You don’t have to go far from Charleston to have a truly scenic campsite, and you’re not far from some of the most beautiful places in the state either. Check out these amazing eight places to camp around West Virginia’s capital city.
Located right outside Charleston, the Kanawha State Forest is the closest scenic area for camping. Open April through December, the campground has 46 sites nestled in the forest. During the summer months, you can reserve spots, but after Labor Day, all sites are first come, first served. The 25 miles (80 km) of trails often run alongside mountain streams, and the park is known for diverse plant and animal life, including rattlesnakes.
About an hour south of Charleston in the mountains is Chief Logan State Park. Named after a leader of the Mingo tribe, the park has 40 campsites that are open from March to November. If you like to experience the wilderness from slightly more comfortable accommodations, the Chief Logan Lodge has 75 rooms. You can learn more about the Native Americans who once lived in West Virginia and the more recent coal history of the area at a museum in the park, and enjoy 18 miles (29 km) of trails that wind through the mountains and forest.
Little Beaver State Park has some of the newest campsites in the state. First developed as a day-use park, the state added 46 campsites with a bathhouse and a place to do laundry in 2011. In addition to hiking and biking on the park’s trails, you can boat and fish on Little Beaver Lake.
The New River Gorge Bridge is an iconic West Virginia landmark, and the area surrounding the gorge offers some of the most scenic camping spots in the state. Private companies like Rifrafters and AceRaft have cabins and camping in addition to rafting trips on the river. At the northern end of the gorge is Hawks Nest State Park, which does not offer camping but does have lots of hiking trails with scenic views of the New River, swimming, and boating.
At the southern end of the New River Gorge is Babcock State Park, which does offer camping, as well as boating, rafting, hiking, and fishing, and a view of the most Instagram-worthy grist mill in the state.
The Gauley River has some of the most famous and most challenging rapids in the eastern United States, formed as the riverbed drops in altitude from the mountains to meet the New River. Next to the rapids, the Gauley River National Recreation Area preserves land for everyone to enjoy. The National Park Service has 18 primitive sites near Summersville Lake, and camping is permitted anywhere on the federally owned land as long as it is 100 feet (30.5 m) away from trailheads, river access, park structures, historic structures, or the top or bottom of a cliff.
Just north of the Gauley River National Recreation Area is Summersville Lake, about an hour and a half from Charleston. The 2,700-acre (11 km2) lake is perfect for enjoying boating, fishing, and water sports, and the cliffs that drop into the teal water provide amazing scenery. You can find spots to camp at Battle Run Campground right on the lake.
It would be a mistake to not at least go for a hike in the Monongahela National Forest when you are in West Virginia, even if it is about two hours from Charleston to the southern end of the massive forest. If you’re looking for multi-day hikes with backcountry camping in-between, then the Mon is the best place to check out, and the perfect place to lose yourself (figuratively) in the wilderness of the Mountain State. The Gauley Ranger District offers hiking and primitive camping in the Cranberry Wilderness District, and you might just feel like you’ve entered a fairyland-like escape with mushrooms, rhododendrons, mossy evergreens, and yes, cranberries.