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  • Hikers at Maryland Heights Trail overlook above Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
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    Harpers Ferry: Abundance of History and Natural Beauty

  • Walkers strolling through downtown Shepherdstown, West Virginia
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    Shepherdstown and Charles Town: Small Towns, Big Thrills

  • Overlook of namesake water feature at Blackwater Falls State Park in West Virginia
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    Davis Region: National Forests, State Parks and Adventure

  • Hikers enjoying Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area in West Virginia
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    Seneca Rocks Region: Gorgeous Backdrop with Luxurious Amenities

  • View of iconic New River Gorge Bridge in West Virginia
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    New River Gorge National Park and Preserve: The USA’s Newest National Park

Hikers overlooking Dolly Sods Wilderness in West Virginia
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West Virginia Road Trip: Outdoor Scenery That's Almost Heaven

By Kevin Navitskas

  • Route distance:
    777 km
  • Suggested Time:
    1-2 weeks

West Virginia abounds with historical sites, unspoiled natural splendor and unique stops you didn’t know belonged on your travel list.

Home to the newest national park, 35 state parks and dozens of national and state forests and preserves, West Virginia offers a road trip exploring the state’s wilderness and enchanting small towns. It’s a can’t-miss experience for anyone who enjoys spending time outdoors or has an interest in history. Due to its strategic location during the U.S. Civil War, some areas of the state saw constant action. This history is retold at hundreds of sites sprinkled throughout West Virginia. Start your adventure by flying into Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) or Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) near Washington D.C., or the Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) outside of Baltimore, Maryland. Rent a car at any of those airports and enjoy driving a little over an hour to your first stop, Harpers Ferry.

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Hikers at Maryland Heights Trail overlook above Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
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Harpers Ferry: Abundance of History and Natural Beauty

You’ll start this trip where the USA’s third president, Thomas Jefferson, called “perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in nature … this scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic.” Harpers Ferry is at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, where West Virginia meets Maryland and Virginia. Take in the spectacular scenery at The Point, the easternmost tip of the state, providing an outlook over the rivers and surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains. Walk across the pedestrian bridge over the Potomac River to where multiple trails take you to the Maryland Heights Overlook, with amazing views of the historic town and beautiful greenery. There are 35 kilometers of hiking trails, including several along the Appalachian Trail. Popular activities in the refreshing waters include fishing, kayaking, whitewater rafting and tubing.

During the U.S. Civil War, three battles were fought here, and the area was exchanged between the North and South eight times. A third of the original town is still intact and now protected as the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, consisting of 1,620 hectares, including the town and adjacent land in Virginia and Maryland. Several 19th century buildings were restored as historical museums and points of interest. The most-visited historic site in the state, John Brown’s Fort, originally constructed in 1848, achieved fame during an 1859 raid when Brown and fellow abolitionists tried stealing weapons to help Southern slaves revolt against the North.

20 km
0.5 hour by car
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Walkers strolling through downtown Shepherdstown, West Virginia
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Shepherdstown and Charles Town: Small Towns, Big Thrills

Not far up the Potomac River from Harpers Ferry is the oldest town in the state and the next stop on your trip, Shepherdstown. Established in 1762, this charming town has history worth exploring. The area has 14 sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places, most of which are found in the Shepherdstown Historic District concentrated along German and High streets. Here, 300-year-old houses have been repurposed as shops, restaurants and lodging. The historic 32-room Entler Hotel now houses the Shepherdstown Museum. The heavy German influence can be seen at the Bavarian Inn Resort & Brewing Company, serving up award-winning Bavarian-inspired foods and beers. The Battle of Antietam, known as the bloodiest day in U.S. history, took place 5 kilometers north of Shepherdstown and is commemorated today at the Antietam National Battlefield Site. Many Union and Confederate soldiers are buried in Shepherdstown’s Elmwood Cemetery, but a few locals believe some still roam the streets. The spooky sightings helped support the town’s distinction as one of the most haunted towns in the USA.

A short drive south on State Route 230 and County Road 17 gets you to Charles Town. This town has strong ties to George Washington, the first U.S. president; it was named after his youngest brother, Charles, and George Street was named after the president. The downtown is filled with 18th century buildings, and six houses were once owned by the Washington family. Other can’t-miss sites include the Jefferson County Museum, displaying Indigenous American and U.S. Civil War memorabilia, and the Old Opera House, one of the oldest operating live theaters in the state, still putting on Broadway-style musicals, plays and concerts. On property once owned by Washington, the stately Hillbrook Inn and Spa bed-and-breakfast sits on sprawling greenspace, providing a romantic retreat of luxury and relaxation to guests. The nearby Cool Spring Nature Preserve is a birding hot spot of forests and marshlands. Spend your evening trying your luck at The Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races. This Las Vegas-style resort hotel offers big-name performances in the event center, tasty food at award-winning restaurants and a racetrack featuring live horse racing three nights a week.

193 km
2.25 hours by car
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Overlook of namesake water feature at Blackwater Falls State Park in West Virginia
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Davis Region: National Forests, State Parks and Adventure

The drive west from Charles Town to Davis, on state and county roads, is full of dense forests through eastern West Virginia and the northern tip of Virginia. On the way, take in the magnificent vistas at Bear Rocks Preserve. Stand on the sandstone outcrops to see the stunning panorama overlooking the Potomac River and plateau. Take Route 75 deeper into the Monongahela National Forest to check out Dolly Sods, one of the forest’s eight wilderness areas. Dolly Sods offers 19 official hiking trails, consisting of over 76 kilometers. The Red Creek Trail will take you to the premier viewpoint, Lion’s Head Rock, perfect to catch fall colors and spring blooms.

A 30-minute drive north gets you to Davis, the highest town by elevation in the state. Davis is renowned for its mountain biking trails and proximity to multiple state parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests and a ski resort. The cute downtown features shops, restaurants and historic buildings turned lodging. The Bright Morning Inn, built in 1896 as a boarding house for lumberjacks, is now a popular bed-and-breakfast.

Just a five-minute drive from downtown Davis is Blackwater Falls State Park. Take the Blackwater Trail Boardwalk to view the centerpiece of the park, and its namesake, the Blackwater Falls. The falls cascade into the mouth of the rugged Blackwater Canyon. Nonharmful tannic acid in the water tints it almost black, a real sight to see. The park offers 33 kilometers of hiking trails that turn into cross-country skiing trails in the winter, excellent fishing and multiple lodging options. The park also features several smaller waterfalls, including the Elakala Falls, a series of four falls flowing into Blackwater Canyon. The Elakala Falls is accessible by the short Elakala Falls Trail.

50 km
0.75 hour by car
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Hikers enjoying Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area in West Virginia
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Seneca Rocks Region: Gorgeous Backdrop with Luxurious Amenities

A quick drive south on state Route 32 and U.S. Route 33, takes you to the next spectacular destination, Seneca Rocks. Multiple buildings in the quaint downtown on the National Register of Historic Places include the Sites Homestead, a log house built in 1839, and Boggs Mill, a gristmill opened in 1830. The town is surrounded by the Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, which features the local landmark and namesake of the town, Seneca Rocks. This large crag is known for its prominent and striking razorback ridges, rising 275 meters over the Potomac River. The recreation area is a popular place for rock climbing with 375 major mapped routes. Some of the best peaks, including the popular Seneca Rocks South Peak, can be reached only by rock climbing. Multiple outfitters in town can provide proper training and guides to get you to the top.

On your way to the next stop, stop at Snowshoe Mountain Resort. The resort provides stellar skiing during the winter months, and summer activities include golf, off-road vehicle adventures, biking and Segway tours, lake activities and horseback riding. If you are looking to relax, the resort offers spa treatments and yoga classes. While on state Route 92, you can spot the Green Bank Observatory popping up over the trees. This astronomical observatory is the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope. Its science center provides tours and hosts parties and events year-round. Drive 90 minutes from the observatory to our next stop; The Greenbrier Resort luxury complex consists of 710 guestrooms, 20 restaurants and lounges, 36 retail shops and a casino club. The resort offers more than 55 indoor and outdoor activities, including golfing on one of its three internationally known courses. The lavish estate has welcomed 26 U.S. presidents; learn about their overnight stays at the onsite Presidents’ Cottage Museum.

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97 km
1.5 hour by car
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View of iconic New River Gorge Bridge in West Virginia
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New River Gorge National Park and Preserve: The USA’s Newest National Park

A 1.25-hour drive northwest from The Greenbrier is your final stop on this trip through the Mountain State. New River Gorge National Park and Preserve encompasses over 28,328 hectares and provides every type of outdoor recreation imaginable. Some of the best whitewater rafting and climbing routes in the country are in this park; you can follow 85 km of the New River, go on over 1,400 established rock climbs and hike over 80 kilometers of trails. There are four camping areas along the river. The park is home to one of West Virginia’s icons, the New River Gorge Bridge. When it first opened, it was the world’s longest arch bridge and highest bridge carrying regular loads. If you are a daredevil, plan your trip in October to take part in Bridge Day, the only day of the year when visitors can jump off the bridge by rappelling, ascending or BASE jumping. Take a guided tour on the catwalk that runs under the bridge. Canyon Rim Visitor Center, the primary center for the park, has exhibits, maps and other information. The center’s back deck provides great views of the bridge, but take the boardwalk down into the gorge to two observation decks with unobstructed views. When it is time for this road trip to end, take Interstate 64 to the state’s capital, Charleston, to catch a connecting flight home from the West Virginia International Yeager Airport (CRW).

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