There are eight national parks in West Virginia just waiting to be explored. These eight sites are national park service sites that include scenic trails, national recreation areas, and a national park and preserve.
From the historical Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail to the picturesque Bluestone National Scenic River, West Virginia is the perfect destination for both nature lovers and history buffs. If you want to plan a trip to the Mountain State, add at least one of these excellent national park service sites to your West Virginia bucket list.
- National Parks in West Virginia
- National Scenic Trail
- National Scenic River
- National Recreation Area
- National Park & Preserve
- National Historic Park
National Parks in West Virginia
- Lower New River Whitewater Rafting Trip
- New River Gorge Side-by-Side Family Tour
- National Park Whitewater Rafting in New River Gorge
- Family Rafting in the New River Gorge National Park
- Lower Gauley Fall Rafting Special
National Scenic Trail
1- Appalachian National Scenic Trail
The Appalachian Trail is 2,190 miles (3524 km) long, and 28 miles (45km) of the trail pass through West Virginia.
The trail passes through 14 states, from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Katahdin in Maine.
Benton MacKaye was the person who thought up the idea of the Appalachian Trail.
He was a forester, social reformer and planner and first proposed the idea of the trail in 1921.
MacKaye’s plan was to merge leisure, industry, cities, the natural environment and its preservation.
MacKaye’s main aim of creating the Appalachian trail was to give city dwellers a place in nature to escape to.
West Virginia’s section of the trail sure does offer this.
The state’s portion of the trail is largely based in Harpers Ferry in eastern West Virginia on the border with Maryland.
Harpers Ferry is also home to The Appalachian Trail Conservancy Visitor Center.
At this centre, you can look at several exhibits about the trail and the stories behind those who walk the trail.
Jefferson Rock is one of the best places to go along the Appalachian Trail in West Virginia.
Thomas Jefferson even cited this beautiful spot as being “worth a voyage across the Atlantic”.
You can also follow the Appalachian Trail to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, which used to link the markets along the Potomac River.
One of the reasons that make the West Virginia section of the trail so great is that it provides that much-needed solitude.
Across all 14 states, there are really popular parts of the trail that won’t result in you having a moment to yourself. But along the southern part of West Virginia’s trail, close to Peterstown, you’ll find one of the quietest parts of the entire trail (Shush…don’t tell anyone!).
There are several places to hop onto the trail, but the Appalachian Trail Visitor Center can be found at 799 Washington Street, Harpers Ferry, WV 25425.
2- Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail
This historic trail follows the route of the 1804 to 1806 Lewis and Clark Expedition.
This expedition, also known as the Corps of Discovery, was led by (you guessed it) Captain Meriweather Lewis and his friend and Lieutenant William Clark.
The aim of the expedition was to explore the newly acquired territories that were acquired as part of the Louisiana Purchase.
Under the commission of Thomas Jefferson, they were tasked with mapping out the newly acquired territory and finding a route for trade across the western part of the continent.
There was also a secondary aim of studying the areas biodiversity and geographical formations whilst also establishing trade with Native Americans.
Today the trail passes through sixteen states: Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon.
Whilst the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trial is not a hiking trail per se there are opportunities to hike along the traditional expedition route.
As well as hiking, you can explore other national park service sites and go horse riding and boating.
There are a few places to visit in West Virginia that are along the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail:
- The Ohio River
- Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge
- Fireman’s Park
Today you can head to the Ohio River, which in 1803, was a busy highway for transporting goods.
Wheeling and Moundsville were founded in the 18th century and are well worth a stop to admire their architecture and surrounding landscape.
You can also head to the Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge, a beautiful wildlife habitat across the river’s floodplain.
This refuge is home to 22 islands and covers an area of 3440 acres (1392 ha).
Fireman’s Park is another excellent spot that’s dedicated to the area’s firefighters.
You’ll find this lovely green space in the historic downtown of New Martinsville.
National Scenic River
3- Bluestone National Scenic River
The Bluestone National Scenic River, locally known as the “Beautiful Bluestone” is an excellent national park service site.
It’s one of West Virginia’s more secluded national park service sites, but it’s a majestic gorge.
There are some beautiful scenic spots along the Bluestone River in southern West Virginia.
One of the ways to access the Bluestone National Scenic River is through the Pipestream State Park.
West Virginia’s lower part of the Bluestone River is around 10.5 miles (17 km) long in the southern part of the state and cuts through an impressive gorge and is the part that has been designated a scenic river.
Bluestone was designated a national scenic river in 1988 as part of the Wild and Scenic River Act.
There is a plethora of outdoor activities to enjoy along the Bluestone national scenic river, including hiking, mountain biking, fishing, and birdwatching and in springtime, you can hit the water on canoes and kayaks.
Hikers can enjoy the 9.5-mile (15 km) Bluestone Turnpike Trail, which follows the old riverbank road path.
Head to the Pipestream State Park at 3405 Pipestream Drive, Pipestream WV 25979 for the best place to access the Bluestone National Scenic River.
National Recreation Area
4- Gauley River National Recreation Area
In South-Central West Virginia, the Gauley River National Recreation Area is around 30 miles (48 km) east of Charleston.
This national park service site was established in 1988 and is home to 11,000 acres (4451 ha) of land as well as 31 miles (49 km) of the Gauley and Meadow rivers.
Both rivers cut through stunning gorges and valleys.
Its topography is interesting and there is a diverse range of plant and animal species.
It truly is one of the most scenic places in the whole of West Virginia.
Hitting the water is one of the top things to do at the Gauley River National Recreation Area.
If you head down to the river near to the Summersville Dam, you will find adventure seekers getting soaked while whitewater rafting.
Each September, water is released from the dam, and thrill seekers start heading to West Virginia.
This section of the Gauley River has become world-renowned as a top whitewater rafting spot. Here’s a whitewater rafting adventure on Class III/IV rapids.
It’s not just tourists that come to try out the water sports, professional rafters and kayakers come to entertain themselves with the water’s fun and ferocious waves.
Some of the specific rapids that people travel to West Virginia for include Lost Paddle, Pillow Rock, and Pure Screaming Hell!
There are more than 100 rapids in a 25-mile (40 km) stretch, it’s the ultimate West Virginia bucket list activity if you are searching for an adrenaline rush.
If you are a fishing fanatic, you will love the Gauley River National Recreation Area.
The cold water from the dam at Summersville Lake has created an ideal spot for trout fishing.
The Gauley River is filled with golden, rainbow, and brown trout. As well as trout, there is also muskie, bass, and walleye.
Though not technically part of the recreation area, there are several watersport activities to try at the nearby Summersville Lake, so it’s worth combining both West Virginia attractions in one trip.
Nearby there’s also the Carnifex Ferry Battlefield State Park, Hawks State Park, Babcock State Park, and the Monongahela National Forest.
The Gauley River National Recreation Area is at 36 Fayette Station Road, Victor, WV 25938.
National Park & Preserve
5- New River Gorge National Park & Preserve
This national park service site was established in 1978 as the New River Gorge National River but was re-designated as the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve in 2021.
The New River Gorge National Park & Preserve covers 70,000 acres (28327 ha) of land along with 53 miles (85 km) of the New River.
This section of the river stretches from Bluestone Dam to Hawk’s Nest Lake.
Despite its name, the New River is one of the world’s oldest rivers and has, over thousands of years, continued to carve a deep and long gorge through the Appalachian Mountains.
There is a plethora of activities to enjoy at New River Gorge National Park & Preserve.
If you love bike riding, be sure to hit the many trails in the area.
There are easy trails with plenty of vantage points and places to stop as well as more difficult mountain bike trails.
Why not turn your New River Gorge National Park & Preserve trip into an overnight stay?
There are opportunities to camp primitively throughout the park.
This park has plenty of opportunities for rock climbing, whether it’s your first time or you’re experienced.
There are more than 1,600 established climbing routes for you to try out.
If you prefer to have your feet on the ground, head along the park’s hiking trails. There is a trail as short as ¼ miles to longer trails of 7 miles and a chance to connect some trails together for a full-day excursion.
The hiking trails are for all abilities, from flat walks to steep, tricky terrain.
For less strenuous way to explore the park, try this UTV adventure tour.
Before stepping out into the park, many visitors will enjoy the New River Gorge Scenic Drive.
This is an 83-mile (133 km) route that connects highways, interstates, and two-lane roads all with beautiful vistas that provide a look into the geographical history of the area.
For an adrenaline rush, there are whitewater rafting experiences for all levels:
- Lower New River Whitewater Rafting Trip
- National Park Whitewater Rafting in New River Gorge
- Family Rafting in the New River Gorge National Park
National Historic Park
6- Harpers Ferry National Historic Park
Of all of West Virginia’s national parks, Harpers Ferry National Historic Park is many people’s favourite.
This national historic park is located in the eastern part of West Virginia as well as Northern Virginia and Central Maryland.
The town of Harpers Ferry is at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, a key site of the American Civil War.
This park was originally afforded the title of National Monument in 1944, but in 1963 it was declared a National Historical Park.
The Harpers Ferry National Historical Park commemorates more than just one day or event in U.S. history.
Many prominent historical figures like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Frederick Douglass, and John Brown are associated with Harpers Ferry.
One of the most famous events to take place at Harpers Ferry was John Brown’s assault on the town.
On 16 October 1859, John Brown and his supporters left their farmhouse hideout towards Harpers Ferry.
They descended on the town the next day, with Brown and his men capturing important citizens and seizing the federal armoury and arsenal.
Brown’s aim was that the local slave population would join the raid and weaponry would be supplied to slaves and other freedom fighters across America.
Through a series of events, the raid ended up being very unsuccessful for Brown, Marines under the control of Colonel Robert E. Lee stormed an engine house where Brown was hiding and killed fighters and captured Brown.
Brown was placed on trial and charged with treason against the state of Virginia, slave insurrection and murder.
He was hanged on 2 December 1859.
There is lots to see and do at the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, starting at the visitor’s centre, where rangers can help answer questions.
Of course, you’ll want to set out on foot and check out all the nooks and crannies of Harpers Ferry.
If you are searching for a fantastic hiking route, how about the 22 miles (35 km) of hiking trails around Harpers Ferry?
Harpers Ferry also marks the midpoint of the 2,178 miles (3505 km) long Appalachian Trail, which runs from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Katahdin in Maine.
Opposite the visitor centre, there is a lovely picnic area overlooking the Shenandoah River, it’s the perfect spot for lunch.
The park is also home to some museums and historic attractions.
Camp Hill, the Lower Town, and Loudon Heights are the best places to explore.
Harpers Ferry National Historic Park is at 171 Shoreline Drive, Harpers Ferry, WV 25425.
7- Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historic Park
Before highways and railroads, the canal ways of America were critically important to the communities along the Potomac River.
The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal operated for almost 100 years transporting coal, agricultural products, and lumber.
Construction of the C&O Canal started in 1828, and it took around 35,000 workers, 22 years to dig the canal and build the locks, aqueducts, and culverts.
At the height of the canal’s operation, the canal had more than 540 boats in service carrying coal supplies.
Today you can visit the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historic Park to enjoy a number of historical and recreational experiences.
This national historic park is 184.5 miles long and is most popularly enjoyed by visitors wishing to hike or bike along the canal.
Starting from the Georgetown neighbourhood in Washington D.C and ending in Cumberland, Maryland, there are plenty of places to see parts of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal.
While visiting this park, there’s the chance to learn about the area’s history and participate in water-based activities.
The Paw Paw Tunnel Trail is an interesting hike within West Virginia’s section of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historic Park.
This 6.4-mile (10.3 km) out-and-back trail is near Paw Paw in West Virginia and takes around 2 hours and 45 minutes to complete.
This route is popular (especially in good weather) for hiking, road, and mountain biking.
The trail is open year-round so there are plenty of opportunities to hop on this West Virginia hiking route.
8- Chesapeake Bay Watershed
The Chesapeake Bay Watershed covers more than 64,000 square miles of waterways that all flow to Chesapeake Bay.
The watershed area is across six states, Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia, as well as the whole of the District of Columbia.
Over 18 million people live in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.
As well as people, there are more than 300 species of fish, shellfish, and crabs.
There are several beaches within the watershed’s boundaries, some of which are perfect for swimming, fishing, and boating.
There are also things to do on land, including several biking and hiking trails.
One of the popular things to do in the area is to discover the beautiful Chesapeake Bay lighthouses that are especially prominent in neighbouring Marland.
Discover the waterways and a plethora of hidden spots unfrequented by visitors.