- West Virginia
Known for its outstanding natural beauty, charming small towns and warm hospitality, West Virginia is a state where history lives around every corner.
Some of its most significant historical sites double as its most popular attractions. To visit West Virginia is to discover the history of the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865) and the story of modern America. At these three notable Civil War sites in West Virginia, you will open the doors to exploring the state’s rich past against the backdrop of its gorgeous natural scenery.
Harpers Ferry National Historical Park
In 1859, abolitionist John Brown attempted to overthrow the institution of slavery with an armed slave uprising at Harpers Ferry, an act which many believe was the tipping point into the start of the Civil War. Take a journey back in time at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, situated at the Maryland border, where an amazingly preserved village – including the fort where Brown barricaded himself with his armed slaves – depicts life as it was during the mid-1800s. Reserve a guided ranger tour or catch a living history demonstration to pack in the history lessons, then enjoy outdoor activities such as rock climbing and hiking trails through forests and historical sites.
Insider tip: One hike not to miss is the trail to Jefferson Rock, where you can soak in sweeping views of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers and surrounding mountains, just as Thomas Jefferson did in 1783.
Overlooking Harpers Ferry from Jefferson Rock
Carnifex Ferry Battlefield State Park
Located deep in the state’s central mountains near the Gauley River, Carnifex Ferry was the site of a small but significant battle against the Confederacy that eventually led to the birth of West Virginia as a state. Carnifex Ferry Battlefield State Park, part of the 16-state Civil War Discovery Trail, preserves the original battlefield, as well as the historic Patterson House, a farm residence that was caught between opposing troops during the skirmish. Summer is the best time to visit for living history demonstrations, battle re-enactments and exploring the house and interpretive museum. Also on the grounds is an antique cannon and a lone marked grave. Save some energy to explore hiking trails that offer breathtaking views of the Gauley River Gorge.
Insider tip: The nearby New River is one of the oldest rivers in the world – and one of the best spots for whitewater rafting in the state.
Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park
Climb to the top of the lookout tower at this historic park and you’ll be transported to November 6, 1863, and the Battle of Droop Mountain, the last significant battle of the Civil War in West Virginia. Located less than an hour from the Virginia state line, Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park holds a replica Civil War cannon, a museum and battle re-enactments in October of even-numbered years. Have your hiking boots ready to explore eight trails ranging from the easy Cranberry Bogs or Old Soldier trails (which serve as cross-country ski trails in winter) to the strenuous and scenic Big Spring Trail.
Insider tip: Adults and kids alike will love a vintage train ride nearby at Cass Scenic Railroad State Park, offering jaw-dropping views of West Virginia’s famously lush mountain terrain.
Rushing waters alongside one of the hiking trails at Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park
There are seven commercial airports throughout the state that connect to major hubs. For international travelers, one easy option is to fly into Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD), which offers connecting flights to Yeager Airport (CRW) in Charleston, West Virginia’s capital city. Rental cars are readily available in Charleston.