Known as “Almost Heaven,” West Virginia’s natural beauty is of a kind that has haunted first-time visitors for centuries. Seneca rocks. Blackwater Falls. Canaan Valley. These — and many more — often draw hordes of tourists from every corner of the United States. If you plug in the state’s majestic mountains, peaceful valleys, cascading streams, and the amazing views that accompany these natural features, you have a place that deserves to be on the travel bucket list of every American. West Virginia also boasts a delightful array of small towns, some of which are well known, while some, no less deserving, are criminally overlooked. In this regard, discover the 8 most underrated towns in West Virginia to take a trip to.
While Harpers Ferry often gets a lot of mentions in travel circles, there is a sense in which the real experience — time and again — leaves first-time visitors completely blown away. A history lover’s nirvana, Harpers Ferry was the site of John Brown’s raid, an event known to have triggered the Civil War less than two years later. An emotional three-part film on John Brown's life, a man best remembered for the righteousness of his anti-slavery stance, is among the highlights of a trip to the much-visited John Brown Museum. Harpers Ferry is also the gateway to the Appalachian Trail and is actually the headquarters of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Besides, Harpers Ferry brims with charming 19th-century buildings, Civil War-era museums, and other outdoor pleasure spots, including The Point, from where stunning views of the confluence of Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers will melt the stoniest of hearts.
Known for its healing waters, hence the name, Berkely Springs could be the most underrated town in West Virginia. Reputed to be the site of America’s first spa, this town was first called Bath, in honor of England's spa city Bath. One of the town’s favorite spots is George Washington’s Bathtub, a recreated version of where America’s founding president is known to have freshened up and scrubbed behind his ears. Aside from what has been called the “only outdoor monument to presidential bathing,” more than 20 miles of trails await avid hikers at the nearby Cacapon Resort State Park, an outdoor playground that spans more than 6,000 acres. While antiquarians will want to traipse through Berkeley Springs Antique Mall, movie theatres will opt for the Historic Star Theatre, an awesome gem whose owners have incredibly preserved its vintage feel.
Shepherdstown lies along the Potomac River, a waterway whose historical significance is unrivaled. This town was first settled by German craftsmen from Pennsylvania in the 1700s, who would see it chartered as Mecklenburg in 1762, to honor Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, the wife of George III. One of Shepherdstown’s claims to fame is that it's among the oldest in West Virginia — and that Washington once toyed with the idea of making it the country’s capital. This town is often called “The Most Haunted Town In America,” partly because the bloodiest battles of the Civil War took place within its precincts. Thomas Shepherd Inn, located within a few short blocks of the town's shops and restaurants, dates back to 1868 and is a property whose peaceful aura is ideal for rest and relaxation. Finally, Morgan's Grove Park and the nearby Northern Peaks Trail Loop, provide awesome hiking options and hence, deserve to be experienced firsthand.
Home to about 2,800 residents, Williamson is on Tug Fork, smack in the middle of the Tug Valley coalfield, historically known as the “Billion Dollar Coalfield.” September often sees the town celebrating the wildly famous King Coal Festival, an event that attracts droves of tourists and all sorts of crafts and food vendors. This town boasts one of the state’s largest rail yards and is a site that speaks to the town’s mining heritage. The Coal House, which currently houses the Tug Valley Chamber of Commerce, and whose uniqueness lies in the fact it is made of coal, is among West Virginia’s most famous structures. For an experience that will feel like traveling back in time, visitors will want to check out the Hatfield-McCoy Trails, where beautiful rolling hills and thrilling adventures are in store.
About 6,800 call Elkins home, a West Virginia treasure that serves as the headquarters of Monongahela National Forest. This quaint mountain town (Elkins is in the Alleghany Mountains) is an outdoor lover’s paradise and hence, provides an awesome escape to nature enthusiasts. Monongahela National Forest, which spans more than 900,000 acres of land, occupies one of the most ecologically diverse areas in the nation. Four man-made lakes (perfect for trout fishing), miles of picturesque trails, and 600 miles of coldwater streams — make this national forest one of the country's finest adventure wonderlands. Plus, Seneca Rocks, known to epitomize West Virginia’s rugged beauty, is only about a 43-minute drive away. If a road trip is your cup of tea, the Highland Scenic Highway, which snakes through the mountainous terrain of the Allegheny Highlands, will be beckoning.
A vivacious small town of just about 3,700 residents, Lewisburg might be a big name in travel circles, but just like Harpers Ferry, the experience it provides often exceeds the loftiest expectations. Lewisburg sits on I-64 near the Greenbrier River and the Greenbrier State Forest. It boasts attractions that cut across historical charm, culinary excellence, and natural appeal. Lewisburg has been named America’s Coolest Town and West Virginia’s “Best Town for Foodies.” You will want to feel part of the production at the intimate Greenbrier Valley Theatre, enjoy the best salmon at Stardust Cafe, rest your head at the Historic General Lewis Inn, or slide into your hiking boots and find your way to the visually delicious Greenbrier River Trail, the state’s premier rail trail.
This West Virginia gem plays host to about 45,000 residents and, for its tasty look (Huntington is in the panoramic western foothills of the Appalachian Mountains) — and a delightful menu of attractions, is hands-down among the most underrated towns in West Virginia. The excellently-maintained Ritter Park, on Huntington's Southside, is so epic and surreal, it offers an experience that is among the most evocative. A beautiful rose garden, an awesome fountain, a kid's playground, scenic walking trails, a glistening creek, nice bridges, and a dog park — are features that set this park a shoulder above the rest. For some perfectly-crusted pizza and nice toppings, Backyard Pizza and Raw Bar is a hip hangout that is known to light up pallets. Meanwhile, avid shoppers will get a blast at Pullman Square, a shopping hub that dabbles up as a great place for dinner and evening walks.
Secreted along the gorgeous banks of the Bluestone River, Bramwell plays host to less than 300 residents, yet, was once home to the largest number of millionaires per capita of any town in the United States in the late 19th century. Today, this town is quite welcoming and is often used as the gateway to Pinnacle Rock State Park, best known for its signature 3,100-foot sandstone formation — Pinnacle Rock. While the stretch to the top can be leg-burning, the heart-melting views will more than make up for the effort. Millionaire homes, with their stained-glass windows, indoor swimming pools, and fancy parlors, such as the Hewitt House, reputed to be the last coal-baron house built in Bramwell, are among the town’s most sought-after attractions. For avid hikers, Bramwell provides access to the Pocahontas trailhead, an off-road heaven that comes with awesome scenery.
The majestic mountains of West Virginia, the state’s rural feel and rustic appearance — qualify it among the most beautiful in the state. Nicknamed “Almost Heaven,” West Virginia also plays host to an array of evocative historical attractions. For instance, John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry is known to have precipitated the Civil War. Featuring towns that will cater to any taste, first-time visitors to West Virginia will be spoilt for choice. While some of these towns are big names in travel circles, others are not as hyped as they should be. West Virginia’s most underrated towns include Harpers Ferry, Berkeley Springs, Shepherdstown, and Elkins.