West Virginia’s mountain towns are more than just launchpads for Appalachian adventures. From the charming towns of Fayetteville and Lewisburg to historic Harpers Ferry, the state’s favorite mountain communities (and small cities) are also amazing spots for immersing in arts and culture, studying local history, relaxing in nature, and digging into delicious local fare.
Best West Virginia towns for outdoor fun
Adjacent to New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, Fayetteville is easy to love. The courthouse and its tidy square anchor the downtown area, which buzzes spring through fall with whitewater paddlers tackling the New and Gauley Rivers. Hikers, mountain bikers, and rock climbers use the town as a base camp year-round.
Sunlight filters through stained-glass windows at Cathedral Cafe, setting a pretty scene for coffee and pastries. Handle Bar & Kitchen is the sudsy heart of Arrowhead Bike Farm, where mountain bikers converge for group rides, rentals, camping, burritos, and beer near the stacked-loop Arrowhead Trails. Pop into Water Stone Outdoors to upgrade your outdoor gear. Adventures on the Gorge and ACE Adventure Resort are full-service adventure centers that guide rafting and outdoor trips and offer camping, cabins, and dining.
Davis & Thomas
Sitting side-by-side in Tucker County in the Highlands, Davis and Thomas are twin beacons for fun. New businesses are revitalizing these former mining towns, where mountain bikers gather post-ride. Trails hurtle past waterfalls and natural features in Blackwater Falls State Park while the 8-mile Plantation Trail unfurls across Canaan Mountain in Monongahela National Forest.
And hikers? Those in the know explore the windswept terrain of the remote Dolly Sods Wilderness atop the Allegheny Plateau. Trails also meander through the boggy Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Hikers and bikers alike kick back with hearty burritos from Hellbender Burritos and craft beers at Stumptown Ales in Davis. In Thomas, Mountain State Brewing serves generous flights while mocha lattes and fresh pastries warm up crowds at Tip Top Coffee – which serves cocktails too. Overnight options include the Purple Fiddle hostel, the revamped Billy Motel. Visitors can also take advantage of West Virginia’s nearby state park accommodations, too; Canaan Valley Resort State Park and Blackwater Falls State Park both offer lodge rooms, cabins, and camping.
Surrounded by the Allegheny Mountains at the confluence of three rivers, Hinton is a low-key basecamp for family-friendly adventures. A former railroad hub, downtown Hinton today is a bastion of small-town friendliness. Red-brick streets, colorful murals, the 1929 Ritz Theatre, and the Market on Courthouse Square, known for its sandwiches and pizzas, are the highlights of the 16-block Historic District. The southern gateway to New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, Hinton is eight scenic miles from the park’s pretty Sandstone Falls.
Pipestem Resort State Park lies a mere 20 minutes south of Hinton. Here, inflatable trampolines bounce kids into the water at the Adventure Lake & Splash Park while ziplines hurtle riders through the adjacent forest. And rumors of ax throwing? They’re true. Just head to the Adventure Zone. The park also arranges whitewater rafting trips. For calmer float trips, explore the 2040-acre lake at Bluestone State Park, located in between Hinton and Pipestem, which offers kayaks, canoes, and boats for rent. Both parks have campgrounds and cabins, or stay at one of the lodges at Pipestem, which over looks Bluestone Gorge.
Best West Virginia towns for food
Anchored by the state capitol building and its striking gold leaf dome, Charleston is an epicenter of politics, art, and cuisine tucked beside the Kanawha River in the foothills of the Appalachians. Perennial dining favorites in the Capitol Street area include Black Sheep Burritos, home of the tasty Flock of Tacos, and Ellen’s Homemade Ice Cream, where scoops of Espresso Oreo bring families downtown year-round. Capitol Market is an indoor-outdoor market selling locally made and sourced products – an excellent pitstop for souvenirs!
In South Hills, innovative spins on Appalachian fare warms crowds at Chef Paul Smith’s 1010 Bridge, showcasing local and seasonal ingredients. Artisan pies at Lola’s Pizza also embrace locally sourced ingredients, from the bread to the greens to the sausage.
Students and alumni belt out John Denver’s Country Roads after football games at West Virginia University in Morgantown, a city infused with Mountaineer spirit. Students swarm downtown on weekends during the school year while hikers and sightseers arrive after exploring Coopers Rock State Forest and other state parks in warmer months.
Downtown, the multi-use Caperton Trail runs along the Monongahela River (“the Mon”), linking a slew of top-notch restaurants with riverfront patios in the Wharf District. One of these patios belongs to Table9, a gastropub serving comfort food elevated by fresh local ingredients. Another belongs to Flour and Feed, which features a menu of all-American staples with a twist. Beyond downtown, sushi, steaks, and cocktails collide for a delicious night out at Bartini Prime at the Suncrest Towne Centre.
Coal-carrying locomotives chugged into Fairmont for much of the 20th-century, creating livelihoods for generations of coal miners and railroad workers. Restaurants serving quick and hearty fare to workers were mainstays, and a handful of old-school eateries survive today. The city is the birthplace of the pepperoni roll, a soft roll stuffed with cured meat that was created specifically for miners, many of them Italian immigrants. It’s filling, easy to hold, blessed with a long shelf life, and (most importantly) it’s delicious. Country Club Bakery created this West Virginia specialty in 1927. Authentic Italian dishes fill the menu at Muriale’s Italian Kitchen, a Fairmont institution for more than 50 years.
Best West Virginia towns for relaxation
Tucked in the foothills of the eastern Panhandle, Berkeley Springs is known for its warm mineral waters, which remain at a constant temperature of 74.3 degrees. By the terms of the 1776 decree that established the town, the mineral waters must remain free for public consumption – and visitors fill up by the jug full at Berkeley Springs State Park in the center of town. Spa services are available at the park’s newly renovated Old Roman bathhouse, which dates from 1815, as well as the Main Bathhouse. Private spas are scattered across town, and Cacapon Resort State Park opened a new spa in 2021. Berkeley Springs celebrates the arts with gallery exhibitions, summer concerts, and numerous shows and performances at the Ice House Theater.
With a robust selection of spa services, The Greenbrier – also famed for its mineral springs – is a relaxation oasis unto itself. But nearby Lewisburg rivals the resort as a center of stress-melting bliss. Antique shops, galleries, and boutiques line Washington Street downtown, and the city’s restaurants draw visitors all year.
Inside a sturdy cabin, Hill & Holler evokes the best of Appalachia through live music, cold beer, and fantastic pizzas. The comfort fare at Food & Friends is a fulfilling reward after cycling the nearby Greenbrier River Trail. White-linen style and locally sourced fare combine for an unforgettable meal at the intimate Stardust Cafe and the dapper French Goat, which indeed gets French with its Croque Madame and truffle fries. Chopped wood beside the fire pits at Hawk Knob Cider & Mead is ready for a summer evening bonfire.
Sprawled across 17,000 acres on the outskirts of Wheeling, Oglebay is a public park with private park amenities – including a zoo! Burn off some steam on the two championship golf courses, stroll the gardens, admire the glassworks in the Glass Museum, and explore the historic Mansion Museum – once the home of industrialist Earl W. Oglebay. For true pampering, make an appointment for a warm stone massage at the West Spa at Oglebay Lodge.
Best West Virginia towns for history
Overlooking the junction of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers beneath the Blue Ridge Mountains, Harpers Ferry played a role in America’s early industrial endeavors and in the conflict over slavery – in 1859, John Brown tried to spark a slave uprising here. The town is also home to Storer College, which grew from a one-room schoolhouse for formerly enslaved people to a respected college before closing in 1955. The 19th-century buildings in Lower Town, which is the focal point of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, are a photographic time capsule, and their museums and exhibits share the town’s complex history
Cafes and B&Bs are scattered along High Street and across Upper Town. Close to the Appalachian Trail and the C&O bike path in Maryland, the entire town has an outdoorsy vibe, with hikers and cyclists stopping for coffee and food.
Parkersburg, which sits at the confluence of the Little Kanawha and Ohio Rivers in the Ohio Valley, saw explosive growth after an oil-and-gas boom in the late 1800s. With its prominent tower and eye-catching turrets, the Blennerhassett Hotel – a product of the boom – exudes a grand sense of beauty and charm. Guided tours spotlight the history of the hotel, which was completed in 1889. The Oil & Gas Museum explores the story of oil and gas production in the region. May through October, sternwheel boats carry passengers across the Ohio River to Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park. Stroll the manicured grounds, tour the Palladian mansion, and clip-clop across the island in a horse-drawn carriage.
Victorian- and Tudor-style mansions – the former residences of coal barons – line the streets of tiny Bramwell in the mountainous southern fringes of the state. Established during a late-1800s coal boom, the town once had more millionaires per capita than any other town in the country. Costumed guides lead tours of several houses – furnished with antiques and period furniture – in June and early December. The Coal Heritage Trail Interpretive Center at the Bramwell Depot delves into the region’s coal mining history and offers walking tours. ATV enthusiasts roll onto the scenic Hatfield-McCoy Trails near downtown – and guided ATV tours are a thing!
Best West Virginia towns for art & culture
A vibrant and diverse arts scene flourishes in West Virginia’s second-largest city. A welcoming place, Huntington feels like three separate cities rolled into one: a thriving college town thanks to Marshall University, a creative arts colony due to its burgeoning downtown arts scene, and a classic all-American city across the board.
The Decorative Arts Gallery in the Huntington Museum of Art showcases West Virginia’s glass-making heritage, with 1000 pieces of glass on display. The Heritage Farm Museum and Village is a Smithsonian-affiliated institution that explores 19th-century pioneer life in the Appalachians. The Loud is the go-to spot for up-and-coming bands and regional favorites, while the Foundry Theater, which recently moved into old City Hall, is gearing up to be the region’s destination performance hall for live music, comedy, and visual artists.
On the border of the Monongahela National Forest in the Potomac Highlands, Elkins is an outdoorsy town with an artsy side. Artists at Work is a cooperative art gallery selling arts, crafts, and jewelry by more than 20 artists, while the Downtown Heritage Quilt Trail follows a series of 8-by-8-ft quilting blocks. Most nights of the week, live music drifts from restaurants and bars downtown.
An educational hub for Appalachian culture, the Augusta Heritage Center at Davis & Elkins College shares the best of the region’s heritage through workshops, dances, and concerts. Its festival and block party is held in Elkins City Park in July. Seven miles south in Beverly, the Beverly Heritage Center regularly hosts contra dances, a group folk dance once popular in the Appalachians.
Dotted with white-clapboard houses, Wardensville is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it outpost of art and culture hugging the Cacapon River. Busy US 48, one of the main roads connecting Washington, DC with Lost River State Park and Seneca Rocks, is the town’s main drag.
Fronted by a statue of a red cow, the Lost River Trading Post is the hamlet’s commercial and artistic heart. Antiques, art, and locally produced jams and soap jostle for attention inside this 5000sq-ft former feed store, anchored by a cafe and coffee shop. Glass-blown art and eclectic greeting cards fill the store’s compact Grasshopper Gallery. Downtown, books about the Mountain State greet travelers walking into Wordplay, the local indie bookstore. After browsing, fuel back up at Wardensville Garden Market, which offers cookies, pepperoni rolls, granola, and organic greens.