Shepherdstown, West Virginia: People enjoining open air (outdoor party) Oktoberfest.

6 Underappreciated Towns to Visit in West Virginia

West Virginia, the Mountain State, thanks to its dreamy Appalachian landscapes, is replete with scenery, history, and culture. Tucked along rolling hills and surrounded by forests, its underappreciated small towns are easy to overlook, but even easier and more enjoyable to discover with the help of hospitable locals. Each town offers a unique vibe with opportunities for cultural recreation, outdoor relaxation, and adventure, welcoming visitors with fervor and providing unique experiences that leave lasting memories.

Thomas is a cultural hub nestled in the beautiful Allegheny Highlands along the North Fork Blackwater River, featuring galleries, a concert venue, and welcoming studios in its quaint downtown. Shepherdstown, often overlooked yet historically significant as a runner-up for the nation's capital, is one of the oldest towns in the state. Bursting with opportunities for an enriching getaway, its tranquility, and untouched natural surroundings are also notable, as in Harman.


A scene from downtown Bramwell, West Virginia
A scene from downtown Bramwell, West Virginia

Nestled among expansive wooded hills and hollows, Bramwell is perfect for outdoor recreation. At first glance, it may not seem like much with its local shops and the longtime-favored burger joint and soda fountain, the Corner Shop. However, it boasts a rich history as a boom town that once had the largest number of millionaires per capita in the US at the turn of the 20th century. Visitors can explore the lives of coal mining magnates on a quaint escape from city hustle, enhanced by the fresh mountain air and picturesque backdrop. The awe-inspiring sandstone formations at Pinnacle Rock State Park attract active visitors and photographers alike, providing fun climbing or a relaxing backdrop for a photoshoot.

Bramwell is ideal for a weekend of family time and relaxation along the scenic Bluestone River, home to cozy bed and breakfasts and offering a secluded feel perfect for disconnecting. The Hatfield-McCoy Trails network, one of the world's longest off-road trail systems, provides ample ATV-friendly lodging nearby for outdoor enthusiasts. Embodying the essence of an authentic mountain town, Bramwell charms visitors with its unique local humor and friendly atmosphere as they stroll through a collection of historic buildings downtown, including homes like the Hewitt House, Perry House, Thomas House, and Pack House open for tours. The Bramwell Depot recreates the ambiance of the original railroad depot, while the Coal Heritage Trail Interpretive Centre serves as a prelude to a nature hike.


Barn and fields along West Virginia Route 32 in Harman, West Virginia.
Barn and fields along West Virginia Route 32 in Harman, West Virginia.

Situated at an elevation of 2,400 feet, Harman is a picturesque town generously blessed by nature on the Dry Fork of the Cheat River in the Monongahela National Forest. Incorporated at the turn of the 20th century and named after Reverend Asa Harman, the landowner, today visitors can enjoy views and easy access to both the Allegheny Mountains and Rich Mountain, and it's just 13 miles west to Seneca Rocks. Exuding a sense of "harmony" with a population of only 125, it offers several campgrounds, conveniences, and a friendly local eatery with plenty to discover.

To the north along the river, the historic Day-Vandevander Mill, with its Dutch roots, features a charming white facade. The Harman School was built in 1950. Visitors can enjoy fishing, riverside strolls, and picnics at the confluence. Just seven minutes west by car, the Rich Mountain Overlook is accessible via a less-than-an-hour bike ride through tranquil rolling scenery or a rewarding day hike. If driving, consider extending the trip past Alpena to the Otter Creek Trailhead and Bear Heaven Recreation Area. Further on, discover the moss-covered, picturesque Bowden Cave in the town to the west, just over 30 minutes from downtown Harman, among other ambient small-town businesses.


Marlinton Trailhead in Marlinton, West Virginia.
Marlinton Trailhead in Marlinton, West Virginia. Image credit: WVhybrid via Wikimedia Commons.

How about a picturesque haven for outdoor enthusiasts and the cozy appeal of a small town to unwind after fishing, hiking, and mountain biking across 920,000 acres of some of West Virginia's finest landscapes? Marlinton is a charming mountain town nestled within forested surroundings, often unjustly overlooked off the beaten path, with the Greenbrier River flowing directly through its heart. Welcoming visitors with its rugged appeal, it offers authentic mountain-style hospitality at the gateway to the stunningly beautiful Monongahela National Forest, making the journey well worth it. Those less inclined towards strenuous outdoor activities can enjoy exploring the lush riverbank trails, cooled by the river breeze.

The 78-mile Greenbrier River Trail, following a former railroad line, is the state's longest rail trail and offers boundless photogenic opportunities to stop, relax, and enjoy a picnic amid the scenery. Home to several historic sites and museums, the Pocahontas County Historical Society Museum is open from spring through fall, perfectly timed for a visit during the vibrant leaf-peeping season. Be sure not to miss an evening performance at the historic Pocahontas County Opera House, dating back to 1910 and open year-round. Time your visit to coincide with the quirky and entertaining Autumn Harvest Festival and Roadkill Cook-off on September 28 this year.


North Court Street in Downtown Ripley, West Virginia.
North Court Street in Downtown Ripley, West Virginia. By Tim Kiser, CC BY-SA 2.5, Wikimedia Commons

Ripley, often noted for its scenic red-covered bridge, is unfortunately underrated, with several other attractions worth visiting in the Mid-Ohio Valley region. The upcoming annual Ripley On Sale on the Courthouse Lawn on May 24 and 25 this year, featuring 100 local food and craft vendors, will show you just how much more there is to this town. A prime stop on a cross-county road trip between Charleston and Parkersburg, Ripley offers a surprising mix of soul-satisfying cuisine, a historic district with over 100 buildings dating from the late 19th century, and a vibrant spirit of celebration. Known for hosting "the largest small town celebration" in America, the Fourth of July in Ripley is the perfect time to enjoy fireworks, authentic Appalachian moonshine, live music, a firecracker race, and a bicycle parade.

Stick around for the Mountain State Art & Craft Fair continuing until July 7, and stay even longer to indulge in Ripley's culinary delights. From cheesy potato soup to pulled pork barbecue, the family-owned Downtowner serves up rave-worthy dishes like peanut butter and graham cracker pie. Meanwhile, the Fairplain Yacht Club offers uniquely ambitious and inventive dishes such as coconut shrimp with tangy marmalade and "Rings of Fire" jalapeño rings with ranch dip. Pete’s Hotdogs, a no-frills drive-through and diner, provides a nostalgic Americana atmosphere and serves genuine West Virginia dogs in a steamed bun topped with chili "sauce" and slaw.


View of German Street in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.
View of German Street in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Image credit Alizada Studios via Shutterstock.

Uniquely home to the James Rumsey Monument along the Potomac River, directly across from Maryland, and the Bavarian Inn, Resort, and Brewing Company, Shepherdstown offers a colonial feel with a pronounced German theme, reflecting its Pennsylvania German heritage and an appreciation for good food. Located just ten miles from the infamous Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, Shepherdstown is often overshadowed by what is deemed the esteemed small-town destination in the Mountain State, still resonating with echoes of the Civil War. As one of West Virginia’s oldest towns and a former contender for the nation’s capital, Shepherdstown has much to offer.

Explore the historic district, reminiscent of Nottingham Hill, featuring a charming and vibrant central square. Be sure not to miss the Blue Moon Cafe and an evening concert at Frank Hall. The panhandle region of Jefferson County is replete with natural scenery, perfect for a riverside stroll or kayaking the lively waters. The Bavarian Inn is the town's premier accommodation, offering award-winning German cuisine and a stunning infinity pool. O’Hurley’s General Store boasts an impressive collection of home décor, clothing, jewelry, gifts, toys, and even gourmet foods.


The Blackwater River in Thomas, West Virginia.
The Blackwater River in Thomas, West Virginia.

Home to just over 600 residents, Thomas is a hidden gem nestled in the Allegheny Highlands. A single visit can reveal the magical charm of this underappreciated town, from its vibrant art galleries to the abundant outdoor recreational opportunities. The creative inspiration in Thomas is palpable, seamlessly blending nature and culture near the North Fork Blackwater River. Visitors can hike the riverside Blackwater Canyon Trail and explore the dynamic arts scene in the quaint downtown, which features welcoming studios like Nellie Rose Textiles. Don’t miss Invisible, an artist-run gallery, and the celebrated Purple Fuddle, a venue for live music on weekends.

Mark your calendars for the inaugural 2024 Appalachian Fly Fishing Festival, scheduled from May 31 through June 2, offering events for nature lovers and family fun. Spend time at Thomas City Park, which boasts five miles of trails, a fishing dock, and a boat launch—ideal for kicking off anyone's summer vacation. Nearby, the Blackwater Sled Run in Blackwater Falls State Park attracts winter sports enthusiasts with the east coast's longest conveyor belt ride, known as the Magic Carpet.

Next time you're in Harpers Ferry to explore history that played a pivotal role in the Civil War, consider making a ten-minute detour to Shepherdstown for its colonial architecture, a lively central square, and some of the best German cuisine around. Meanwhile, Ripley is renowned for hosting the largest small-town Fourth of July celebration, complete with a fantastic fireworks show and authentic Appalachian moonshine. Marlinton is a must-visit in the fall for its historical sites, scenic leaf-peeping opportunities, an evening at the historic Pocahontas County Opera House, and the quirky Autumn Harvest Festival and Roadkill Cook-off.

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