Can’t Miss Geological Wonders in West Virginia

July 31, 2023

Scale the heights and plumb the depths of West Virginia’s natural beauty at geological gems found above and below the earth. Choose to scale these rocky wonders yourself—with more than 4,000 climbing routes for all experience levels as well as bouldering and multi-pitch courses. Or, embark on an expedition underground to West Virginia’s caves and caverns. However you decide to explore, you’ll walk away with memories that rock.

Seneca Rocks

In Pendleton County, Seneca Rocks’ dramatic white-gray formations are one of West Virginia’s best-known landmarks. Take a 1.3-mile hike to the peak to capture an unmatched view of the valley below.

Ice Mountain Preserve

Locals once raided this natural freezer in North River Mills for ice to make lemonade. In cooler weather, cold air sinks deep into Ice Mountain’s talus (the mass of boulders at the foot), causing ice to form. In warmer weather, cool air flows out of vents in the rocks, sustaining plants normally found much farther north. Two trails traverse this 150-acre preserve.

Raven Rock

One of the state’s northernmost gorge lookouts, this craggy peak juts hundreds of feet above the Cheat River. Start your adventure in Coopers Rock State Forest, an outdoor rec hub for Morgantown. Though there are guardrail viewpoints just a short walk from the forest’s main visitors area, you’ll want to take the 1.5-mile Raven Rock Trail through the woods (especially colorful in fall) and up to the titular formation.

Smoke Hole Caverns

Long ago, the native Seneca people used these underground formations near the town of Cabins to smoke wild game, their slow-burning wood fires sending smoke clouds into the valley and prompting early settlers to call the place Smoke Hole. Later, moonshiners used the caverns to make corn whiskey—secluded spaces plus a natural supply of clean, cold water equaled ideal distilling conditions. As many as 20 stills operated there at one time; an original unit remains on display. Today, visitors to Smoke Hole Caverns can see where the constant, trickling flow of mineral-carrying water continues to create stunning stalactites and stalagmites.

Lost World Caverns

Discovered in 1942, Lost World Caverns in Lewisburg offers self-guided tours that let you explore the subterranean wonderland 120 feet underground. A half-mile loop trail takes you past numerous formations. Check out The Snowy Chandelier—a 30-ton compound stalactite presumed to be one of the nation’s largest—and The Bridal Veil, a column of sparkling white calcite. Wear good shoes and a light jacket—nature’s air conditioning is powerful on this 45-minute journey.

Pinnacle Rock

The phrase Almost Heaven turns a little more literal when you’re standing atop this 3,100-foot-tall sandstone ridge. After a moderately easy hike to the top via the Overlook Trail, explore the rest of Bramwell’s Pinnacle Rock State Park, including 6 more miles of trails, a wooded area and spots for picnicking. Anglers will find nearby Jimmy Lewis Lake stocked with trout in the spring, as well as largemouth bass, bluegill and channel catfish.

Castle Rock

This 165-foot-tall sandstone behemoth is believed to have been deposited by a large sea that covered the area 200 million years ago, then sculpted over time by the flow of the Guyandotte River as it found its natural course. A small park surrounds Castle Rock, with steps leading halfway up the formation. Besides its rock-star attraction, Pineville offers a dose of small-town charm and a gateway to ATV riding on the Hatfield-McCoy Trails.

Beartown State Park

Massive fragmented boulders, overhanging cliffs and deep crevices set off this 110-acre natural area on the eastern summit of Droop Mountain in Hillsboro. What looks like sunken streets in a town of rocks, visible from the boardwalk that runs through Beartown State Park, is the erosion of the sandstone that caps the mountain. Local legends say the deep caves seemed like ideal winter dens for black bears, inspiring the park name.

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