6 totally free National Parks in the Mountain State
There are several National Parks to explore in the Mountain State—all with no entry fee!
Pack your hiking boots and a sandwich and get ready to explore West Virginia:
1. Bluestone National Scenic River
This park is so secluded, you have to travel through the surrounding state parks to get there. But it’s worth the trek, because the Bluestone National Scenic River has a ton of things to do.
When the river is between 4-7 feet deep, take a leisurely canoe ride downstream to enjoy access to some of the best and most remote wildlife viewing in the region. Or try one of the many hikes, including the moderately challenging 9.5-mile Bluestone Turnpike Trail hike through historic remnants, biodiversity, and great views of the river.
For a bit more structure, take a guided walk on the Turnpike Trail or a shorter option like the 2-mile scenic River Walk (be sure to bring $2 for the return tram ride.) You can also hunt and fish in the park.
2. Gauley National Recreation Area
For a bit more action, head over to the Gauley National Recreation Area and try whitewater rafting down winding rivers rushing through narrow canyons. The Upper Gauley is one of the world’s top 10 rafting runs.
If you opt for the slow road, spend some time relaxing in the calmer waters to hone your angling skills. Make the adventure complete by bringing your camping gear for a few nights under some of the East Coast’s darkest skies.
There are 18 drive-in sites for tents and RVs, but you can camp throughout the area as long as it’s on National Park property (some of the recreation area is private property), and 100 feet away from any river, cliff, trailhead or historic ruin.
3. New River Gorge National Park and Preserve
This park has a little bit of everything. Whether you love being outside, history or small-town charm, the New River Gorge is a park you will want to visit again and again. Stop into one of the 4 visitor centers, take in some incredible views of the gorge and then dive into the activities.
Test your comfort with heights and try one of the most popular activities at the park: rock climbing. Choose from more than 1,400 established world-class climbs on sandstone, ranging from 30-120 feet in height. If you want to stay closer to the ground, check out whitewater rafting, or any one of the many hiking and mountain biking trails.
Just bring your sense of adventure and a love of fresh air! There are 8 camping areas for car camping, walk-in camping, RVs and handicap-accessible sites in the park. And just on the park’s outskirts, you can cozy up in a forest cabin or a charming B&B.
4. Harpers Ferry National Historical Park
Unlike the other National Parks, a lot of this park’s appeal comes from its history and old-school charm. Stroll the historic village, or even take a historic trades workshop to learn Colonial skills from blacksmithing to pie-baking.
If you are looking for a classic National Park experience, check out one of the many hiking trails. You can even hop on the famed Appalachian Trail right in Harpers Ferry, or cross the Potomac River via a footbridge to get to the historic C&O Canal Towpath.
Torn between the historic and the active? Choose a trail, like the School House Ridge Trail, that takes you from farm lands to battle ruins to scenic overlooks of the mountains and river valleys, all within a couple miles.
5. C&O Canal National Historical Park
The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal was a lifeline for commerce and wealth for nearly 100 years as both goods and people floated up and down river. While we don’t use the canal for business anymore, it is still a national treasure for its history, natural beauty and the lessons we can learn by studying it.
Explore the 184.5 miles of park by hiking, biking or even on horseback. Check out the special hiker-biker campsites from Swains Rock to Evitts Creek. In the winter, you can snowshoe, cross-country ski and even ice fish in select areas. (Check regulations and safety before you go.)
6. Coal National Heritage Area
Anyone with roots in West Virginia knows the history digs deep into a culture based on the coal industry. The Coal National Heritage Area showcases the beauty of the region’s cultural and natural diversity. Immerse yourself in the deep traditions and culture that bucks stereotypes, as well as the sweeping valleys and magnificent mountains as they pass through the coalfields of Southern West Virginia.
Take a 1 or 2-day trip to explore the mysteries and majesties that make this Heritage Area unlike any other place on earth. Head underground and to old coal boomtowns to learn about the struggles and successes of the miners, and compare coal camp life to the lavish riches of the coal barons.
This post was last updated on April 9, 2021