Nature mini-escapes near WV’s biggest city
Even in West Virginia’s largest city, there’s plenty of nature nearby.
Sure, there are city parks. But if you need a little more nature in your life, there’s plenty right outside Charleston.
Here are some of the best outdoor excursions from (or even within) the cityscape:
1. Coonskin Park
Elk River Trail (literally) brings us to Coonskin Park, one of the best family-friendly destinations around Charleston. You can drive there, too: it’s an easy 10 minutes from downtown to more than 1,000 acres of land, a massive Olympic-sized pool, an 18-hole golf course complete with handicap accessibility, an amphitheatre, a soccer stadium, horseshoe pits and tennis courts. Take a break for lunch at one of the sheltered picnic areas. There’s even a wedding garden if you want to get hitched in the woods!
To get there, take I-79 towards Exit 1 for Mink Shoals. If you’re headed south towards the park, take a left onto Pennsylvania Avenue (a right if you’re northbound), then the entrance is about a 1/2 mile down the road.
2. Kanawha State Forest
Kanawha State Forest is a real beauty and absolutely teeming with nature. If you’re the type who likes to go by foot, check out 1 of the 14 trails. The longest are the Rocky Ridge and White Hollow trails, coming in at 2 miles each, while the shortest are the Spotted Salamander and the #1 Store Trail, wrapping up at about a quarter-mile. Take the Lindy, Overlook Rock or Rattlesnake Trail for a challenge. (They’re rated moderate to difficult across-the-board.)
There are 9 trails for mountain bikers. They are all short, but add up to around 15 miles in total. For a technical challenge, jump on the Ballard Trail for some less-than-easy obstacles. Wildcat Ridge Trail is also one of the more advanced trails in the park because of its set of challenging switchbacks along the way.
Besides hiking and biking, keep an eye out for tons of wildflowers, and bring your binoculars for bird watching. Kanawha covers 9,300 acres, so if one day isn’t enough, you can pitch a tent or rent a cabin (many of which are pet friendly.)
3. Elk River Trail
If you’ve got a hankering for some hiking, the Elk River Trail just outside Charleston is a fantastic hike on its own, but also the best way to get to Coonskin Park. This 1.5-mile jaunt is lush with tall trees on both sides, and can be steep in some places, so you’ll get a decent workout.
The best part is that this trail follows the Elk River. It can be tough to see the water through the dense trees, but trust us, it’s there.
To get to the trail, follow the signs along Coonskin Drive to the parking lot south of J.W. Herscher Lake.
4. Sunrise Carriage Trail
The beauty of the Sunrise Carriage Trail is that you’ll get a heavy dose of nature without even leaving the city. If you don’t have the time to get outta dodge but need a little break from the bustle of city living, this trail is the perfect respite, and you can reach it from right from downtown Charleston.
It’s less than a mile long (0.65 mile), but you’ll see wildflowers, ornamental gardening arrangements and trees, trees, trees as you wind down to Justice Row near Southside Bridge from Sunrise Mansion.
This post was last updated on March 16, 2022