Check out our ultimate West Virginia road trip itinerary – An epic 7 days full of country roads, hiking trails, waterfalls, and more.
When you think of West Virginia, what comes to mind? Is it towering gorges, dense forests and turbulent waterfalls?
What about spectacular hikes, fascinating history and quaint European-style villages?
All this and plenty more awaits travelers who are looking for an off-beat adventure through one of the United States’ most interesting destinations.
While West Virginia isn’t usually on the list of tourists top locations to check out on a US road trip, it definitely should be!
Especially if you love outdoor recreation and adventures, because West Virginia is a haven for hikers, mountain bikers, and anyone who loves exploring nature.
West Virginia is the 10th smallest state in the United States, and its small size makes it a great destination for road trips.
Nicknamed “The Mountain State”, this is the only state that lies completely within the Appalachian Mountain region.
That means West Virginia is overflowing with lakes, rivers, gorges, waterfalls, forests, and of course, mountains.
In addition to the variety of natural beauty and adventure activities, the state is also full of history. There are historical towns and landmarks scattered all over the place.
The best way to see all the history and nature of the area is with an epic West Virginia road trip.
Fly into Washington DC, rent a car, and embark on a journey through the winding forest roads and charming historic towns.
After recently completing a wonderful West Virginia road trip ourselves, we wanted to share our favorite places and experiences.
We have included our suggested 7 day West Virginia road trip itinerary, as well as some other tips and advice based on our own travels.
Ready to hit the road? Let’s get into it.
The best way to get around is to rent a car and explore on your own! We recommend Rental Cars, which has the largest range of vehicles for the best value on the market.
Table of Contents
The Best Time For Your West Virginia Road Trip
West Virginia is a state full of outdoor recreation. As this itinerary is focused on outdoor adventures, we think the best time to plan a West Virginia road trip is either in Spring or Autumn.
Spring or Autumn, particularly the months of May, September, or October, have pleasant weather that isn’t too hot or too cold.
We did our West Virginia road trip in May and the weather was lovely. May is late Spring, so the weather was warming up but the summer crowds hadn’t hit yet.
Early Autumn is also an amazing time for a West Virginia road trip. You’ll get to see that stunning fall foliage as the leaves change from green to brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows.
The mornings and nights can get a little chilly, so pack some extra layers just in case.
Try to avoid visiting West Virginia in July and August when the heat and crowds are both at their highest.
In the USA, July and August are the busiest months for travel due to summer school holidays, so many attractions are jam-packed with kids and families.
West Virginia Road Trip Itinerary
Now let’s get into the ultimate West Virginia road trip itinerary for adventure lovers!
We had a blast exploring all of West Virginia’s scenic attractions, so we hope this article inspires other travelers in the USA to visit this underrated state.
Day 1 – Drive to Shepherdstown
Start your road trip by driving about an hour and a half from Washington DC to Shepherdstown. This is where you will spend the afternoon and the night.
Shepherdstown is a quaint college town in West Virginia situated on the banks of the Potomac River.
You can easily fill an afternoon here exploring the streets, walking along the river, or sipping on a drink in a cafe. It is a great half-day trip.
If you are interested in the Antietam National Battlefield, the site of one of the Civil War’s most brutal and deadly battles, you can visit that while you’re in town.
The Shepherdstown Museum is a great place to visit if you want to learn more about this.
Here are some other fun things to do in Shepherdstown.
With the many historic buildings lining the streets, you might feel like you’re in Europe instead of the United States.
There are plenty of restaurants, cafes, shops, and museums to explore. We went into many of the stores and enjoyed looking around. The locals were so welcoming and were always up for a great conversation.
Grab a delicious coffee at the Lost Dog Coffee Fine Arts Drink Emporium in the early afternoon to keep your day going or in the morning to get your day started.
Walk down some of the residential streets and you will see the colorful European-style houses.
Free parking can be hard to find downtown. We recommend leaving your car at your accommodation and going for a walk.
If you are there on the weekend, there is free parking at the University lot at the corner of Princess and High Streets.
Walk or Bike along Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Towpath
The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Towpath (also referred to as the C&O Canal Towpath) is a dirt and stone trail that runs along the border of West Virginia and Maryland.
The trail goes through Shepherdstown and is a great way to get outdoors and learn a little about the history of the area.
The 297km (184.5 mile) pathway follows the Potomac River. It is a great path for walking, running, or biking. Check with your accommodation where you can rent a bicycle!
Along the path, you’ll find informational signs about the area and what happened in that particular spot.
The Potomac River was a lifeline for the communities in the past. Coal, Lumber, and agricultural products would float down the waterway to the local market.
The path was originally built for the canal mules to walk beside the canal towing their canal boats through the waterway.
This trail is definitely worth walking along in the afternoon or early morning.
Day 2 – Drive to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park
Next on your West Virginia road trip is Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, which is only a 20-minute drive from Shepherdstown.
The historical park consists of 4,000 acres of parkland spread out across three states. It’s full of historic monuments, hiking trails, and more.
Here are the highlights of the area.
Harpers Ferry Town
Within the Historical Park is the town of Harpers Ferry.
This town has a turbulent past and played an important part in the US Civil War. It’s important to learn all about the destinations we visit, both the good and the bad.
Harpers Ferry was a border town during the war between the South and North, and the infamous Battle of Harpers Ferry was fought here on September 12–15, 1862.
Here you can drive deep into the American Civil War history through museums, building displays, battlefields, and information boards. The town thrived mainly during the industrial era of the mid-1800s.
Today it’s a very popular attraction for millions of people every year, and visiting makes you feel like you’re stepping back in time.
Don’t miss this spot on your West Virginia road trip! Highlights of the area include:
- John Brown’s Fort
- Jefferson Rock
- St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church
- Ruins of St. John’s Episcopal Church
Parking is tight in the town centre. Our advice would be to park at the Harpers Ferry Visitors Centre and get the shuttle to the town centre.
Check out our ultimate guide to the best things to do in Harpers Ferry, for more ideas!
Appalachian National Scenic Trail
The Appalachian National Scenic Trail is the longest hiking-only footpath in the world at 2,180 miles (3,508km) long.
It goes from Maine to Georgia and covers a vast territory across several states.
The trail starts in Harpers Ferry, and from here you can complete a small section of the famous trail if you have time.
Follow the trail from downtown and it will lead you to spectacular views of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, which converge in this corner of West Virginia.
If you have time on your West Virginia road trip, definitely spend a morning or afternoon walking along the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.
If you are interested in the Appalachian Trail, you can visit the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Headquarters.
Maryland Heights Trailhead
If hiking is your thing, then you’ll be spoilt for choice in Harpers Ferry, one of West Virginia’s top tourist attractions.
Maryland Heights Trailhead is another incredible hike in the area. You will traverse forests and hills and enjoy a gorgeous overlook from Bolivar Hill.
The shorter hike is about 7.4km return and it’s moderately challenging.
It will take about 2.5 hours before you reach the beautiful viewpoint. This hike is well known, so you will not be the only one on the trail. It is popular for bird watchers, runners, other hikers and dog walkers.
If you are keen to do the longer hike, this one will take you 3.5 hours and continues on from the lookout point.
There is great signage for both hikes.
Day 3 – Head Out To Seneca Rocks
From Harpers Ferry, make your way towards Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area.
This national recreation area is located in the Monongahela National Forest of eastern West Virginia, and it’s a great stop on your road trip.
As this is a mountain state, hiking is great in so many areas, especially this one. This area is known for the hikes of Seneca Rocks (478m) and Spruce Knob (1482m), which is the highest point in West Virginia.
On the way stop off at the Lost River Trading Post, which is a great halfway point. This place has everything. We are not joking. From food to artwork to home decor, you can pick up a gem here if you have room in your suitcase.
Climb Seneca Rocks
This is obviously the must-do activity in the area!
When we heard that this amazing hike is meant to be one of the most beautiful trails in West Virginia, we had to do it. So we took a little detour on our road trip to see what all the fuss was about.
The hike is called the Seneca Rocks Trail. The 5.8km return walk cuts through gorgeous forests all the way up to an incredible viewpoint where you can see for miles. It will take you about 2 hours to head up and back.
Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area is well known for hiking and there is also some great rock climbing. We will have to do some rock climbing next time we visit.
If you are keen to hit some more hiking trails, head to the Seneca Rocks Discovery Center to find out more information about the area.
You can also head deeper into Monongahela National Forest and explore the area more if you have time on your road trip.
Day 4 – Head to Blackwater Falls State Park
From Seneca Rocks, Blackwater Falls State Park is about an hour’s drive.
It is located in the Allegheny Mountains in the Canaan Valley. This state park got its name from the amber waters of Blackwater Falls, which is one of the best things to see on any West Virginia road trip.
This area of West Virginia is most well known for its stunning waterfalls and hiking trails. Here are some of the highlights of the area.
This is not your average-looking waterfall! We had no idea it was going to be this grand.
We parked the car and walked down the short trail and could hear it tumbling, but it still amazed us when we first caught sight of it.
Blackwater Falls is an 18.8 meter (62 foot) cascade where the Blackwater River flows down the Canaan Valley into the rugged Blackwater Canyon.
It is a short walk down the path until you reach the first observation deck where you can view the waterfall. There is an upper deck and a lower deck.
If you have a drone with you, you can get a drone permit from the lodge. This is what we did and got some great shots.
Another beautiful waterfall along the Blackwater River is Albert Falls. This relatively unknown waterfall tumbles over red sandstone and into a wide, deep natural pool.
It branches off the North Fork of the Blackwater River.
To reach Albert Falls, follow Douglas Road until you see the turn-off for Rail Falls Road. This road is gated, so you’ll have to walk just under a mile before you reach the falls.
Douglas Falls is another lovely waterfall you can find if you continue past Albert Falls.
This waterfall is taller than Albert Falls, and it drops into an emerald pool of fresh water. The surrounding rocks have a unique, brassy orange tint to them from West Virginia’s coal mining days.
It’s another gorgeous spot that is worth checking out during your West Virginia road trip.
Blackwater Canyon Trail
For the ultimate outdoor adventure, check out the Blackwater Canyon Trail. This 10.5-mile long hiking and mountain biking trail covers the best scenery of Blackwater Canyon.
It includes a steep ascent up Backbone Mountain and passes by numerous historic sites from the building of the railroads in the 1800s.
If you’re hitting the trail on a mountain bike, it should only take about an hour. Hiking will take longer, so make sure you have enough time in your West Virginia road trip schedule.
For more hiking in the Appalachian region, head over to Asheville, North Carolina!
Day 5 – Summersville/ New River Gorge National Park
From the Blackwater Falls State Park in Canaan Valley, make your way towards Summersville. It should take you about 2.5 -3 hours.
Summersville has many things to do. From hiking in the mountains to exploring the lake, this is a popular destination on any West Virginia road trip.
Summersville Lake is the largest lake in West Virginia, and one of the cleanest lakes east of the Mississippi River. So bring your bathing suit and get out on the water!
Here are some of the top activities in the area:
Kayaking and Stand Up Paddle Boarding
Because the lake is so huge and clear, it’s the perfect spot for kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding. Cruise around the lake and admire the sandstone cliffs, green forests, and peaceful scenery.
Both kayaks and SUPs are easy to use and popular among locals and tourists around the lake.
There are a few places to rent kayaks and SUPs around Summersville Lake. All of these are reputable local companies with great reviews.
Visit Cathedral Falls
Another one of the best things to do just outside of Summersville during your West Virginia road trip is visiting Cathedral Falls.
This beautiful waterfall is easily accessible from US Route 60. The stream begins up on Gauley Mountain, which is just outside the West Virginia town of Gauley Bridge.
Tumbling down 100 feet through a canyon towards the New River, the creek passes over sandstone ledges and creates the magnificent Cathedral Falls.
You can see the falls by following a short walk just off the side of the road outside Gauley Bridge. It’s easy to reach and well worth a stop when you visit West Virginia.
Hike Long Point Trail
Once you have spent some time kayaking, paddleboarding, and chasing waterfalls, consider embarking on a hike.
The Long Point Trail is a local favorite in West Virginia. It is relatively short at just 1.6 miles long, but it’s moderately challenging.
The trail snakes through the forest and brings you to a rocky outcrop known as Long Point. From here, you can admire the views of the New River Bridge and Gorge surrounded by lush greenery and mountains.
Day 6 – New River Gorge National Park
The next stop on your West Virginia road trip is New River Gorge National Park. This is the USA’s newest national park and it is full of adventure activities.
The nearest town to the New River Gorge is Lansing. This is a great place to base yourself for all the best adventures. Lansing is only a 30-minute drive away from Summersville so not a long drive at all.
The town of Fayette is just over the New River Gorge Bridge, if this is a better option for you or if you need supplies for your water adventures.
With over 70,000 acres of land and one of the world’s oldest rivers, you have to stop here if you are up for an adventure.
Here are the top things to do on this portion of your West Virginia road trip.
Canyon Rim Visitor Center
The first thing you should do in the area is stop at the Canyon Rim Visitor Center. This is where you can plan your activities and get some local advice. The workers here are so helpful and are happy to help you plan your adventure.
They have a short video about the area that is a great introduction to New River Gorge National Park.
This is a true highlight of West Virginia, so definitely take the time to chat to the locals, plan some activities, and really make the most of this place.
- Address: 162 Visitor Center Rd, Lansing, WV 25862
- Hours: 9am – 5pm daily
Drive the Fayette Station Road
Fayette Station Road is a highlight of West Virginia. This one hundred-year-old road winds all the way down the gorge to the bottom, across a narrow bridge, and up the other side.
You can stop off at viewpoints along the way and read about the history on the information boards. It is truly one of the best ways to see all the scenery of the area, as the road traverses the entire gorge.
Because you already have a car for your West Virginia road trip, it is absolutely worth taking a few hours to just drive this scenic road and admire some of the best views in West Virginia.
Keep in mind, the road is very windy and is not suitable for large vehicles like RVs or campervans. It is also not recommended in winter weather when the roads can be icy.
New River Gorge Bridge
Check out the New River Gorge Bridge, the most famous landmark in the park. When it was built in 2003, it was the largest steel arch bridge in the world.
Now it is the longest single-span steel arch bridge in the United States. It is a sight to see, and it’s a beloved landmark of West Virginia.
If you hike the Long Point Trail or drive the Fayette Station Road, you will get wonderful views of the bridge.
Nuttallburg Mine Sites
Nuttallburg was an unincorporated community named by English pioneer John Nuttall who discovered coal in the area. It once was a little community town with homes and even a post office until 1955 when it was closed. It is no longer inhabited today and has become a popular attraction to see in West Virginia.
The hiking trail to the site 3.5km and it is quite steep. Park at the Short Creek parking lot, walk about half a kilometre up a gravel road, then you arrive at the Headhouse trailhead.
The old mining site has not been restored. It appears that it was abandoned and you will get to explore it as it was left. If you want to see some mining history, then this is a great place to visit on your West Virginia road trip.
Nuttallburg is located not too far from Lansing. You can hike down or take a narrow windy road.
Read next: The 21 Best Things To Do In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Day 7 – New River Gorge National Park
With another day in this beautiful national park, it’s time to take on one of the best activities in West Virginia: whitewater rafting.
Go On A Whitewater Rafting Trip
This area of West Virginia has some of the best whitewater rafting on the east coast of the United States. This is a must on your West Virginia road trip!
The New River is the oldest river in the United States and the second oldest river in the world, estimated to be anywhere between 10 and 360 million years old.
Make the most of your trip by rafting down this ancient body of water, through the lush West Virginia scenery.
We headed out on the New River with the Adventures on the Gorge tour company to tackle a bunch of class 4 and class 5 rapids.
It was the first time either of us had rafted through rapids that big, and we loved every second of it.
If you are interested in a rafting trip, you will love West Virginia! We recommend dedicating your whole day to this adrenaline-pumping activity.
Relax for the rest of the day, and gather your energy for one more day of your West Virginia road trip.
Spend the last day of your West Virginia road trip tackling any more activities in New River Gorge National Park that you haven’t gotten to yet.
It’s a great idea to spend a full 3 days here as there is so much to do and it is one of the best places to visit in West Virginia.
Another fun activity to include in your West Virginia road trip is ziplining.
Imagine soaring through the forest as high as the treetops and feeling the cool Appalachian air on your face. Ziplining allows you to explore the gorge area from an exciting new perspective.
It’s a great adventure activity for those who live a thrill, and it’s less intimidating than something like skydiving or bungee jumping.
Here are some amazing local tour companies with top-rated ziplining packages.
If you’re into mountain biking, a road trip through West Virginia will bring you to some of the Appalachian Mountains’ best trails.
The entire New River Gorge area has a wide variety of trails. There are long ones, short ones, easy ones, and challenging ones. Check out the National Park Service website for a detailed list of all the trails.
If you’re completing your entire West Virginia road trip by car without flying in, you can bring your own bikes with you.
But if you’re flying into West Virginia and you have no gear for your road trip, you can rent bikes at any of the following spots:
Got More Time in West Virginia?
If you have longer on your West Virginia road trip and are looking for some more things to do, check out our suggestions below.
- Stay longer in the New River Gorge area and do more adventure activities. Go rock climbing, repel down the cliff face, go caving or horseback riding.
- Check out the Highland Scenic Highway
- Head to Charleston, the state capital city. Check out the West Virginia state museum, drink some local craft beers, and check out the city center.
How to Get Around for Your West Virginia Road Trip
Now that we’ve covered the best things to do on your West Virginia road trip, here are our tips for planning transportation.
Of course, you’ll need a car, and depending on where you are coming from, you may need to fly into West Virginia.
Hopefully, these recommendations will help you feel prepared for the best West Virginia road trip!
Fly into Washington D.C.
Washington DC is your best airport to fly into for your West Virginia road trip. West Virginia itself doesn’t have many large international airports, except around the borders with other states.
Because Washington DC is a huge international travel destination, there are many flights available and rental car companies available. There are three major airports to choose from:
- Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA)
- Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD)
- Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI)
There are many airlines that fly into one of the above airports. Choose which would be best for you, as you will most likely fly out of the same airport after completing your West Virginia road trip.
Check out our list of the best things to do in Washington DC if you have some time there before your road trip!
Renting a Car
Picking up a rental car from the airport is your best option. You have a few companies to choose from at the airport. You can leave straight from there and get into your West Virginia road trip.
We would recommend a medium/small car. You’ll be driving mostly along quaint country roads, with the occasional dirt track. Some of the mountain roads are winding and may be more comfortable with a smaller car.
But if you would prefer to use a large vehicle such as a campervan or RV, you can still have an amazing West Virginia road trip. You just may have to skip the skinnier roads such as the Fayette Station road.
The best way to get around is to rent a car and explore on your own! We recommend Rental Cars, which has the largest range of vehicles for the best value on the market.
Accommodation For A West Virginia Road Trip
There are great hotels, Airbnbs, and campgrounds around West Virginia. If you are traveling with an RV or campervan, or you are transporting your own camping equipment, check out this list of West Virginia state park campgrounds.
But if you’re driving a normal car and you just want to find accommodations throughout your West Virginia road trip, there are lots of great options.
Booking.com has a huge selection of hotels and guesthouses. You can also check Airbnb for local homestays and guesthouses.
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