Its unofficial nickname may be the Switzerland of America, but West Virginia is nowhere near as wealthy as its namesake. It is one of the poorest states in the US. The mountains, though, are picture-perfect, and although coal mining still dominates the economy, tourism is booming.
The first stop-off on the tourist trail is the little town of Harpers Ferry, now the picturesque centrepiece of a National Historic Park. It was here, in 1859, that abolutionist John Brown seized the federal arsenal, an incident that would help to spark the Civil War.
Next, stop for a soak in the thermal waters at Berkeley Springs. A fashionable spa resort in the 18th century, its visitors included George Washington. These days, it’s also home to a thriving artistic community.
To the west, in the Allegheny Mountains, is Monongahela National Park. Miles of trails show off its caves, forests, blueberry thickets and rivers, and it has two downhill ski resorts.
In southern West Virginia, the terrain is even wilder; the New River Gorge National River, a 305-metre deep canyon, offers superb white-water rafting, as well as hiking and gorge climbing.
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West Virginia has four seasons and very diverse climates. In the valleys, western regions of the state, and Eastern Panhandle, winters are mild and summers warm. In the central, more mountainous areas, winters are quite cold, with greater amounts of snow, but summers are pleasant and mild. Annual rainfall ranges from about 76cm (30 inches) in the Shenandoah Valley to over 152cm (60 inches) in the southwestern mountains.
Summer and winter are the peak seasons and when most visitors step off their West Virginia flights.
The annual State Fair of West Virginia is held in mid-August in Lewisburg and features farm-animal exhibits, a carnival, concerts, food, and other fun. On West Virginia Day, commemorating the date the state was granted admittance to the Union (June 20, 1863), celebrations, concerts, parades, and fireworks are staged in various cities all over the state.
Winter brings the skiers and advance reservations are a good idea.
Many visitors prefer planning their trips during the marginally less crowded and expensive spring off-season.
Autumn presents a nice alternative for visiting West Virginia as the mountains display lovely gold and copper colours.
To get around the state and travel its narrow, winding roads, you need a car, bicycle, or motorcycle. There is some bus and train service, but it is limited.
The old town section of Harpers Ferry has very little parking, and there are shuttle buses from the visitor centre to the old town. Harpers Ferry is serviced by trains from Maryland and Washington, D.C.
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