West Virginia Adventures
From raging whitewater to relaxing train rides, check out five ways to explore the Mountain State
Perhaps one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Mountain State, the New River Gorge has been attracting outdoors enthusiasts for years with its striking scenic beauty and famous bridge.
Adventures on the Gorge provides guests with an abundance of activities, but one of the most popular offered in the wooded setting is zip lining. With three different courses available, there is a range of options for those interesting in flying above some of the state’s most beautiful scenery.
The Treetops Zip Line Canopy Tour takes half a day to complete, and with a minimum age requirement of 10 years, it is a good option for family fun. Those looking for something a little more extreme should go for the Gravity Zip Lines — the highest and fastest zip line course offered by Adventures on the Gorge. Participants soar 200 feet above the ground at the highest point of this 1.5-mile course that traverses the ridgeline of a mountain bowl. TimberTrek Aerial Adventure Park welcomes guests as young as age 7 to navigate a series of obstacles, bridges, swings and zip lines between platforms in the forest canopy.
“When you push yourself to experience some of the activities we have, it really takes you out of your comfort zone,” says Adventures on the Gorge marketing communications manager Angela Sundstrom. “[It] gives people a new sense of self-confidence.” 219 Chestnutburg Rd., Lansing, West Virginia 25862, 855/379-8738, adventuresonthegorge.com
Surrounded by the rolling hills that have made West Virginia famous, Tygart Lake disappears and then re-emerges from behind the rugged terrain as boaters make their way across the 1,750-acre body of water. Those who want to set off for a day of exploring the lake can rent pontoon and fishing boats as well as kayaks. A designated swimming area, Tygart Lake State Park Beach, is suited for those who prefer staying closer to shore.
Tygart Lake State Park was created after the Tygart Dam was completed in 1938 to control flooding in the Tygart River Valley. An overlook offers visitors information about the history of the area, as well as a great view of the 1,920-foot-long dam.
Nichole Streets, a naturalist at Tygart Lake State Park, says some visitors traveling through the area stop at the dam, but they don’t realize they can continue on to explore the area’s natural wonders. A short-but-winding drive past the dam leads to the park’s 20-room lodge, which offers spacious accommodations and striking views. Other overnight options at the park include cabins and secluded campsites.
For those who want to head out on foot, there are 5 miles of wooded hiking trails throughout the park and along the centerpiece of Tygart Lake.
“We are a hidden little gem,” Streets says. “A lot of people don’t realize we are here, and when they find us they are usually pleasantly surprised.” 1240 Paul E. Malone Rd., Grafton, West Virginia 26354, 304/265-6144, tygartlake.com
In the days before the interstate highway system and air travel, railroads were simply the way America moved. Mountain Rail Adventures shows people what it is like to experience the natural beauty of West Virginia by train.
Operating out of three historic depots in the towns of Elkins, Durbin and Cass, Mountain Rail Adventures offers a variety of excursion options April through December. The Durbin Rocket, a 1910 Climax geared logging locomotive is one of just three still operating in the world. It takes riders along the Greenbrier River and into the secluded Monongahela National Forest. The train leaves the Durbin depot and covers 10.5 miles in two hours.
For those looking for a daylong experience, the 128-mile, nine-hour Cheat Mountain Salamander is the way to go. This vintage diesel locomotive would have been a familiar sight to those riding the rails in the years following World War II. Leaving Elkins, it travels through the Cheat Mountain Tunnel, providing the same views seen by the mountaineers who originally settled this region of West Virginia.
Terry Hayes, an engineer for Mountain Rail Adventures, says the diversity of the five routes is what makes their excursion rail tours so appealing.
“We’ve got mountains, we’ve got rivers, waterfalls, trees and bridges,” Hayes says. “We only go about 25 miles per hour because we’re not in a hurry to get there. We’re trying to see what’s out there.” Elkins Depot, 315 Railroad Ave., Elkins, West Virginia 26241; Durbin Depot, 4759 Staunton Pakersburg Turnpike, Durbin, West Virginia 26264; Cass Scenic Railroad State Park, 242 Main St., Cass, West Virginia 24927; 304/636-9477, mountainrailwv.com
If West Virginia has a signature outdoor activity, whitewater rafting is it, and Cheat River Outfitters will help get you out on the water. Because the Cheat River has Class II through V rapids, it doesn’t matter if you’re a first-time rafter or an experienced whitewater junkie.
Cheat River Outfitters owner and operator Paul Hart says all visitors have to do is show up and his operation takes care of the rest — from providing transportation to and from the entry and exit points on the river to supplying a snack.
Cheat Narrows provides a beginner class of rapids and is tamer in the summer than the spring. The excursion lasts between two to four hours based on the water level at the time of the trip. Cheat Canyon promises a more hair-raising experience for those who want to take on the full force of the river. The Class III to V rapids cover 13 miles and the trip lasts six to seven hours, offering plenty of wildlife sightings along the way.
“It is a wilderness experience that you don’t get that often,” Hart says.
Off the water, four different paintball courses await. Cheat River Outfitters also offers rock climbing at Coopers Rock State Forest in nearby Bruceton Mills. 2764 N. Preston Hwy., Albright, West Virginia 26519, 888/997-4837, cheatriveroutfitters.com
Once done out of pure necessity, traversing the mountains of West Virginia by horseback has since turned into a relaxing and fun way to explore. Equestrian Adventures, located adjacent to the New River Gorge, has been providing horseback-riding excursions in the area for 20 years.
“This is a wonderful experience,” says owner Gerry Bateman. “Horses helped discover and make America what it is today.”
Options range from 30-minute wagon rides to all-day trips to overnight campouts for those who want to rough it like the state’s early settlers. Those who’ve never ridden a horse need not worry, as Bateman starts out by teaching riders about the animals, as well as how to control them and ride them safely. Riders then head to an arena to practice before hitting the trail.
Sites along the way include a pre-Civil War cemetery, an old moonshiners hideout and other spots that highlight the region’s history. The natural beauty is also showcased as guides take riders along the rim of New River Gorge, which provides excellent views of the gorge and the river that winds through it. 37 Cunard Rd., Fayetteville, West Virginia 25840, 304/574-0484, horsebackwv.com
Photo credits; Tygart Lake: courtesy of Tygart Lake State Park; Rafting: courtesy of Cheat River Outfitters