Looking for family fun in West Virginia? There are so many things to do all across the state that it’s hard to pick just one area to visit. There are plenty of things to do in West Virginia for families, no matter what part of the state you travel to. Here’s everything you and the family need to know about a visit to the mountain state.
The northernmost part of West Virginia, the Northern Panhandle, is wedged between Ohio and Pennsylvania. Located on the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains is Wheeling, one of the area’s most bustling cities. It’s home to Centre Market, a historic epicenter that’s even older than the state. From local events and entertainment to shopping and eateries, a trip to Centre Market is sure to bring fun for the whole family.
A short drive south of Wheeling sits Moundsville, and there lies one of West Virginia’s unexpected yet beloved tourist gems. Seated among the hills is the Palace of Gold, built in 1973 for A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. The estate features beautiful Indian architecture, stained-glass windows, murals, hand-carved altars, and an award-winning rose garden. It’s no wonder that it’s considered one of the most beautiful places to visit in the entire country.
Up in the north-central hub of the state is Mountaineer Country, home to some of the state’s most stunning natural wonders. A trip to the region must include a visit to Coopers Rock State Forest and its signature canyon overlook. With over 50 miles of trails, sandstone climbing cliffs, lake access, and river rafting, adventure is in abundance. There are also plenty of camping and picnicking spots available for reservation, which might just come in handy for relaxation after an action-packed day of family activities.
For baseball fans, Mountaineer Country is one of the best places to see up-and-coming talent play. Monongalia County Ballpark is home to the West Virginia Black Bears, a summer collegiate part of the MLB Draft League. It’s here where families can watch some of the sport’s draft-eligible prospects take to the field and hit for the hills. Opening Day returns on Thursday, June 1, 2023. Get your tickets and get ready to see top talent at bat.
The Eastern Panhandle sits snug to the northeastern part of the state on the Maryland and Virginia border. Hovatter’s Wildlife Zoo is a big family favorite, housing over 30 species of various native and exotic animals from all around the world. Kids can get up close and personal with some of the animals, as the zoo offers interactive feeding opportunities. The zoo is open between April and October, switching to weekends only in November.
A trip to the Eastern Panhandle wouldn’t be complete without checking out Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. The park commemorates John Brown’s notorious raid that set the spark for the Civil War. But it’s not just history that leaves a permanent mark on this area. Visitors are sure to remember the sights and sounds of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers that set this legendary backdrop.
The Mid-Ohio Valley extends down the Ohio River in the northwestern part of the state. The region carries a strong sense of community and is highly committed to preserving its history. Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park is a must-visit destination in the area. Only accessible by sternwheeler riverboat, the island is known for its Palladian mansion and museum dedicated to nearby Parkersburg history. Across the island, visitors can enjoy tours or take a ride on a horse-drawn carriage.
For willing travelers, a 45-minute drive can transport them back to simpler times in Harrisville. There you’ll find the country’s oldest five-and-dime store, Berdine’s. Built back in 1908, the store is cherished to this day and draws in locals and tourists year-round. You never know what you’ll find there, but you can be sure that no one in the family will leave empty-handed, or with an empty wallet.
South of the Mid-Ohio Valley is the Metro Valley. This is the most populous part of West Virginia and home to Charleston, the state’s capital, along with many cultural institutions. Families in particular should consider a stop at the West Virginia State Museum. The museum’s vast collection is dedicated to preserving West Virginia’s history, art, culture, and traditions. Exhibitions focus on representing the people, land, and industries that make the state feel like Almost Heaven.
After visiting the museum, there’s no better place to stop for a bite to eat than the Capitol Market. This year-round indoor-outdoor market is located in a century-old train station and features seasonal eats and specialty shops filled with West Virginia favorites. You can grab a bite to eat and get a gift to remember the trip all in one charming spot.
Central West Virginia isn’t known as Mountain Lakes for nothing. This area has some of the best lake access and recreational family activities in West Virginia. Here you’ll find Summersville Lake, one of the top tourist destinations in the entire state. The lake dives down to 300 feet at its deepest point and covers over 2700 acres. Families should stop by Sarge’s Dive Shop for some scuba classes and rental gear, kayak and canoe rentals, lake tours, the best swimming and snorkeling spots, and more.
The lake isn’t the only marvel at Summersville, though. Summersville Lake Retreat & Lighthouse features the state’s only working lighthouse. A trip to the top gives a stunning view of the lake and nearby recreation areas. The retreat is the perfect place to get away with the whole family, as there are plenty of cabins and RV hookup sites throughout the property.
The rugged, scenic Potomac Highlands make up much of the eastern side of West Virginia. Of the many parks in the area, Blackwater Falls State Park is one of the best. The park gets its name from the falls found on the property. The 57-foot drop features a dark hue which occurs naturally due to tannic acid from fallen tree needles. Other highlights include Elakala Falls, Lindy Point, and Pendleton Point Overlook. There are over 20 miles of trails to explore, a lodge to stay at, and the longest winter sled run carpet on the East Coast.
Less than an hour away from the falls is Seneca Rocks, another of the Potomac Highlands’ sought-after sights. These rocks can be found within the Monongahela National Forest, where they stand close to 900 feet above the North Fork River below. The landmarks are popular among tourists looking for an unforgettable hike.
The Hatfield-McCoy Mountain region is named after the infamous families and the feud that still surrounds their name to this day. This southern part of the state borders Kentucky and is filled with rugged activities for the whole family. The Hatfield-McCoy Trails span over 1,000 miles of terrain over 10 systems, ranging from beginner to expert. This is the place to take the family out ATV or bike riding.
If rugged trails aren’t your thing, the whole family can still get a taste of regional history and the thrills that come with it on a trip with Hatfield & McCoy Airboat Tours. Located in the Matewan Depot, experienced tour guides can take up to six guests on an hour-long tour down the Tug River and into the Appalachian wilderness.
New River-Greenbrier Valley
New River-Greenbrier Valley stretches along the southeastern part of West Virginia. New River Gorge National Park and Preserve in particular is a must-stop on any itinerary. Named the country’s 63rd national park in 2020, New River Gorge is known for its iconic steel arch bridge, river-cut canyons, and breathtaking, diverse biodiversity. Of all the activities to take part in at New River Gorge, including fishing, rock climbing, and hiking, none compares to the park’s white water rafting. Adventures on the Gorge Resort, found on the rim, connects eager visitors with professional white water rafting guides.
All that adventure is sure to work up an appetite. A trip to nearby Beckly will lead you to the red-roofed Tamarack Marketplace. Not only is there authentic Appalachian cuisine, but there are also nearly 3,000 artisans selling wares, art demonstrations, classes, and an art gallery. It’s a great place for the family to sit down, socialize, and get a feel for local Appalachian pride.