This article was produced in partnership with West Virginia Tourism.
We all know that West Virginia is a worthy winter getaway, with its endless outdoor adventures, snow-covered trails, and cozy mountain retreats. Trip planning tools like free travel guides make it easier than ever to line up a magical seasonal escape. But there’s so much more to experience in this wintry wonderland beyond heart-pounding exploits and jaw-dropping scenery.
The Mountain State is a multifaceted mosaic, combining centuries of hallowed ground and legendary characters. Here, remarkable moments and epic events are infused into the DNA of the destination. It’s a treasure trove for history fanatics and curious travelers looking to slow down and revisit the past.
West Virginia’s rich and diverse heritage is definitely worth discovering first-hand. After all, there’s a reason why these stories have been passed down through time and retold from generation to generation. From preserved sites and one-of-a-kind landmarks to fascinating museums and historic trails, here are just a few of the reasons why West Virginia is Almost Heaven for history buffs all year long.
For Hands-On Heritage
Turn back the hands of time and transport yourself to a bygone era. Scattered all across West Virginia, these immersive heritage sites will add an authentic spin on any visit. We’re talking full period garb, live demonstrations of forgotten arts, and engaging reenactments (no, not the cheesy kind). Plus, you’ll learn a ton about what life was really like before iPhones and Amazon.
1. Heritage Farm Museum and Village (Huntington, WV)
Get a glimpse of a traditional 19th-century Appalachian village by exploring this open-air, living history museum tucked away in Wayne County. The Heritage Farm Museum and replica village houses more than 15 log structures, including five cabin inns. There’s no shortage of things to see, like the Museum of Transportation, the Museum of Progress, and the Heritage Museum. Kids will also get a kick out of the one-room schoolhouse, the petting zoo, and the Children’s Activity Museum. In December, the entire village is trimmed in twinkling lights, hosting seasonal activities like jingling wagon rides, cookie decorating sessions, and photo ops with Santa Claus and Frosty the Snowman.
2. Cass Scenic Railroad State Park (Cass, WV)
Father Time hasn’t changed much when it comes to the town of Cass, and a visit here will remind you of an era when the world depended on locomotives. At the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park, you can hop aboard a steam-driven train and cruise through astounding mountain scenery while learning about the past. They also organize special tours throughout the year. Pop by the Company Store to find the perfect holiday gift or grab a bite at The Last Run Restaurant and Soda Fountain. You can even spend the night at one of their restored two-story Company Houses, which come in multiple configurations and can sleep up to 14 guests.
3. Prickett’s Fort (Fairmont, WV)
Perched above the meeting point of Prickett’s Creek and the Monongahela River, Prickett’s Fort is a detailed reconstruction of the original log fort constructed in 1774. It was purpose-built by early pioneers to serve as a haven on the Western frontier. These days, interpreters recreate the lifestyle of these settlers and visitors can interact with blacksmiths, weavers, woodworkers, and more. It’s also home to West Virginia’s only public demonstration of 18th-century firearm manufacturing.
4. Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park
History buffs should make their way to Greenbrier River Valley, just north of Lewisburg. The park is part of the Civil War Discovery Trail so, aside from hiking, you have a bevy of historical sites to visit (in fact, it links more than 300 sites across 16 states). Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park also has the distinction of being West Virginia’s first state park. If you happen to be here in October of an even-numbered year, you can even catch a reenactment of the Battle of Droop Mountain, the final American Civil War conflict in West Virginia.
5. Harpers Ferry (Harpers Ferry ,WV)
One of the most popular sites in West Virginia, Harpers Ferry is a charming 19th-century town tucked away in the lower Shenandoah Valley. Strolling through this picture-perfect slice of Americana truly feels like stepping back in time. The town’s architecture is reflective of the town’s past life as a major transportation hub and bustling industrial center in the 1800s. It’s no surprise that the entire destination is listed as a National Historic District by the National Register. Pop into museums, join history tours, hike trails, visit battlefields, or partake in the ever-changing calendar of events. And don’t miss the chance to tour John Brown’s Fort.
For the Museum Enthusiast
With West Virginia’s beautiful backdrops and rich heritage, it’s easy to understand why there are so many museums and galleries dedicated to preserving the past. There’s something for everyone to appreciate, from art and cultural centers to curated collections showcasing relics and artifacts from days gone by. Learn the stories and uncover the masterpieces hidden within the Mountain State.
1. West Virginia Culture Center State Museum (Charleston, WV)
Standing tall on the Capitol Grounds in Charleston, the West Virginia Culture Center State Museum is a must-see for any visitor. The site is dedicated to inspiring, educating, and enriching lives through the collection, preservation, and exhibition of diverse cultural and historic traditions. The museum touches on every facet of West Virginia history, from art and culture to paleontology and archaeology. Even better, it’s free and open to the public, offering an accessible way to dive headfirst into the region’s enthralling past.
2. Museum of American Glass (Weston, WV)
Make your way over to Weston to witness one of the most impressive glass collections in the U.S. It’s a niche nod to the first half of the 1900s, when the production of handmade glass boomed and served as a driving economic force. From bottles and decorative tableware to telegraph insulators and automobile parts, glass was a vital material that helped push progress forward. The Museum of American Glass features over 20,000 pieces on display and provides interactive exhibits, children’s activities, the National Marble Museum, and an extensive library.
3. Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine (Beckley, WV)
While most people want to avoid coal during the holidays, it’s something to be celebrated in the Mountain State. Coal is arguably West Virginia’s most famous natural resource, and it has played a central role in the state’s history. Become an expert by visiting the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine. This preserved early 20th-Century coal mine is nestled 1,500 feet underground. Sightseers can venture down the shaft and take a trip through the mine on a guided tour. Once above ground, explore the on-site museum and other popular sites, like the restored coal camp house, a miner’s shanty, the gift shop, and more.
4. The Ice House (Berkeley Springs, WV)
Although the name may stir up mental images of a frozen igloo, the Ice House Art Center is actually home to the Morgan Arts Council. They support the arts in all forms, including concerts, revolving exhibits, lecture series, and theatrical productions. The Ice House is located in eclectic Berkeley Springs, which is often recognized as one of the top small art towns in America. Be sure to check out the Ice House Co-Op Gallery to enjoy the works of more than 30 local and regional artisans.
For the Landmark Lover
West Virginia is already known as a phenomenal road trip destination. But in addition to its world-famous vistas, its roadways are also punctuated with nearly 1,000 landmark markers, and each represents an important snapshot in time. It would be a challenge to stop and see every single one, but here are some noteworthy landmarks you can add to your list.
1. West Virginia Independence Hall (Wheeling, WV)
You can’t talk about West Virginia’s history without highlighting West Virginia Independence Hall. The National Historic Landmark is regarded as the birthplace of West Virginia because it was the site of a series of formative events that eventually led to statehood—including the monumental vote in 1861 to secede from the Confederate state of Virginia. It has been meticulously restored and outfitted with educational exhibitions, allowing visitors to wander through period-accurate rooms and learn about the historic significance of the iconic landmark.
2. Carnifex Ferry Battlefield State Park (Summersville, WV)
Perched on the rim of the Gauley River Canyon, Carnifex Ferry Battlefield State Park is another point of interest for history buffs intrigued by the tale of how West Virginia came to be. During the battle of Carnifex Ferry, the Confederates failed to win control of the Kanawha Valley, helping pave the way to statehood. With hiking trails, playgrounds, and horseshoe pits, it’s a favorite family escape. Make sure to visit on odd years when they host an incredible reenactment of the historic battle.
3. Organ Cave (Greenbrier County, WV)
For centuries, Native Americans harvested flint from the walls of Organ Cave to produce arrowheads, cutting tools, and other paraphernalia. Later on during the Civil War, soldiers mined the cave for nitre, a soft white mineral used as a key ingredient in gunpowder. Today, this National Natural Landmark boasts over 45 miles of mapped passages with even more uncharted areas yet to be surveyed. Scratch the spelunking itch by touring its natural wonders, including prehistoric fossils, stalactites, and stalagmites that resemble a pipe organ.
4. Anna Jarvis House (Grafton, WV)
Do you ever wonder about the origin of specific holidays? Well, Mother’s Day was actually founded by a West Virginian woman named Anna Jarvis. Her childhood home, located in Grafton, also served as the first field headquarters of General George McClellan and became an important site during the Civil War. Today, the Anna Jarvis House is a landmark site filled with memorabilia dedicated to both Jarvis and McClellan.
5. Secret Bunker at the Greenbrier Resort (White Sulphur Springs, WV)
Known as America’s Resort since 1778, the Greenbrier Resort is one of America’s most iconic properties. And while it’s bursting at the seams with amenities, its coolest feature is hidden. The super-sized secret bunker is a 112,000-square-foot subterranean facility that was constructed to safely harbor every member of Congress if the United States ever saw a nuclear attack. Once top-secret, it’s now open to the public, and the resort offers 90-minute walking tours through the emergency television studio, the House of Representatives chamber, the water power plant, and more.
Hit the Heritage Trails
There’s no shortage of historic trails winding their way throughout West Virginia. Typically themed around a specific interest, these routes provide an excellent way to gain a deeper understanding of the Mountain State’s rich heritage. Whether traveling on foot or by car, here are a few that shouldn’t be missed.
1. Appalachian Trail (Harpers Ferry, WV)
The legendary Appalachian Trail snakes its way down the East Coast from Maine to Georgia, covering approximately 2,180 miles in its entirety. But Harpers Ferry is known as the psychological halfway point. Here, visitors can get a taste by following the three miles of the route that cut through the historic town. Harpers Ferry is also home to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Visitor Center, the trail’s official headquarters. Holidaymakers can swing by to learn more about the world’s most famous hiking trail.
2. Historic National Road (Wheeling, WV)
While Route 66 might be the most well-known highway in America, real gearheads know the National Road is also worth a drive. Also called the Cumberland Road, this historic stretch was the first major improved highway constructed in the U.S. Built by the federal government between 1811 and 1837, the 620-mile route connected the Potomac and Ohio Rivers and served as a main transport path for thousands of westward settlers.
3. Civil War Discovery Trail (Throughout the state)
West Virginia is the only state formed during the Civil War, and the story of the Mountain State provides a fascinating context into the country’s most definitive war. The Civil War Discovery Trail is a national network that includes more than 300 historical sites. Following the trail will lead you through some of West Virginia’s most stunning overlooks while introducing you to multiple points of interest, like the Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park, which saw the last significant battle in West Virginia.
4. George Washington Heritage Trail (Martinsburg, WV)
If you’ve ever dreamed about following in the footsteps of an American president, then the George Washington Heritage Trail has your name written all over it. The path cuts through three Eastern Panhandle counties and retraces significant moments of Washington’s life. Sites include Harpers Ferry, the Paw Paw Tunnel, and even the house of Belle Boyd, a notorious Confederate spy. A short time on the trail will make it abundantly clear why the country’s first president fell in love with Almost Heaven.
5. National Coal Heritage Trail (Oak Hill, WV)
This popular driving trail traverses through 13 counties and encompasses more than 187 wild and wonderful miles. While cruising through rugged landscapes and scenic stretches, you’ll also discover National Historic Districts and come face-to-face with the remaining clues of the once booming coal industry. It takes about four hours to drive the entire trail, but don’t forget to build in time for pit stops. You can chat with locals and learn what life was like for the thousands of hardworking coal miners that once called this region home.
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