginia Zipline Canopy Tour. If wooded trails and inspiring overlooks of misty, verdant valleys are more your speed, pop down to Coopers Rock State Forest instead. Alternatively, the West Virginia Botanical Garden (on the South side of town) is a lovely spot for a Sunday stroll.
From weathered, tree-covered mountains and ancient rivers to freshly formed artificial reservoirs and manicured trail systems, West Virginia pulls out all the stops. Add in historically significant sites, unique mom-and-pop establishments, and even some hot (well, okay, warm) springs for good measure, and we have ourselves a recipe for a quality weekend retreat. The Mountain State has a good thing going, so shake off the nine-to-five week with a visit to some of these six small towns.