Outdoor Recreation in West Virginia: Things To Do and Its Role in Supporting the Local Economy

Tourists whitewater rafting in West Virginia.

West Virginia’s Appalachian mountains make the state a “must-see” destination for adventurers. And beyond the mountain range, the sprawling hills and valleys also pose as the perfect backdrop for a number of outdoor activities. According to a study by the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), 67% of West Virginia residents engage in outdoor recreational activities each year. But the state’s great outdoors serves as more than just a place to explore. West Virginia’s most enticing feature also plays a vital role in supporting the local economy through tourism and outdoor recreation. The same OIA study reported that outdoor recreation in the Mountain State is responsible for 91,000 jobs statewide and generates $660 million in state and local tax revenue. 

Supporting and protecting West Virginia’s great outdoors is a matter of both sustainability and economic health. Keep reading to learn more about recreational opportunities available in the Mountain State and initiatives that are helping to both protect the state’s great outdoors and leverage it for economic prosperity.

Exploring West Virginia’s Great Outdoors

The Mountain State offers a plethora of activities for both residents and non-residents to enjoy. For thrill-seekers, West Virginia is known for its Hatfield-McCoy Trail System, the largest trail system in the East for dirt biking, off-roading and ATV excursions. The trail spans nearly 8,300 acres of land across the southern part of the state and navigates through mountainous terrain and state forests. Additionally, the Appalachian mountains’ rocky ranges are ideal for rock climbing and its roaring river rapids are frequently-visited locations for whitewater rafting.

West Virginia also offers a range of relaxing activities for visitors who are less inclined to participate in adrenaline-fueled activities. You can still get a taste of the mountains by golfing, stargazing, fishing, horseback riding or camping. The state’s various hiking trails also cater to all levels of adventurers. If you can’t quite decide what vacation would suit you best, the West Virginia Department of Tourism offers trip inspiration and guides to help you plan your visit to “Almost Heaven.”

Learning About the Appalachian Spirit at Heritage Farm

Beyond the mountain range and rapids it is known for, the Appalachian region is also home to a rich history of pioneer life and culture. Heritage Farm and Museum offers a unique way to experience both the cultural heritage and natural beauty of West Virginia. The Village — which includes museums, artisan makers, a homestead cabin and a blacksmith shop — coupled with the Adventure Park is an exceptional destination for families to explore the spirit of Appalachia. Heritage Farm’s Adventure Park offers aerial adventure courses, ziplines, rock walls and chauffeured UTV rides through the farm’s hills. You can also explore Heritage Farm’s hills by traversing the Mountain Rim bike park that was created with the support of Brad and Alys Smith’s Wing 2 Wing Foundation.

West Virginia’s National Parks – More Than Just Scenic Views

West Virginia is home to six national parks – each one boasting stunning views and unique landscapes to explore. While the parks offer value to the tourists and the environment itself, they also play a role in supporting the state’s economy. In fact, a recent National Park Service report, revealed tourism from national parks in West Virginia resulted in 1,447 jobs, with a cumulative economic benefit of $131 million. Here’s a breakdown of the six.

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve

As one of the oldest rivers on Earth, New River Gorge is known for its whitewater rafting and scenic views. The park and preserve comprises more than 70,000 acres for visitors to hike, climb, bike and, on one day a year, BASE jump the New River Gorge Bridge in Fayetteville.

Appalachian National Scenic Trail

This 2,180+ mile footpath — managed by the National Parks Service — was completed in 1937 and passes through 14 states, with the trail headquarters stationed in Asheville at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Ranked as an easy to moderate hiking path, the Appalachian Trail is a park that can be easily explored by all. 

Harpers Ferry National Historic Park

Harpers Ferry National Historic Park sits at the junction of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. This unique park offers more than picturesque views — it is also a land steeped in U.S. history. Near the park, visitors can find battlegrounds and other historical sites from the Civil War era. Because of its location, park goers can also visit four other national parks, including the Appalachian National Scenic Trail and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park.

Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park

The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (C&O Canal) was once used for transporting coal, lumber and agricultural goods to market, serving as a lifeline for many communities along the way. After nearly a century of service, the C&O Canal is now a place for historical and recreational experiences such as fishing, boating, hiking and historical demonstrations.

Gauley River National Recreation Area

The Gauley River National Recreation Area is renowned for its water activities. Gauley River is home to class V+ rapids and is among the world’s premier locations for whitewater rafting. For avid anglers, the river is an excellent location for catching local fish species including walleye, muskellunge, trout and smallmouth bass.

Bluestone National Scenic River

Rounding out the state’s national parks, the Bluestone Rivers flow for 77 miles and are an exceptional place to connect with wildlife and see remnants of mining towns along the river. Visitors can explore the park by hiking or taking a turn down the river by canoeing or kayaking from the spring to mid-summer.

Outdoor Education for the Next Generation

A key part of maintaining West Virginia’s outdoor resources lies in educating future generations — building an appreciation and respect for preserving the state’s natural beauty. Youth outdoor education programs are important as they teach kids about the environment while simultaneously helping them to develop other skills such as independence, decision-making, problem-solving and confidence. 

The Science Adventure School through the Brad and Alys Smith Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative (OEDC) works to aid students in outdoor education and recreation. The program educates 6th grade students and aims to kindle a curiosity for E-STEM learning, encouraging students to make new friends and step out of their comfort zone. Outdoor education programs like the Science Adventure School also set a critical foundation — teaching the next generation at an early age the importance of being active citizens who take responsibility for the care of their surrounding environment.

Protecting West Virginia’s Natural Beauty

With mountains and rolling hills around every corner, it’s no wonder why West Virginia is called the Mountain State and referred to colloquially as “Almost Heaven.” The state’s outdoor beauty and exceptional recreation activities make it a beautiful and enjoyable destination for tourists and residents alike. The next time you’re looking for a new place to explore, stop and see what makes West Virginia so wild and wonderful.  

To learn more about how Brad D. Smith is supporting West Virginia’s environment and economy, visit the website of his nonprofit organization, the Wing 2 Wing Foundation. And to learn more about how West Virginia’s environment supports its economy, visit this blog post.