Aerial view of the town of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.

7 Coolest Towns In West Virginia For A Summer Vacation In 2024

Thanks to John Denver, who honored the state in his song "Take Me Home, Country Roads," West Virginia is nicknamed "Almost Heaven." After spending the summer among its Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River, old trees, and refreshing breeze, you will know that Denver did not exaggerate. However, he did not specify which towns to visit for the coolest views. Since he is no longer with us, we have elected to do it for him. As such, here are the closest communities to heaven for a West Virginia summer vacation.

Seneca Rocks

Supermoon over Seneca Rocks in West Virginia
Supermoon over Seneca Rocks in West Virginia.

Seneca Rocks is a landmark, a community, and a true statement. It is home to a couple hundred people but is a summer paradise to a couple hundred thousand, chiefly because of its namesake crag and the surrounding Monongahela National Forest. In addition to scaling the 900-foot formation, Monongahela visitors can paddle the Potomac River, bike the North Fork Mountain, and climb Spruce Knob, the highest natural point in West Virginia (4,863 feet). Pleasantly pooched, they can refresh with food, drink, and sleep at Yokum's. After waking, they would be wise to tour Harper's Old Country Store, which, built in 1902, is one of the state's oldest continuously operating businesses.


Historic Lewisburg, West Virginia, along US Route 60
Historic Lewisburg, West Virginia, along US Route 60.

The Monongahela National Forest is so large that Lewisburg, a community 113 driving miles away from Seneca Rocks, is another phenomenal access point. Starting from this 4,000ish-person "city," vacationers can travel to the Cranberry Glades Botanical Area, which is a 750-acre preserve of bogs that are normally found in the northern tundra. Unique plants growing in this unique ecoregion include sphagnum moss, carnivorous pitcher plants, and namesake cranberries. But it is an even shorter trip from Lewisburg to the Lost World Caverns, which is a similarly unique cave system that was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1973.

If that is not enough natural excitement, the city is flanked on the other side by another millionish-acre national wilderness: the George Washington & Jefferson National Forests. Between those prodigious preserves, Lewisburg proper offers humanmade attractions like The Humble Tomato, The French Goat, Wolf Creek Gallery, and one of only four operational Carnegie Halls. Moreover, its aptly titled suburb, Fairlea, hosts the State Fair of West Virginia, which draws about 185,000 people annually. 2024's edition is set to run from August 8 to 17.

Harpers Ferry

Aerial view of the town of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
Aerial view of the town of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.

History buffs rejoice on the bluffs of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers in Harpers Ferry. That is where John Brown led a slave revolt against the US government in 1859 and Confederate General Stonewall Jackson captured the Union garrison in 1862. Both events are immortalized in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, a 3,700-acre complex of historic structures such as John Brown's Fort, the John Brown Museum, the Civil War Museum, Provost Marshal Office, and Master Armorer's Quarters. Even if you are not a fan of American history, Harpers Ferry contains, as of 2022, 408 acres of agricultural land, 41 important species of wildlife, 23 miles of hiking trails (it is the headquarters of the Appalachian Trail), and a variety of climbing rocks to maximize a scenic summer vacation.


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

Another gateway to the Monongahela National Forest (but this one north of Seneca Rocks rather than south), Thomas has around 600 residents and sits around 3,000 feet above sea level. At that elevated position, residents and tourists can access one of the top summer spots in the state: Blackwater Falls State Park. It is defined by the titular six-story falls that flow from the Blackwater River in the heavenly Canaan Valley (the highest valley of its size east of the Mississippi). After peeping that promised land, sightseers can explore the secondary oasis of Canaan Valley Resort State Park before testing Thomas's award-winning coffee (TipTop) and music (Purple Fiddle). Thomas is often mentioned alongside Davis, which is a similarly sized community just a couple miles away and with the same access to natural and commercial wonders.


Glade Creek Grist Mill in Fayetteville, West Virginia.
Glade Creek Grist Mill in Fayetteville, West Virginia.

Speaking of natural and commercial wonders, you would be hard-pressed to find a better mix of those in any other West Virginia locale besides Fayetteville. This 3,000ish-person town has highly rated eateries like the Secret Sandwich Society, Pies & Pints, and Cathedral Cafe; breweries like The Freefolk Brewery and Bridge Brew Works; and vieweries like New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, which is a 70,000-acre park with a 53-mile river in a 1,500-foot gorge crossed by a 3,000-foot steel arch bridge. Vacationers can explore the park by foot, bike, raft, or atop the bridge on a Bridge Walk, which begins at the Canyon Rim Visitor Center and involves safety cables securing passengers as they saunter 876 feet above the river.

Green Bank

The scenic town of Green Bank, West Virginia
The scenic town of Green Bank, West Virginia. Editorial credit: Elena Berd /

If you prefer to be less exposed while exploring West Virginia, travel to the Green Bank area and take the Cass Scenic Railroad. Located in the namesake community that would have fallen off the map without its choo-choo-revenue, the Cass Railroad shuttles passengers on historic steam locomotives through miles of West Virginia wilderness, including the state's third-highest peak, in an area called Cass Scenic Railroad State Park. Just northeast of Cass and with a few more residents, Green Bank would also be on the cartographer's floor if not for the Green Bank Observatory, which contains the world's largest fully steerable radio telescope. Another community in this Pocahontas County scenic complex is Snowshoe, whose Snowshoe Mountain resort has world-class skiing in the winter and mountain biking in the summer.


The Tygart Flyer in Elkins, West Virginia
The Tygart Flyer in Elkins, West Virginia. Editorial credit: Steve Heap /

Big for a West Virginia mountain town, Elkins has roughly 7,000 residents and myriad attractions to fill a summer vacation. Tourists can get a beer from Big Timber Brewing Company, a burger from Beander's, a steak from El Toro Steakhouse, and a show from the Gandy Dancer Theatre. Additionally, they can ride the Elkins leg of the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad, which also manages the Cass Scenic Railroad. Arguably, the best rail excursion is a four-hour, 48-mile round-trip from Elkins to High Falls, an 18-foot waterfall in the Monongahela National Forest. Other Monongahela marvels near Elkins include the Stuart Recreation Area and the Bickle Knob Observation Tower.

As John Denver correctly crooned, West Virginia is "Almost Heaven." Summer is a great time to play angel among its sun-glazed mountains, forests, rivers, valleys, waterfalls, bogs, crags, and bluffs, plus high-elevation towns to serve as retreats between celestial sightseeing. Let there be light in Seneca Rocks, Lewisburg, Harpers Ferry, Thomas, Fayetteville, Green Bank, and Elkins for a 2024 West Virginia vacation.

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