A few weeks ago I decided that we would take a spontaneous road trip to West Virginia. I was partly inspired by the popular John Denver song which has the lyrics, “Almost heaven, West Virginia”. Plus, we were within a couple hours drive so I thought, “why not?”
Since this trip was partly spontaneous, I didn’t have as much time to do as thorough research as I would have liked, but, for what time I did have I think I did pretty good. We went the last weekend of September which was unseasonably warm. If I could plan the trip again I would probably come when the fall foliage is out in full force.
Before we left, I had made a fancy google map which had our entire route inputted. I knew there would not be good cell phone service but I thought if I pre-loaded the map then it would be fine. Warning, do not hit the “arrived” button when you get to the first destination. I did this and it erased all of the remaining stops plus we happened to be in a no cell service area.
The map below details the route we took, starting with our first destination, Glade Creek Grist Mill which is located in Babcock State Park. To get a sense of direction, this area of WV is located near the southeast of the state.
On our way to the Grist Mill, we passed through a lot of old coal towns which were very depressing looking. It looked like there was nowhere to work and houses were falling down or looked uninhabitable. Later, I looked up houses for sale in these towns and you could buy a house for around $15,000-$20,000.
Onward to our first stop!
Glade Creek Grist Mill
Although this is not the original mill, it was reconstructed using some of the wood from the original building.
When we were there, there was a demonstration going on of how flour is made. Although it’s hard to see from my photo, the wheel is actually being turned by the flowing water.
If we hadn’t been on such a tight timeline, there was a plethora of other activities to do in the park such as fishing or hiking. They also had cabins for people to stay in.
It was at this point that I didn’t have directions to our next stop. Luckily, google maps lets you see your location and the name of roads despite there being no signal. I was able to navigate us toward our next stop until we finally got a sliver of service – which leads us to….
Endless Wall Trail
I imagined this destination to be obscure since I didn’t see much written about it online. I had little hope of finding it since our route was taking us on winding roads filled with potholes and could hardly accommodate two cars passing one another. To my surprise, out of nowhere, there were cars parked on the side of the road and filling up two parking lots. We had to find a parking spot on the side of the road since everything else was full.
The river that you see in the photo is the New River, which, despite its name, is one of the oldest rivers in the world. We happened to be there when it was at flood stage so it was very brown looking. You can see the “endless wall” to the left of the photo – there is a wall of rock that runs off into the distance. We are also standing on part of the rock wall/cliff while taking the photo.
The hike to the top is very easy. It’s a total of 2 miles, out and back. In the photos above, you can see the New River to the left and part of the “endless wall” to the right.
New River Gorge Bridge
To get a good view of the bridge, we headed to the New River Gorge visitor center. There was a nice museum and a walkway which led to a viewing point for the best views of the bridge and surrounding scenery.
If you can’t read the photo to the left, the bridge is the 3rd highest bridge in the U.S., the 3rd longest arch bridge in the world, and the 25th highest bridge in the world.
The Cathedral Falls were a pleasant surprise. I wasn’t really expecting much, and it exceeded my expectations! It was a very easy parking lot to pull into right off the road – a few steps from the car, and you’re at the waterfall!
I don’t think there were any hiking trails, but it’s a great quick stop along the road.
Our last stop for our first day of the trip was the state’s capitol, Charleston. To be a capitol city, the traffic was surprisingly sparse and it was very easy to navigate. We walked around the capitol building and the governor’s mansion.
We also went to the West Virginia State Museum which was across from the capitol building. I would highly recommend visiting this museum. It is one of my all-time favorites, plus it is free!
We spent the night in Charleston then headed back south to Fayetteville to go white water rafting. There are many outfitters for rafting. We went with River Expeditions because they had a deal on Travel Zoo. There are a lot of different options for rafting but our voucher was good for the Lower Gauley, a step below in intensity from the Upper Gauley. The Gauley River is one of the most famous rivers for white water rafting in the world. It’s made up of class IV and V rapids made by timed releases of the Gauley Dam. Rafting on the river can only be done a few weeks out of the year due to the timed releases. The season starts in September and ends in mid-October.
Sadly, the photos were so expensive I didn’t purchase any. We plan on doing the Upper Gauley next year so maybe by then I’ll have a go-pro that I can use.
Overall, we had a very action-packed 2 days in West Virginia that was fun and budget friendly. We hope to go back sometime soon!