West Virginia camping showcases a land of abundance | WV News

West Virginia is a nature lover’s dream. Mountain landscapes, sprawling lakes, rushing rivers and meandering streams provide the perfect playground right in the back yard or just a short drive away from every resident of North Central West Virginia.

A campsite at one of the state’s many state parks or private campgrounds or a tent pitched along a mountain trail allow total immersion in the pristine adventure land that is the Mountain State.

From a campsite tucked into the mountain woods, visitors to this outdoor wonderland can then be lulled to sleep by the melodic sounds of crickets and frogs, the babbling of a nearby stream or the quiet rustling of abundant wildlife moving through the branches and across the earth.

“West Virginia has always been known for its sweeping mountain vistas, uncrowded towns and affordable activities. Now more than ever, these are the opportunities travelers are seeking. West Virginia is poised to be the vacation destination that so many are longing for. Here, there is room to roam, hidden gems to uncover and wide-open spaces waiting to be discovered,” said Chelsea Ruby, the state’s tourism commissioner.

On a camping staycation in West Virginia, days can be filled with a number of activities sure to meet the desires of every vacationer. A peaceful day of fishing in West Virginia’s lakes and rivers or simply resting peacefully on a boat or shoreline can create a quiet reprieve from the responsibilities and stresses of life.

On hot summer days, families can cool off with splashing and swimming in a lake or river, even as pools across the state remain closed because of COVID-19. Even scuba divers can find a playground taking in sights underwater in West Virginia’s lakes.

Zip-lining across treetops, available through many private outdoor recreation companies and through some state parks, provides an adrenaline rush for thrill-seekers. Whitewater rafting and all-terrain vehicle trails can also get the adrenaline flowing. Getting underground with a spelunking adventure through a West Virginia cave system offers a different type of thrill.

Mountain trails provide a perfect opportunity for horseback riding, bicycling or backpacking. The state’s rugged cliffs are a climber’s paradise.

“As the temperatures start to warm up, West Virginia enters its peak season for outdoor recreation. Our state’s topography really sets the stage for a variety of offerings,” Ruby said. “Folks looking for more easygoing activities can enjoy biking along one of our state’s rail trails or taking a leisurely hike through a state park or forest. More avid adventure seekers can try their hand at the Hatfield-McCoy trails, explore our rivers by raft or head to the mountains for a backpacking adventure. No matter what area of the state is your destination, there’s plenty to see and do.”

Visitors have the opportunity to experience it all. For those who already reside in the state, it can serve as a reminder of the richness of what West Virginia has to offer.

For those wanting to stay close to home, Cooper’s Rock, Tygart Lake, Stonewall Resort and Audra State Park all offer excellent opportunities for camping. A little further away, Blackwater Falls, Canaan Valley and Seneca State Forest offer astounding views and an abundance of activities without spending a long time in the car in transit. For those who want their staycation in the Mountain State to feel more like a long getaway, Babcock, Bluestone, Watoga and Panther state parks and forests are among the offerings.

Camping itself means different things to different people. For some, it’s an RV hookup and shower facilities with amenities like a pool, canteen or restaurants just a stone’s throw away. For others, it means setting up in a more remote area, away from the sounds of other people and conveniences of a larger campground setting. Primitive campsites or even backpacking or kayaking into a remote location to set up camp for the night is more appealing to others.

“Fortunately, West Virginia has a little bit of everything for campers. RV parks dot the state for those looking for that more drive-in ready accommodation site. For others looking to disconnect and reconnect with nature, plenty of public and private campgrounds offer a variety of campsites — all offering those iconic, only-in-West Virginia starry night skies,” Ruby said. “Whether you are looking to pitch a tent at the top of a mountain or take the family camping near a scenic river site, there is a campsite for you in West Virginia.

“The Mountain State is home to more than 45 state parks and forests, which offer large campgrounds with tent, primitive, and RV spaces. West Virginia’s national forests and wilderness areas offer prime primitive camping for those who prefer to stay in a natural setting. West Virginia is also home to a variety of privately owned campgrounds near iconic destinations, like the Hatfield-McCoy Trails, Summersville Lake or Canaan Valley area.”

The peak season for camping in the Mountain State runs from around May 1 through Columbus Day, with the highest season beginning Memorial Day and running through Labor Day.

“We’re booked even through the week,” said Michael McCoy, a natural resources specialist for the Army Corps of Engineers in the state. “We see some people will stay for two full weeks on several occasions. There’s a lot of things to do around our lakes, and we have other national park and national forest service areas around us, so there’s a lot of things to do — rock climbing, scuba diving, fishing, going to the beaches we have. There’s a lot of opportunities for outdoor recreation.”

The Army Corps of Engineers operates campsites at Burnsville, East Lynn, R.D. Bailey, Summersville and Sutton lakes in the Mountain State.

Summer vacations have perhaps never been so uncertain. Travel restrictions and the potential for spreading the virus to other locations, or bringing it back home to West Virginia, rightfully cause many to pause. Others may have been hit hard by the economic impacts of the pandemic. West Virginia’s vast outdoor offerings and sprawling landscapes offer the perfect reprieve, with plenty of space for social distancing. Camping opportunities that allow residents to take it all in are just a short drive away.

A West Virginia camping trip also means those tourism dollars stay within the state to support West Virginians.

“It has a lot of economic impact from a recreation standpoint. They come and camp. They’re boating, supporting local businesses, residents and hotels close by and coming to our lakes,” McCoy said.

In addition to state and federal camping, private campsites and organizations abound in the state due to the landscape, according to McCoy.

“They survive on that, and they survive on us having the lakes and all the recreational activities here at these lakes,” he said.

Although an executive order from the governor prohibiting campsite operators from renting to out-of-state guests to limit the spread of COVID-19 may mean fewer out-of-state dollars flowing in, it also allows West Virginians the opportunity to stake their claim on their favorite camping spots.

About 10 percent to 12 percent of visitors to Army Corps of Engineers campsites are from out of state during a typical year, McCoy said.

Staff Writer JoAnn Snoderly can be reached at 304-626-1445, by email at jsnoderly@theet.com or on Twitter at @JoAnnSnoderly.

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