West Virginia

Length of stay: 1 day
Visited: November 2021

West Virginia is located within the Appalachian Mountain range and is often referred to as the Mountain State due to its abundance of hills and mountains. As such, West Virginia is known for a wide range of outdoor recreational activities, including skiing, rock climbing, and hiking.

We spent the night in a motel close to the West Virginia border and planned to drive south towards North Carolina. Along the way, we had a couple of hikes planned to soak in the views of the mountains and to break up the drive. We left our motel bright and early at 8a.m and the first stop on our itinerary was at Blackwater State Park.

But along the drive we passed a sign for Our Lady of Pines, which indicated that it was the smallest church in 48 states. Since it was located just off the main road, we decided to stop and check it out. The church was very adorable and since the door wasn’t locked, we popped inside to take a quick look around.

We then continued our drive to Blackwater Falls State Park, which has over 20 miles of hiking trails. The park is named after its 57-foot waterfall which appears a dark reddish brown, much like the colour of tea. This is caused by the tannic acid of fallen hemlock and red spruce needles.

We first hiked along the Blackwater Falls Boardwalk Trail (0.25 miles / 0.4km, rated difficult). The trail starts at the Trading Post parking area and leads to a series of viewpoints of the falls. The trail follows along a wide boardwalk and consists of more than 200 steps. The boardwalk follows the natural contours of the slope down to the waterfall. It was a bit icy closer to the falls due to the colder weather, so we had to watch our step. There were a few interpretive panels along the way that provide more information about how the waterfall was discovered and how the boardwalk was created.

We then hiked along the Lindy Point Trail (0.3 miles / 0.5km, rated moderate) which is located just past the sled run parking area. There’s a small parking lot that can accommodate a small handful of cars. The path winds through the forest and leads to an overlook that sits 3,000 feet above Blackwater Canyon. The trail was a bit muddy, but the colder temperature meant that the ground was partially frozen. There’s a viewing platform at the overlook. After soaking in the views, we turned around and walked back the way we came.

We then drove to the Seneca Caverns, which was a scenic drive through the mountains. We had to pass through a quarry, which seemed a bit sketchy, but we saw a sign for the caverns so we figured that this was the right way. And it was, but it turns out that the Seneca Caverns was closed for the season. What a bummer.

After eating a quick lunch, we hit the road again towards Spruce Knob, the tallest point in West Virginia. It was a steep drive up the mountain along a narrow road with lots of switchbacks. While there’s a few scenic viewpoints along the way, we drove straight to the top. From the parking lot it’s a short hike along the Whispering Spruce Trail (0.5mile / 0.8km loop) to get to the observation tower.

The views weren’t the greatest from the observation tower as they were largely blocked by towering spruces. However, continuing along the trail, there’s a few other scenic overlooks that provide unobstructed views into the valley below.

Afterwards we drove to Cranberry Glades Botanical Area, which is located in the Monongahela National Forest. The Glades consist of five small, boreal-type bogs that resemble an arctic tundra which are situated in the mountains at an elevation of 3,400 feet above sea level. It is one of West Virginia’s largest wetlands and is home to many rare plants and animals. There’s a short boardwalk that loops through part of the Glades. Along the way there were a few interpretive panels that provide more information about the area and the types of plants that are found here.

We hopped back in the car and drove to New River Gorge National Park. The park protects 53 miles of one of the oldest rivers in the world and is spread across a few different areas. By the time we arrived at the Canyon Rim Visitor Centre, it was late in the afternoon. We picked up a map and information guide of the park and then went to check out the overlook from behind the visitor centre.

We then set off to hike along the Canyon Rim Boardwalk Trail (0.1 miles / 0.16km roundtrip, rated easy with strenuous stairs) which leads to a couple of viewing platforms of the New River Gorge Bridge. The bridge was completed in 1977 and extends 3,030 feet (or 924 metres) over the New River Gorge. It was once the world’s longest single-span arch bridge and the world’s highest bridge carrying a regular roadway. It was built to cut down on travel times.

We then hopped back in the car and drove to the Grandview area, which features a few viewpoints above the river. It was a race against the clock as daylight was beginning to fade. By the time we arrived at the Main Overlook it was just after 5:15p.m and the sun had already set, but it wasn’t quite dark yet. We raced along part of the Canyon Rim Trail to the North Overlook. We reached the picnic area which contained two more overlooks before turning around as neither of us had any interest in getting lost in the dark. We then walked along the paved path through the amphitheatre and back to the main road and parking lot.

After reading the various storyboards around the visitor centre, we headed to our accommodations for the night. While we didn’t spend much time in West Virginia, it was nice to get a sense of the scenery and hit up some of the highlights along the drive.


71 thoughts on “West Virginia

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words. West Virginia is one of the most scenic states we’ve driven through. It was nice to stop every couple of hours to stretch our legs and enjoy the mountains and countryside.

  1. michellecj333 says:

    West Virginia, and particularly New River Gorge, has been on our list for at least 2 years! You’ve certainly inspired me to put it back at the top of the list with this amazing post! I absolutely love that little church! This is outstanding Info! I’m especially interested in visiting the Blackwater falls now as well. Love this!!!

  2. Little Miss Traveller says:

    That tiny church looks so sweet, I wonder how many come to worship there each Sunday! The Falls and New River Gorge both look worthy of a visit and it’s good to see the boardwalks so well maintained.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Visiting the tiny church was a fun spontaneous detour. It looked like it was still operational, but it wouldn’t fit many people. Most of the trails we hiked along in West Virginia had some sort of boardwalk section, which are always my favourite. Blackwater Falls was beautiful and I really liked the boggy landscape at Cranberry Glades.

  3. John says:

    The views are beautiful, the church so cute! Compared to the mountains around Las Vegas, what they call mountains are foothills to me. 😂

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It was a beautiful drive through the mountainous landscape. West Virginia did not disappoint with the scenery or the hiking. One of the things I love about taking a road trip is having the flexibility to make random detours. We just couldn’t pass up on seeing one of the smallest churches in the US.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The hiking in West Virginia is fantastic. Even though we were driving through on a weekend, we had most of the trails (and the road) all to ourselves. Blackwater Falls was one of favourites.

  4. Third Culture Kid says:

    That’s amazing you went to Appalachia to experience the nature. I would certainly want to go there for that purpose too. I know I wouldn’t want to see how that area has been affected by the opioid epidemic

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It was a long, but scenic drive through West Virginia and it was nice to explore a few trails along the way. The views of the mountains never get old. Agreed, it is sad how West Virginia has one of the highest opioid overdoses in the US. We passed through a few smaller towns and communities that looked a bit rough.

  5. wetanddustyroads says:

    Ah, I like Our Lady of the Pines – how cute is that little church! And what a great boardwalk to the waterfall – definitely makes for a much easier walk. Love the view of that bridge over the New River Gorge! And though the sun already set when you arrived at your last viewpoint, that is a really nice photo! I’m almost out of breath after reading your post – it was a busy day!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      One of the reasons I love taking a road trip is that we have much more flexibility sometimes to stop at random viewpoints or attractions along the way. This was the case for us when we drove through West Virginia. It was bummer we couldn’t have spent more time at the New River Gorge National Park, but I’m glad we managed to make it to the main overlook before it got dark. It was definitely an action-packed day.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The landscape in West Virginia looks very beautiful with all those mountains in the background. Even though we did a lot of driving that day, at least it was scenic. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It was a long day of driving, but it was nice to take a few stops along the way and explore some of the trails. I would have liked to spend more time at the New River Gorge National Park, but I’m glad we at least made it to the main overlook before it got dark. There never seems to be enough hours in the day. I would love to return to explore the area more fully. Thanks for the tip about the rafting. Take care. Linda

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It was a lovely day of driving through the mountains. The Our Lady of Pines church was very adorable and I’m glad we stopped when we saw the sign for it. Thanks for reading. Have a wonderful weekend. Linda

  6. kagould17 says:

    You sure managed to hit the highlights on this one day trip. Great scenery for sure. The area is fascinating with its soft hills, rivers, canyons and water falls. The observation tower on this day looked a bit more substantial than the last one. Thanks for sharing Linda. Allan

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      West Virginia is one of the most scenic states we’ve driven through. We took the backroads and enjoyed the views of the countryside and mountains. The observation tower at Spruce Knob was definitely more stable than the one in Pennsylvania and required less steps to reach the top. The only issue was that the views were obstructed from all the towering spruce trees below. But, the trail also features a few scenic overlooks that provided nicer views of the surrounding area. Thanks for reading. Linda

  7. Oh, the Places We See says:

    So glad you included a photo of that precious church in your post. And oh, those waterfalls! We loved seeing West Virginia in the fall one year — a glorious color treat. New River Gorge is quite the area for leaf peeping!

  8. Monkey's Tale says:

    That tiny church is adorable! And I was surprised by such a nice view from Lindy Point. Looks like you had a lot of great views on your drive through. Maggie

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It was a long drive through West Virginia, but at least it was scenic. The tiny church was a random detour, but we couldn’t resist after seeing the sign about how it’s the smallest church in 48 states. The Lindy Point Overlook was beautiful and it’s a super short hike to reach the viewing platform. Sometimes it’s nice to get the great views with minimal effort when you’re short on time.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The New River Gorge Bridge is beautiful and it was neat to learn more about its history and why and how it was made. There’s a few other trails in the park that provide different viewpoints and angles of the bridge, but we were short on time to check them out. Next time.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words. I imagine it wasn’t easy to build that bridge across the river and gorge! We actually drove across it afterwards and I can see why it has helped cut down on travel time.

  9. leightontravels says:

    That church is very cool. It’s great that you had a chance to peek inside. Sadly in England we find that churches are closed more often than not. Sounds like you had a full day of hiking. Some very pretty views and the waterfall trail is amazing, very well done!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Our Lady of Pines was a spontaneous stop and I’m glad we checked it out. I’m not sure whether the doors are always open, but we were there on a Sunday morning so we may have just gotten lucky with the timing. The hiking in West Virginia was fantastic and featured a nice range of views from the mountains, gorges, rivers, waterfalls and bogs.

  10. Ab says:

    Oh my goodness, what a scenic adventure you went on! All the photos look amazing. I particularly love the two boardwalk trails, especially the one with the waterfall. The overlooks also look amazing and that giant bridge. Such stunning scenery!

    I first heard of “West Virginia” when we had to sing “Country Road” in grade school for a Spring concert. Would never have thought it was this beautiful. Definitely gonna add it to the list to check out now!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      West Virginia wasn’t high on my list of states to visit, but it was one of the most scenic states we’ve driven through with all those rolling hills, mountains and views of the countryside. I’m a sucker for a trail with a boardwalk and it turns out that there are quite a few of them in West Virginia, that and nice viewpoints. I’m now going to have that “Take Me Home, Country Roads” song stuck in my head all morning!

      Enjoy the rest of your weekend 🙂

  11. Bama says:

    That church looks pretty and the waterfall is quite beautiful. But that bridge, that’s just spectacular! It looks like despite your short time in West Virginia, you did manage to see some of the highlights of its natural beauty.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It was a long day of driving, but I’m glad we took many breaks along the way to explore some of the trails and viewpoints in West Virginia. The scenery was simply spectacular. Blackwater Falls was one of my favourite stops. The New River Gorge Bridge was very impressive and we actually drove across it afterwards.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      That’s too funny. I guess it wanted to stay young forever. Blackwater Falls was easily one of the highlights of our day in West Virginia. I also really liked our stroll through the Cranberry Glades. I wasn’t expecting to find a bog up in the mountains.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words. The Appalachian Trail is pretty amazing and I bet the scenery along the way is outstanding. It also seems incredibly tough. I’ve hiked a few smaller sections and struggled with just a day pack. I can’t even imagine how much more challenging it would be for the people who backpack along the trail.

      • photobyjosephciras says:

        The greatest difficulty is determining how much weight to have. I have done sections of the trail. My brother in law did the entire trail and I have a friend currently on the AT.

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        For sure. An extra pound or two can really make a big difference when you’re carrying it on your back for several hours and days. That’s amazing that your brother-in-law has completed the entire trail. What an accomplishment. All the best to your friend who is currently hiking it. It must take a lot of determination, persistence, and planning.

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        No doubt. We typically venture out into the backcountry with a canoe, which means we don’t have to worry as much about weight, just as long as everything fits. I would like to try a multi-day backpacking trail, but I would probably start small. The AT seems a bit too advanced with all those mountains.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I’m such a fan of trails with a boardwalk and it’s a great way to explore an area that otherwise would have been inaccessible to us hikers. I can’t imagine it would be a lot of fun to construct those boardwalks, especially the ones through the Cranberry Glades where it’s swampy. I sure am thankful that they’re there though!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It was a long day of driving through West Virginia, but at least it was scenic. I’m glad we were able to break up the drive and go on a few hikes to stretch our legs and just enjoy the mountains and countryside.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It was such a lovely drive through West Virginia as the scenery is spectacular. It was nice to make a few stops along the way to explore the landscape and stretch our legs. The hiking here was fantastic. Thanks for reading. Linda

  12. Janet says:

    Loved the New River Gorge Bridge photo. I’ve been reading your USA posts in reverse order and know you’ve visited a couple of Catholic churches. Being that I am Catholic, I’ve really appreciated seeing them. What a cute little church this one was. Also, I think it’s awesome that you’re finding hikes to do along the way.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks so much for your lovely comment. I’m glad we were able to sneak in a last minute road trip south of the border at the end of November before Omicron became cause for concern. We had a nice mix between visiting cities and spending time out on the trails. I find churches and cathedrals so fascinating, even the small ones like our Lady of Pines.

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