Wild, Wonderful West Virginia, the Mountain State’s slogan, is a key to what’s in store as soon as you cross the state line. For years, some have either ignored the beauty of West Virginia or embraced it and kept the allure of its small mountain towns to themselves for safekeeping.
Either way, with the New River Gorge becoming the 63rd park in the National Park System, it will gain many new visitors. Here are some quaint small towns to visit in West Virginia as shared by a local to enhance your visit. These are towns I have personally been to and raved about to others somewhere down the road.
Fayetteville was voted one of the Coolest Towns in America by Budget Traveler. Here, you’ll find a Bohemian spirit with oodles of outdoor opportunities. If you’ve ever wanted to go whitewater rafting, this is your chance. You’ll find some of the best rapids in the country and instructional teams at Adventures on the Gorge to ease your beginner fears or bring out the daredevil for experienced rafters. You can also find lodging (cabins, glamping, RV sites, campgrounds, and vacation homes) for every budget. Enjoy a fantastic gourmet sandwich from Secret Sandwich Society and a side of Pimento Cheese Fries. The Truman is my fave, with turkey, peach jam, blue cheese spread, and crispy onions.
Pro Tip: Views from Adventures on the Gorge’s pool are breathtaking.
I visited Thomas a few months ago after hearing some pretty cool things about it. Thomas is a charming little gem with one of the state’s best (if not the best) music venues, The Purple Fiddle, offering a house band that plays mountain and bluegrass sounds. Eat slow-cooked carnitas tacos or a bowl with rice, beans, queso fresco, pickled slaw, and a fried egg from Picnic, a takeout place with a massive lawn for picnicking. Bonus, there are 50 buildings in the area listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Three miles away in neighboring Davis is an adorable retro-chic motel that I didn’t have the chance to stay at, but not for lack of trying. The Billy Motel and Bar is highly popular and looks like it belongs on Route 66 rather than rural West Virginia. Have drinks at the bar and take in the cool ambiance.
One of West Virginia’s oldest towns is Shepherdstown in the panhandle region of Jefferson County. Enjoy scenic views of the Potomac River or soak up the wonders of the town that was a runner-up for our nation’s capital. I enjoy staying at the Bavarian Inn Resort & Brewing Company, with award-winning German cuisine (think schnitzel, apple strudel, and sausages), comfortable, elegant rooms, and a fantastic infinity pool. Shepherdstown has a colonial feel to it, which you’ll notice at once. Stop in Dickinson & Wait Craft Gallery for your viewing and shopping pleasures, and O’Hurley’s General Store for a stroll down memory lane.
Shepherdstown is 10 miles away from historic Harper’s Ferry National Historic Park, where one of the most precipitating factors of the Civil War took place.
Calling all you boaters and campers … Summersville (Nicholas County) is the place to be in West Virginia. You’ll be in awe of the beauty of this popular human-made (rock-fill dam) 327-foot-deep lake only 20 to 25 minutes from Fayetteville. Find yourself a quiet cove for fishing or relaxing, or you can get out on the vertical cliff-surrounded lake for ultimate boating fun. Summersville Lake has a full-service marina and public beach area.
Camp on your own or rent a cabin or yurt at Mountain Lake Campground, which is also pet-friendly and offers golf rentals. Sarge’s Dive Shop is open for paddleboard and kayak rentals as well as diving excursions. Pontoons and speedboats are also available for rent at Summersville Lake and make for a great day on the beautiful clear water. If you’ve ever considered getting scuba certification, Summersville is an excellent place to do it.
White Sulphur Springs
White Sulphur Springs is a pristine community with my favorite resort in the country – The Greenbrier, America’s resort since 1778. This place will literally knock your socks off with its luxury accommodations, high-end shopping, gambling, historical tours, golf, and sprawling grounds with incredible pools. White Sulphur Springs itself is a picturesque town with adorable little shops and quite a few festivals. If fishing is in your wheelhouse, cast your line and be prepared to pull in some tale-worthy big ones.
If you feel like more pampering (it’s been a rough year, right?), a few miles away is Salt Cave & Spa, where you can relax in the man-made cave lined with Himalayan salt. Follow up with lunch and a photo-worthy Bloody Mary from 50 East Casual Dining & Spirits.
Fun Fact: Jerry West graduated from my high school. Honoring the NBA legend and man’s silhouette that still graces the basketball, Prime 44 West at the Greenbrier is a top steakhouse in the state.
A few minutes from Charleston, WV’s capital city, is Marmet, population 1,625. Besides having the best West Virginia hot dogs of all at Chum’s (you’ve got to try the yellow mustard slaw!), it is a town with a timeless annual tradition that is worth a visit.
Join the locals and visitors in Marmet as they roll out the red carpet for the Marmet Labor Day festivities and parade. Gather around MacCorkle Avenue to watch a small-town American parade honor the labor workers with bands, nearby fire departments, politicians and labor party representatives, children’s organizations and church groups, candy-tossers, and much more. Following the parade are fireworks, carnival-style fun and games, music, and good home cooking at Ben Morris Field.
One of my favorite towns in West Virginia is Seebert, in Pocahontas County. This friendly community is nestled around the Greenbrier River and Watoga State Park. Stop by Jack Horner’s Corner for kayak and tubing rentals, as getting out on the water is a way of life here. If you’ve not had the pleasure of river tubing, put on your swimsuit and water shoes and grab a tube to float down the river. You can also pick up groceries, pizza, and other convenience items.
You can camp in the state park or stay in the charming waterfront Greenbrier River Cabins for lodging. Motorcycle touring is another popular way to see Seebert, with fantastic scenery and some of the curviest roads in the state. Nearby, in the town of Hinton, is the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace Museum, though currently closed due to COVID.
Located in Braxton County, Sutton is an adorable small town with the best restaurant in West Virginia, Cafe Cimino. Feast on a charcuterie platter, homemade pasta dishes, and mouthwatering steaks prepared by Chef Tim. Make an overnight of it and stay in the onsite Cafe Cimino County Inn situated along the scenic Elk River.
Nearby is the paranormal giant, the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum. Formerly the Weston State Hospital, this 160-year-old asylum is where countless lobotomies were performed. And if you hadn’t guessed, it is highly haunted and featured on several Ghost Network shows. I highly recommend a tour of this National Historic Landmark.
Dunbar is a stone’s throw from Charleston, with the best bingo in the state. I’m not talking about your run-of-the-mill bingo hall. The Dunbar Athletic Boosters Bingo Hall has hundreds of people cashing in on big jackpots, pulling tips (if you know, you know), and munching on homemade pies, cakes, and a wide array of dinner options. Saturday nights, you can play bingo for less than $35, which lasts several hours into the evening. Funny, this thrilling weekly entertainment and camaraderie is the one thing I miss most about living in West Virginia.
For overnight accommodations, the vibrant Mardi Gras Casino & Resort is 10 minutes away.
The setting of downtown Lewisburg is about as American as you can get, with locally owned shops, restaurants, vibrant flower displays, whimsical street flags, and manicured parks lining the main drag amidst the Allegheny Mountains. Here you can enjoy high brow shopping for ladies apparel at Wolf Creek, shoes at Yarid’s, upscale kitchen items at Bella the Corner Gourmet, and eclectic gifts (and wine!) at Harmony Ridge Gallery. Visit Carnegie Hall or Greenbrier Valley Theatre for performing arts and concerts. Then, rest your head in a beautiful room at the elegant 1929 General Lewis Inn, serving amazing craft cocktails.
Pro Tip: Don’t miss Lewisburg’s Carnegie Hall — one of the four remaining Andrew Carnegie centers in the world.
Wheeling is well-known for Oglebay Resort, a year-round resort with cottages and a lodge that really comes to life at Christmas when the Winter Festival of Lights offers some of the best holiday displays in the country. Oglebay’s grounds are immaculate — you may not want to leave. A few miles away in Moundsville is the Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold (Hare Krishna devotees), easily one of the best religious wonders in the country. Wheeling is great for leaf peepers, a perfect Italian dinner at Undo’s, and playing the slots at the Wheeling Island Hotel Casino and Racetrack.