There’s no better time than fall to experience West Virginia’s natural beauty on the state’s many scenic highways. Here are five drives everybody should go on!
1. The Midland Trail
Driving the Midland Trail-U.S. Route 60-is a pleasure any time of the year, but it is downright beautiful in the fall. It officially starts on the Ohio River (in Kenova near Highway), continues east to Charleston before heading into more mountainous terrain. Want to stretch your legs or spend the night? Hawks Nest State Park offers food, lodging, aerial tramway and beautiful scenery – including spectacular views of New River Gorge.
To the east, there’s a beautiful transition as the mountains give way to the Greenbrier Valley.
Views include “the pastoral picture of piedmont farmland, unhurried life, Civil War sites and quaint towns such as Lewisburg, where historical preservation amid genteel country living is a way of life.”
2. Highland Scenic Highway
The name says it all. Mountain views and surrounding valleys are the big draw along this two-lane paved highway that extends 43 miles from Richwood to U.S. Route 219 near Slatyfork. Visitors get an up close look at the mountainous terrain of the Allegheny Highlands and Plateau. The road rises from Richwood (elevation 2,325 feet) to over 4,500 feet at other points along the parkway.
But it’s also a beautiful corridor that runs through the heart of the Monongahela National Forest, and offers four scenic overlooks along the way including the Williams River, Big Spruce, Little Laurel and Red Lick.
There are several scenic overlooks of Cranberry Glades and the Cranberry Wilderness. Feel like getting physical? Hikers can access the Black Mountain Fire Interpretive Trail to learn how bad timbering practices led to a destructive forest fire in the area during the 1930s.
3. Coal Heritage Trail
The five-county (Fayette, Raleigh, Wyoming, McDowell and Mercer) region along the Coal Heritage Trail in southern West Virginia was once responsible for helping fuel the entire country. Although coal mining has dwindled, a drive on Route 16 offers a look at distinctly unique company towns, scenic industrial heritage and the natural beauty still surrounding them in the Appalachian Mountains.
Beginning in Fayette County and heading south, expect to pass through some well-known towns like Fayetteville, Oak Hill and Beckley before entering coal field towns like Pineville, Welch, and Kimball before the byway ends at Bluefield.
4. W.Va. Rt. 32 through Canaan Valley
There’s mountain beauty around every curve on Route 32 as it winds from Harmon to Thomas – and then through Canaan Valley – in Tucker County. Maples turn bright red and orange, in sharp contrast to the evergreens dotting the highland landscape.
And there are also plenty of places to get close to nature, including Blackwater Falls State Park, Canaan Valley State Park and Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge which features the area’s unique wetlands, native plants and animals.
The state’s largest valley sits at an elevation of 3,300 feet and offers bright sunny days followed by cool, clear nights. Beware: Deer are everywhere, and can sometimes be a road hazard for drivers.
5. Historic Eastern Panhandle’s Washington Heritage Trail
See fall foliage amid some of the state’s most historic spots. Starting from the west, this 136-mile long byway includes well-known towns and communities including PawPaw, Martinsburg, Shepherdstown and Charles Town.
History comes alive among the falling leaves at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park (take time to learn about John Brown’s raid) in Jefferson County, and Berkeley Springs State Park in Morgan County where visitors can enjoy the mineral springs once visited by George Washington.