Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie or it’s family memories you’re after, you can find summer adventures in all directions from Morgantown that are just right for you.
Ride the Rapids
Paddling the rapids is an iconic West Virginia experience. If you haven’t done it, guided rafting is your best bet. Closest to Morgantown, try Cheat River Outfitters to run the Class II–III Cheat Narrows or the Class III–V Cheat Canyon when the water is high. River Riders Family Adventure Resort rides the Class I–III rapids on the Shenandoah River—a milder experience in the summer that’s good for beginners and a wilder ride with the rains of spring and fall. For a more rollicking ride, head down to the New and Gauley rivers (near Fayetteville, 2h30m), where ACE Adventure Resort, Adventures on the Gorge, and River Expeditions get you Class IV and V excitement on the New and Gauley Rivers—and world-class whitewater thrills during the September and October Gauley Season dam releases.
Most of these outfitters offer multiple ways to get your adrenaline pumping—check the websites for full-spectrum thrills.
Climb the Heights
Try the Via Ferrata, or “Iron Way,” a mile of fixed-anchor, professionally guided rock climbing, at NROCKS Outdoor Adventures. For an over-the-top thrill, book one of the full moon tours, and make it an adventure weekend—NROCKS offers ziplines and wild caving, too. For less structured climbing, the New River Gorge region is one of the East’s largest and highest quality climbing areas, with thousands of established routes on more than 60 miles of cliffline (Fayetteville area, 2h20m, no central online resource—try waterstoneoutdoors.com/at-the-cliffs).
Along with growing spectacular formations, West Virginia caves have played roles in everything from prehistoric and native American to Civil War and Prohibition-era history. Smoke Hole Caverns was named by early settlers who saw smoke rising when Seneca Indians smoked wild game. The Seneca also used Seneca Caverns for shelter, storage, and ceremony. It’s been a show cave since 1930. In addition to the tour at Lost World Caverns, you can visit the natural history museum and see the remains of a prehistoric cave bear that was discovered there. Organ Cave is said to be the second-largest cave on the eastern seaboard—although more than 45 miles of caverns have been mapped, the full extent is unknown. It’s also the site where the first prehistoric three-toed sloth was discovered in the 1700s.
Prefer to get dirty and wet? Ask about wild caving at Organ Cave and Lost World Caverns.
The seven Aerial Adventure Park thrills at Grand Vue Park (Moundsville, 1h45m, grandvuepark.com) include ziplining, a ropes course, the Mega Jump, and more. River Riders Family Adventure Resort (Harpers Ferry, 2h45m, riverriders.com) offers a 2.5-to-3-hour canopy ziplining tour with views of the Potomac River and the Harpers Ferry Water Gap as well as an adventure park with nine aerial forest challenge trails of varying difficulty. Adventures on the Gorge (Lansing, 2h20m, adventuresonthegorge.com) offers a TreeTops Canopy zipline tour, a scenic network of zips and hikes, and its Gravity zipline tours for long, high-speed runs—or try its TimberTrek Adventure Park to explore four acres of platforms, bridges, ziplines, and other obstacles. And the zipline canopy tour at ACE Adventure Resort (Oak Hill, 2h30m, aceraft.com) gives zippers a bird’s-eye view of the stunning New River Gorge—or try night ziplining to wake up all your senses.
Go Extremely Aerial
The seeker of airborne thrills can get untethered nearby. Go skydiving with Skydive Mountaineer. Or go soaring in a motorless glider plane, or sail plane, at the Eastern Soaring Center, which is located specifically to take advantage of strong air currents and scenic beauty.
In and On the Water
Find science fun of all kinds at the Carnegie Science Center and the Clay Center’s Avampato Discovery Museum. Physics- and space-enthusiastic middle and high schoolers will particularly enjoy the massive radio telescopes and interactive museum at the Green Bank Science Center, where astronomers conduct world-class space research year ’round.
For a well-preserved old-timey amusement park experience, try Camden Park. The 100-plus-year-old park has two roller coasters, a haunted house dark ride, and enough other rides and games to entertain the family for many hours. Idlewild and SoakZone is the third-oldest amusement park in the country and wins Amusement Today’s award for Best Children’s Park year after year. The unique mix of classic rides and modern thrills at Kennywood boasts six roller coasters—including the brand-new Steelers-themed Steel Curtain coaster, the tallest in Pennsylvania at 220 feet.
Lions, tigers, bears, and more—families can see dozens of exotic animals at Hovatter’s Wildlife Zoo. The menagerie at the Oglebay Good Zoo includes 20 that are rare or endangered, including red pandas and golden lion tamarin monkeys. And for a big zoo excursion, Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium cares for the largest and most diverse collection of animals in the region.
Close to home: Parks and rail-trails can be found all over town and, between two outdoor public pools, a river, and a lake, there’s lots of water play. Rainy-day activities can be found at the Spark! Imagination and Science Center, The WOW! Factory for arts and crafts, the Launch Pad Trampoline Park, and, for bowling, Suburban Lanes. A West Virginia Black Bears baseball game makes a great family night out—fireworks most Fridays!
The arts are alive in small towns all across West Virginia, especially in the state’s certified arts towns of Berkeley Springs, Elkins, Lewisburg, and Wheeling (wvtourism.com/things-to-do/arts-culture). To browse and buy artisan-made products all in one place, you’ll find trends and traditions as well as unusual specialty products at Tamarack. Take in the permanent and traveling exhibitions at the Clay Center’s Juliet Art Museum and the Huntington Museum of Art.
West Virginia’s only touring Shakespeare troupe, The Rustic Mechanicals, will perform As You Like It in July and Julius Caesar in October—theater-going experiences not to be missed. Or check the events schedule at the Robinson Grand Performing Arts Center, where anything from comedy to country might be playing. Enjoy Branson-style dinner theater at the Gandy Dancer Theatre.
For bluegrass and country music played by masters in an authentic setting, check out the weekly Saturday night show at the Sagebrush Roundup Country Music Hall —or also in Fairmont, for Southern gospel and bluegrass, check the schedule at AMT Productions. The newly restored Robinson Grand Theater hosts touring musical and other acts frequently. Hosting a show every Friday and Saturday night for the past 13 years, The Purple Fiddle is a great place to catch nationally known touring acts in a family friendly, mostly acoustic environment.
Close to home: Live music goes on all summer across Morgantown. Both of Black Bear Burritos’ locations offer live music frequently for free. Once a month, Sofar Sounds holds a concert at an unusual venue. 123 Pleasant Street has a decades-long tradition of bringing bands of all genres to town and schedules multiple shows every week. Also downtown, Mainstage Morgantown is another reliable source for comedy and music of all sorts. Out at Cheat Lake, the deck at Tropics Restaurant and Bar makes for a relaxing outdoor venue. And Saturday evenings, enjoy live music on the hillside at Chestnut Ridge Park.
Morgan Morgan is said to have been among the first European settlers in what became West Virginia. See the restored 1730s Morgan Morgan cabin (near Gerrardstown, 2h30m, washingtonheritagetrail.com/bc_25.html, open Sundays 2–4 p.m. in June) and, next door, a house built by his son Zackquill Morgan before he came west and founded Morgantown. You can visit George Washington’s Bathtub and do some warm springs research of your own in the nation’s first spa town. Tour the reconstructed 1800 Blennerhassett mansion at Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park and learn about the role the Blennerhassetts played in the 1805–06 Aaron Burr conspiracy.
At the Museum of American Glass in West Virginia, you can learn about the history of the industry here and across the nation, with thousands of pieces on display alongside the stories of the glassmaking factories and people. The Carrie Furnaces Industrial Tour reveals all the drama of the iron-making process—from the movement of raw materials to the tapping of the furnaces producing fiery molten iron—while sharing the stories of the site’s technology, its workers, and their culture.
The War Path
If battlefields more your history style, you’re in luck: this region is holds several important Civil War sites. The first land battle of the Civil War took place on June 3, 1861, when Union General George B. McClellan’s forces deterred Confederate forces at Philippi. The annual Blue and Gray Reunion re-enactment takes place just before this issue of the magazine comes out—May 30–June 2 in 2019—but mark your calendar for next year. You can pass through Philippi and cross the iconic 1852 Philippi Covered Bridge—the longest covered bridge in West Virginia and the only covered bridge serving the federal highway system—on your way to learn about the Battle of Rich Mountain, fought for control of the Staunton–Parkersburg Turnpike, at the Beverly Heritage Center . The ultimate West Virginia Civil War site is Harpers Ferry National Historical Park (Harpers Ferry, 2h50m, nps.gov/hafe), site of John Brown’s raid of the federal armory and now a well-preserved historical village. Originally the Wheeling Custom House, West Virginia Independence Hall served as the Restored Government of Virginia from 1861 to 1863 and hosted the discussions that led to statehood for West Virginia in 1863. Find a map and full list of West Virginia Civil War sites at civilwartrails.org.
The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum is said to be the largest hand-cut sandstone structure in the world after the Kremlin. Operated as a psychiatric hospital from 1864 to 1994, the building can now be seen through guided tours that touch on everything from treatment of the mentally ill to the Civil War, architecture, and hauntings. A vastly older superlatively large structure, the Grave Creek Mound Archaeological Complex, is one of the largest conical burial mounds in the U.S. Native Adena moved more than 60,000 tons of earth two millennia ago to create the mound. It’s all documented next door in the Delf Norona Museum. Head to The Flight 93 National Memorial to learn the story of the fourth plane to crash on 9/11 and honor the dead.
Close to home: Morgantown’s own history is on display at the Morgantown History Museum. Take a deep dive into the region’s relationship with coal at the Watts Museum or Appalachian pharmacy practice at the Cook-Hayman Pharmacy Museum. Or, if the weather’s nice, use the Downtown Morgantown app to take the Downtown Morgantown Audio Walking Tour.