Boat on Summersville Lake in Summersville, West Virginia (photo by Daniel Busch)

4 Ways to Explore West Virginia this Summer

Spend a day at secluded Summersville Lake, dine at great restaurants, discover historic fire towers and chase waterfalls across the Mountain State.

Summersville Lake

Nestled among the rolling hills and rocky outcrops of central West Virginia’s Nicholas County, Summersville Lake offers up crystal-clear waters for that classic summertime activity — a day on the lake.

Summersville Lake Marina General Manager Noah Allen says the 2,760-acre Summersville Lake is not only one of the most popular lakes in West Virginia, but it also attracts visitors from all over the eastern United States.

“The two biggest reasons people come here: We have all the cliffs here that you don’t usually find on other lakes, and then, we have one of the cleanest and clearest lakes in this part of the country,” Allen says.

Built between 1960 and 1966 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for flood control in the region, Summersville Lake provides visitors the feeling of a making an escape from the everyday.

“Since we are a flood-control lake, there is no development on the lake, so you are not swimming in people’s backyards with houses on the shore,” Allen says. “It is pretty private and quiet up here.”

While boating options include pontoon boats and center console boats, other water-based activities include scuba diving, stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking. Those looking to take to the waters might want to pack a lunch because there are no restaurants on the lake, although food can be ordered via DoorDash from the nearby town of Summersville.

“I guess you could call it a hidden gem,” Allen says of the lake. “Once most people discover it, they keep coming back.”

Summersville Lake Marina: 1706 Airport Rd., Summersville, West Virginia 26651, 304/872-1331,

Food from restaurant along the West Virginia Culinary Trail (photo courtesy of West Virginia Department of Tourism)
West Virginia Culinary Trail

Launched in 2023 by the state’s Department of Tourism, the West Virginia Culinary Trail showcases a lineup of great restaurants that continue to develop and define the flavors of Appalachia. Created by a team of five chef ambassadors, the trail takes foodies to restaurants in both small towns and large cities across nine distinct regions.

“They trusted us chefs to each choose roughly three to five restaurants or dining places in our area that would kick off this trail, and I am sure we will expand it as it goes forward,” says chef ambassador Paul Smith of Charleston’s 1010 Bridge restaurant, who is the state of West Virginia’s first James Beard Award finalist and the 2024 winner for the regional category “Best Chef: Southeast.”

The trail features more than two dozen restaurants, and Smith is responsible for the Metro Valley region, which ranges from around Beckley to Huntington.

“I am looking for something that is going to put West Virginia’s best foot forward,” he says. “I am looking for the hospitality experience, so not only food but food service, ambiance and somewhere that I would like to go if I were visiting somewhere else.”

Smith says he hopes to see the West Virginia Culinary Trail continue to grow and evolve to showcase the flavors of the region.

“There is a huge melting pot, and I love that we are able to take all of those great regional and national and international flavors and then make them with the ingredients that we have,” he says. “I hope this [serves as] a guide through West Virginia’s foodways and food culture and food history.”

For more information and  a list of stops along the West Virginia Culinary Trail, visit

Thorny Mountain Fire Tower in Seneca State Forest in West Virginia (photo courtesy of West Virginia Department of Tourism)
Historic Fire Towers

Originally built to detect threats to the beauty of West Virginia’s bountiful forests, the state’s collection of historic fire towers provides today’s visitors with great views from locations throughout the state.

Those looking for a unique experience should head to Pocahontas County’s nearly 13,000-acre Seneca State Forest. Here visitors can climb the 65 steps of Thorny Mountain Fire Tower for an overnight experience unlike any other in the state.

“At this time, we are the only fire tower in the eastern United States that can be rented for overnight stays,” says Seneca State Forest superintendent Jeff Layfield.

Originally built in 1935 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the tower can accommodate up to four overnight guests. With no electricity or running water, those looking to sleep a little closer to the stars for a night should be prepared for a primitive camping experience. Layfield says the rental season runs May 1 through Oct. 31 each year, and those interested in spending a night in the tower should get their reservations in quickly.

“We take reservations a year in advance, and it books a year in advance,” he says.

While Thorny Mountain Fire Tower is the only fire tower open for an overnight stay, there are several other fire towers throughout the state that offer panoramic views of mountain scenery and the chance to spot some native wildlife. These include Hanging Raptor Observatory located on Peters Mountain in Monroe County, Bickle Knob Observation Tower near Elkins and Olson Observation Tower on Backbone Mountain in Tucker County.

Thorny Mountain Fire Tower: Seneca State Forest, 10135 Browns Creek Rd., Dunmore, West Virginia 24934, 304/799-6213,

Sandstone Falls at New River Gorge National Park & Preserve in West Virginia (photo by Gloria Spellman / New River Gorge NPS)
West Virginia Waterfall Trail

Because there are more than 200 waterfalls scattered across West Virginia, it seems that the Mountain State was a logical choice to launch the nation’s first statewide Waterfall Trail. Debuting in 2022, the trail has quickly grown to include 40 waterfalls ranging from iconic and beloved locations like Tucker County’s Blackwater Falls and Valley Falls in Fairmont to lesser-known waterfalls such as Coonskin Grotto, located just outside Charleston.

Blackwater Falls State Park assistant superintendent Ben Leedom says the 2,358-acre park is home to four waterfalls featured on the West Virginia Waterfall Trail, including its namesake falls.

“What a lot of people enjoy about it is those falls can be viewed from two very different perspectives,” Leedom says. “You have the main viewing platform right at the falls, and you get there by traveling down 214 steps. And what is neat is, if they look up to their right, they will see another viewing platform, and that one is called the Gentle Trail.”

While the ADA-accessible Gentle Trail is a good choice for those with strollers or visitors who need a less strenuous walk to enjoy Blackwater Falls, Leedom says it also provides a view of the river above the falls.

Other falls located within Blackwater Falls State Park include Elakala Falls, The Falls of Pendleton and the recently acquired Douglas Falls. Leedom says Elakala Falls is also a great choice for visitors and is just a short hike from the park’s lodge.

“At Elakala Falls you are right up close and personal with it,” he adds, “because you walk across a bridge that is located directly across the falls.”

For more information about stops on the West Virginia Waterfall Trail, visit