West Virginia is a state in the eastern part of the United States of America. It is mainly forested, and is also home to the Appalachian Mountains, making it a visually impressive place. The state has a lot of history, rooted in both early settlers and the civil war, and many of the smaller towns showcase this history through their unchanged architecture, charming downtowns, or historical sites. The state features mountains, outdoor recreation activities, and friendly people which bring many tourists, yet there are a number of small towns that are less well known. These hidden gems, or underrated towns, are great places for travelers who want to explore somewhere off the beaten track and experience a genuine small-town feel in West Virginia.
Barboursville is a small village in West Virginia right out of a postcard. This historic neighborhood has old-fashioned charm everywhere, from the downtown streets lined with brick buildings to the beautiful gazebo that holds center stage in the heart of the town. The town has a population of roughly 4,260 and is rich in history. The Barboursville Historic District is on the National Register of Historic Places for its abundance of recognized historical buildings. Landmarks include the beautiful Thornburg House built in 1901, the Miller House built by a local pioneer in 1835, the First United Methodist Church Parsonage of 1925, The First National Bank from 1870, and the Adams Building from 1950, to name a few. A trail exists through the town highlighting these and other prominent historical buildings. The village’s location along Route 60 makes it part of the Historic Midland Trail, and this often-overlooked town is well worth a visit.
Bramwell is a small town located in Mercer County, West Virginia. The town sits along the picturesque Bluestone River and is a beautiful area full of friendly charm. The region first gained popularity as a coal mining town, and prosperity blossomed throughout the early 1800s. Its early roots mean it has a number of historical buildings to its name. Despite once housing the most millionaires per capita during the mining boom, the town has a population of approximately 275. Those looking to learn more about the history of the area can enjoy the Coal Heritage Trail Interpretive Center. A number of millionaire homes still stand along the main streets, including the Hewitt House, Perry House, Thomas House, and Pack House. The homes are open for tour, allowing for a glimpse into the former lives of coal mining big-wigs. The Bramwell Depot has a recitation of the original railroad depot and has lots of information about the coal industry in the region.
Aside from its history, Bramwell is a beautiful town surrounded by nature. Outdoor recreation is popular here, and the town sits along the Pocahontas trailhead, part of the larger Hatfield-McCoy Trail System which is one of the longest off-road trail systems in the world. Similarly, Pinnacle Rock State Park is nearby and features a giant impressive sandstone rock formation and is a great place to relax and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.
Buckhannon has a population of roughly 5,300 people and sits in Upshur County. This town is often overlooked in comparison to others in the region, but it stands on its own as a place worth visiting. The downtown region has a vibrant arts and culture sector. Galleries, antique shops, boutiques, and local artisans line the streets. The town is extremely walkable, and the friendly streets have many cute places to stop in, from shops to eateries, cafes, and wineries. Outdoor lovers can also enjoy the nearby Audra State Park, which has a variety of hiking trails as well as the Alum Cave Boardwalk, and scenic views of the Middlefork River.
Clay is a small town of under 400 people in central West Virginia with magnificent scenery. Surrounded by forested areas, this tiny town sits along the gorgeous Elk River making for an even more beautiful sight. The river also offers great fishing opportunities and is one of the best fishing areas in the state of West Virginia. In fact, the town hosts the Elk River Festival. Festivals and town fairs are popular in Clay, as well as the Golden Delicious Apple Festival each September. This friendly and inviting place is more than happy to welcome visitors. Outdoor recreational areas include the Elf River Trail State Park and the Buffalo Creek Recreational Trail.
Harpers Ferry is one of the more well-known towns in West Virginia but it is still a highly underrated place to visit. The small town of roughly 300 people sits on the eastern panhandle, but it has a deep and rich history that puts it firmly on the map. Harpers Ferry is historically significant as it was the location of the John Brown raid of 1859. Visitors can tour the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, including the armory and arsenal which was originally formed in 1799, John Brown’s Fort, and learn all about the abundant civil war history in the area at the Civil War Museum. The town is also located at the confluence of the Potomac River and Shenandoah River. From this point, you can view both Virginia and Maryland. Similarly, visitors can enjoy the Appalachian Trail for hiking paths that run through Harpers Ferry.
Helvetia is a tiny hidden away town that has a population of about 59 people. This underrated town is a true diamond in the rough and contains a wealth of culture and history. The area that is now the village was originally settled in 1869 by Swiss and German immigrants. Over the years, the area has continued to maintain strong ties to this heritage due in large part to the town's secluded location. Today, Helvetia still has a distinctly Swiss and German nature. Visitors enjoy the traditional food, holidays, dance, and music throughout the town, as well as the shops and architecture which reflect the Swiss and German heritage. The townspeople are generally very friendly and welcoming, and many festivals and celebrations are common in the town throughout the year such as the Follow Your Bliss festival, the Helvetia Community Fair, and Swiss national holidays. Though very small, the town contains a lot of cheer and charm.
New Martinsville is a small town in the northern panhandle of West Virginia. Visitors enjoy the historic architecture and vibrant art scene that is growing in the region. Art is a major focus of the area, and funding supports concerts and shows at "Art in the Park" events throughout the town. Artistic types can also enjoy the historical Lincoln theater, which often hosts shows in the town. The city also sits on the Ohio River, located in the Mid-Ohio Valley region. This gives the town a picturesque quality and offers a variety of opportunities for visitors to enjoy the natural landscape of the area through recreation and exploration.
Thomas, in Tucker County, was once a coal town and has a population of around 600 people. It sits at the gateway to the eastern panhandle of West Virginia and is just northeast of Albert falls. The town pairs old-world charm with scenic views for a charming feel that is all it's own. Though small, Thomas has a number of local shops and eateries, including art galleries, boutiques, and antique shops. It also boasts a brick oven pizzeria and the Mountain State Brewing Company. For entertainment, the best place to go is the Purple Fiddle, which is a combination guesthouse and cafe, as well as a bluegrass venue.
Each of these towns offers a window into life in West Virginia. Welcoming, friendly, and full of natural beauty, this state has many charming and underrated towns to explore, from the most well-known to these amazing hidden gems. Whether visitors are searching for artistic towns, gorgeous landscapes, or a quiet escape from city life, these small towns offer something for everyone.