West Virginia Camping & Adventure
Imagine a campsite shaded by huge hardwoods and filled with the sound of birds and the rush of autumn breezes. The lush green forest that surrounds the site is home to abundant wildlife, contains mile after mile of trails, and is home to a rushing river ideal for paddlers. Down the country road from this dream retreat is a historic small town full of craft shops and fun dining experiences. Now imagine this place situated within a day’s drive of Washington D.C., Pittsburgh, Charlotte, Columbus, Ohio and Richmond, Va. There is no need to create this oasis in your mind. It exists near Fayetteville, W. Va.
West Virginia was immortalized in the John Denver song, “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” The song tells the tale of a place where “life is old … older than the trees.” Denver’s song captures the elegance of this ancient land of natural resources well. All that natural beauty makes for a great camping getaway and provides ample opportunity for adventure.
Resting squarely in the middle of the Appalachian Mountain chain, these country roads lead to steep valleys drained by raging rivers. Infamous whitewater on the Gauley River and New River draw thousands of rafting enthusiasts craving the rush of big water to the state each summer. For those turned on by the appeal of a whitewater adventure, there are several outfitters in the area that accommodate guests ranging from beginner to skilled paddler. One of them, River Expeditions, is located just south of Fayetteville, and operates guided excursions and provides camping for RVers and tent campers.
If churning rapids aren’t your style, then hit the trails on the fat tires of a mountain bike or by the power of your own feet. The hiking is excellent with trails ranging from easy strolls to difficult treks that lead up the steep gorges. The Brooklyn to Southside Junction Trail provides great hiking or biking and winds its way along the New River, passing the ruins of abandoned coal-mining towns and offering views of the river valley from the bottom up. There are plenty of companies that rent bikes and offer tours. Some, such as ACE Adventure Resort, even boast mountain-biking clinics that will teach the core skills needed to navigate the area’s exciting single track safely.
Where there is water, there are fish and fishing. Central West Virginia is no exception to this rule; in fact it exemplifies this old adage. The huge sandstone boulders that are strewn throughout the New River create deep pools in some places. The conditions are great for smallmouth bass, and the area claims its spot as one of the top four smallmouth fishing rivers in the country. Most rafting outfitters also offer fishing excursions and will even paddle the raft for anglers while they fight the fish in one of the oldest rivers in North America.
For a change of scenery, venture out from the campground and you’ll find a maze of those famous country roads that will land you in small hamlets reminiscent of bygone days.
Want a shot of that Mayberry appeal? Spend some time in Fayetteville. With less than 3,000 residents, this town swells in summer and fall as the paddlers, campers, and hikers pour in. Held by both the North and South during the Civil War and once a hub of coal-mining activity, this little community has history aplenty. The sleepy little stopover is on the National Register of Historic Places and hosts thousands of tourists each summer who want to get away from the bustle of their daily lives and relax in a place where time seems to slow down.
Fayetteville may be a dot on the map, but in culinary terms it has the depth of a mid-sized city. From Cajun food to coffee shops, the town can satisfy nearly any palate with its surprisingly wide range of dining options. One such local establishment on the must-do list is Pies and Pints. This little bodega offers fantastic handcrafted pizza and a wonderful selection of microbrews. With outside seating and a far-reaching reputation, visitors and locals alike can expect to wait in line on the weekends, so get there early.
The town explodes with activity every October when it hosts the world-renowned Bridge Day. Visitors are wowed by the spectacle of thrill seekers who can legally base-jump off the New River Bridge for a day. The New River Bridge is what many visitors come to see in the first place — no matter what time of year it may be. The bridge spans the New River gorge, stands at a height of 876 feet above the river, and carries cars 3,030 feet across. It was once the longest bridge of its type in the world and is the second highest vehicular bridge in the Americas. Views of the West Virginia highlands afforded from the bridge are quite spectacular.
With all the adrenaline-pumping adventure, small town charm, man-made miracles, and natural beauty, there is of course, plenty of camping. As we frequent campers know, however, all campgrounds are not created equal. In central West Virginia, the number of options is mind-boggling, so boiling it down may seem daunting. But, it doesn’t need to be. Consider the reason you’re there, and the list will quickly become manageable.
Being a river community, the area’s large rafting companies have jumped at the opportunity to create full-service vacation destinations. Seekers of activities such as rafting, mountain biking, rock climbing, tours and restaurants, will be happily accommodated at one of these resorts. These rafting companies are on private land and have been developed extensively down through the years. Many not only offer full-hook ups for large rigs, but provide basic tent camping and group camping sites too. General stores, shower houses, volleyball, horseshoes and even restaurants are standard fare in these camping resorts, so you won’t have a problem booking your itinerary full of outdoor activity.
Beyond the full-service resorts, there are plenty of RV-specific campgrounds catering to campers who bring their home on wheels. If amenities and convenience are what you seek, the RV-focused parks are almost always near the road and have the hookups RVers covet.
Those seeking a more predictable experience that offers up plenty of family-friendly activities will find themselves at home in one of the area’s well-maintained state parks. Nearby Camp Creek State Park offers good camping and picnicking, and plenty of wildlife, including one of the state’s best stocked trout streams. Another choice is Twin Falls Resort, a short distance to the south. This state resort park keeps visitors busy with hiking trails, an 18-hole golf course, a swimming pool and its historic Pioneer Farm.
With all that the central highlands of West Virginia offers, one word comes to the mind — choices. Native Americans knew of the region’s riches for thousands of years, and the wealth of beauty in the land is still drawing humans to it. Tucked away in those enchanting forests and deep gorges lies a world of outdoor adventure. As John Denver claims, this is truly, “Almost heaven, West Virginia.”
Before You Go
For a listing of campgrounds, www.woodalls.com
Rafting – River Expeditions, 800-463-9873, www.raftinginfo.com
Biking – ACE Adventure Resort, 800-787-3982, www.aceraft.com
Fayetteville CVB, 304-574-1500, www.visitfayettevillewv.com
New River Gorge Bridge Day, 800-927-0263, www.officialbridgeday.com
Pies and Pints, 304-574-2200, www.piesandpints.net
West Virginia State Parks, 304-558-2764, www.wvstateparks.com
West Virginia Division of Toursim, 800-CALL-WVA (225-5982), www.wvtourism.com