From leaf peeping to autumnal cabins, West Virginia boasts a wealth of fall-inspired experiences if you know where to look.
If you’ve ever wondered where that Appalachian idiom “West By God Virginia” comes from, visiting the Mountain State during the fall months might give you a hint. I had the pleasure of venturing to the state for the first time recently, and it felt like a slap in the face for all that I’d been overlooking all these years–from the incredible craft beers and rival-the-West scenery to invitations from hospitable locals around every corner to sample their mom’s pepperoni roll recipe or sip moonshine around a campfire.
And come fall, West Virginia’s mountainsides and snaking valleys are ablaze with autumnal colors, rushing rivers, and friendly, proud people. And you can bet there’s a cute cabin calling your name for a stay down every country road.
Leaf peeping season in West Virginia starts in September and often runs into early November, which means it’s hardly too late to get a getaway on the books (the state’s predictive Fall 2022 foliage map is here to help with your planning). Read on for just a few reasons why you need to book a cabin in West Virginia this fall.
Top Picks for You
Hike the New West Virginia Waterfall Trail
One look at The Mountain’s State’s rolling, plunging, riddled-with-secret-valleys terrain makes it obvious to any would-be waterfall-chaser that this is a state where cascades run rampant, wild– and most often, completely out of sight of any road.
And with so much of West Virginia’s dramatic terrain tucked down roads you might never think to turn down, the state’s newly launched West Virginia Waterfall Trail is particularly handy. It points the way to roadside falls like Kanawha Falls, which you can spot from Route 60, along with 28 other tumbling curtains of water that include some you’d probably never detour to on your own. Six of the waterfalls on the trail (among over 200 across the state) are located within New River Gorge National Park, which is especially scenic come autumn.
INSIDER TIPBlackwater Falls is a favorite to see when the leaves change, with the gold and reddish hues of the surrounding reflecting in its amber waters.
Raft the Upper Gauley River
Ask any river rat about the East Coast rafting run that gives them the most cred for guiding and they’ll tell you it’s the Upper Gauley, a whitewater run revered throughout the entire rafting world. The Upper Gauley river is in peak season for adrenaline seekers for six weekends every fall (through October 16 in 2022), when a guaranteed dam release sends water flowing at 2,800 cubic feet per second and creates an advanced white water run with numerous class V rapids. Listen to your guide and prepare to work your core as you paddle, as this adventure is not for the faint of heart (nor for anyone under age 15). Mountains and cliffsides shadowed with flaming orange hues draw your eyes up from the water in the moments that you’re not busy paddling like crazy.
INSIDER TIPBook a comfortable cabin with a hot tub tucked away in the woods at ACE Adventure Resort and you can depart for rafting adventures right from the property.
Base Jump off the New River Gorge Bridge
BASE jumpers, an acronym title that stands for four categories of jumps: Buildings, Antenna (radio masts), Spans (bridges), and Earth (cliffs), tend to do their thing in dizzying remote locales where the average man or woman on the street wouldn’t just casually happen by. After all, this is one of the most dangerous sports in the world. But every third Saturday in October, West Virginia holds the state’s largest single-day festival, the annual Bridge Day. One of the world’s longest single arch spans (and the second highest bridge in the country), the New River Gorge Bridge closes to vehicle traffic as pedestrians are invited to walk across it and watch as hundreds of BASE jumpers from around the world launch themselves 876 feet down into the ether (colorful full foliage framing it all).
INSIDER TIPBook in advance to ride the High Line on Bridge Day (or any day, it’s open most of the year). It’s a controlled-speed zipline from the bridge’s catwalk that runs 600 feet down to the road below. A shuttle will bring you back up to the bridge after.
Go ATVing in the Forest
Getting out in the Appalachian backcountry when the fall colors are at their boldest is a singular experience–and if you’re doing it with one of the guided ATV tours with Uncharted Society, you’re going to feel all that gorgeous country deep in your bones. All-day tours put you at the wheel of a rugged Can-Am ATV as you roll out from a private resort at the top of Indian Ridge Mountain near Ashland to explore the Pocahontas, Pinnacle, and Indian Ridge trails of southeastern West Virginia, deep in the heart of Hatfield-McCoy territory. You might stop for lunch or shopping in cute Appalachian towns like Bramwell, along the beautiful Bluestone River, too.
INSIDER TIPGo apres-ATVing at Wrong Turn Pizza & Subs near Ashland, where brick oven pizza and West Virginia craft beers await in a truly local setting.
Ride the Durbin Greenbrier Valley Railroad
With a fleet of vintage diesel and steam locomotives, Mountain Rail West Virginia offers some incredible wheelchair-accessible train outings into West Virginia’s remote reaches where the fall colors pop out at you like a Bob Ross painting at every bend in the rails. One of the most scenic routes is along the Durbin Greenbrier Valley Railroad aboard the Durbin Rocket, a coal-powered steam engine that looks like something out of a kid’s book. Trailing a vintage caboose and 1920s-era coaches, the locomotive pulls you down a 10.5-mile track along the Greenbrier River, with views of changing hues covering the Monongahela National Forest all around. Kids love watching the shoveling of coal into the locomotive from an open car right behind it as you steam along.
INSIDER TIPThe Gaudineer Knob Trail, just north of the Durbin train depot, is a roughly mile-long loop trail to an overlook that makes for a supremely scenic and easy hike surrounded by virgin spruce trees.
Live Your Best Cabin Life
If any state knows how to do cabin life right, it’s the Mountain State. Get ready to see deer all over the place here, not to mention the occasional bear, without even leaving the comfort of your cabin’s deck. From the cute little treehouse cabins like Tuscany Tree House, with a private hot tub overlooking the woods, to luxury multi-bedroom vacation cabins at Country Road Cabins to the 26 vintage vacation cabins you can rent at pretty Pipestem Resort State Park, there’s a cabin with a wood-burning fireplace or fire pit calling your name for cozy fall fun.
INSIDER TIPOne of the state’s best drive-in movie experiences awaits right near Pipestem Resort State Park at the vintage Pipestem Drive-In Theater, where new releases are regularly screened under star-filled skies.
Fish and Wander the Monongahela National Forest
Even if you don’t fancy yourself much of an angler, there’s a good chance you’ll snag something on the line when you head out fishing for native brook trout (be sure to buy a West Virginia fishing license) that inhabit 600 miles of rushing streams within the spectacular Monongahela National Forest, located in the eastern reaches of West Virginia, near the Virginia border. The leaves are usually still colorful and dangling with all their might to the trees here until early November, so spectacular scenery comes with the territory. You can join reasonably priced guided trout-fishing tours into the headwaters of the Greenbrier River with Knapps Creek Trout Lodge, which offers permitted guide services within the national forest, or try going it alone.
INSIDER TIPIn addition to great hiking within the national forest, the Greenbrier River Trail in nearby Marlinton unspools over 78 miles, following the route of a former railroad across bridges and through tunnels, and is a sublime spot to cycle, stroll, or go horseback riding.