They call it the Mountain State for a good reason. With 33 state parks, nine state forests, one national forest, and two national recreation areas, West Virginia offers ample opportunity to experience the outdoors. Explore the mountains, rivers, and forests around Morgantown with these must-try activities.
About a half an hour outside of Morgantown, the Cheat River offers excitement and natural beauty on the water. Its class III rapids (intermediate level) are perfect for first-timers, with heart-pounding waves and smooth patches to catch your breath, while other parts of the river offer up to class V rapids for the more adventurous. Numerous outfitters offer day trips that last between two and five hours, with a riverside break for lunch. The best time to book a trip is during spring and early summer when water levels are high.
Overlooking the Cheat River, Coopers Rock State Forest has plenty of rocks and boulders to climb. Coopers Rock Climbing Guides offers an intro to climbing for beginners and four-hour guided climbing sessions. You can opt for easier, boulder-scrambling hikes on your own, or if you are an experienced climber, the park offers 10 steeper vertical climbs. All climbs provide spectacular views of the canyon and the 12,700-acre forest.
Cavers who descend deep into the mountains of West Virginia have a culture of their own, but Laurel Caverns Park offers a taste of the magical underground experience in one of the deepest caves in the U.S. Located 30 minutes north of Morgantown, the park provides a variety of activities inside the sandstone walls, shaped by wind currents millions of years ago. The one-hour guided tour winds through the areas of the cave that are easily accessible, while the modified guided tour takes you over rocks deeper into the cave. The park also offers rappelling for beginners on Saturdays and Sundays, and spelunking that leads you to the bottom of the mountain. The cave is closed from October to May when bats are hibernating.
For a winter adventure, skiing without a slope is a perfect way to see the landscape of West Virginia. Starting at the Hazel Ruby McQuain Riverfront Park in Morgantown, you can ski along the Deckers Creek Rail Trail, a slightly inclined path that used to be the Morgantown & Kingwood Railroad tracks. You’ll need a snowfall of three to four inches, and it’s BYO-skis. If you’re looking for a day trip and groomed trails, White Grass in Canaan Valley offers ski lessons and rentals. Located two hours south of Morgantown, the ski center has over 35 miles (56 kilometers) of trails for beginners and advanced skiers, plus a warm lodge with delicious soups and local brews.
Hiking is the easiest way to get outdoors when you are in Morgantown. The West Virginia Trail Inventory maps out the hundreds of miles of hiking trails in the state. In Morgantown, you can do anything from a flat rail-trail walk along the Monongahela River and a short hike on the wooded trails of Krepps Park to naturalist-inspired trails at West Virginia University’s Core Arboretum and hikes with sweeping views at Dorsey’s Knob Park. Outside the city, you can find longer, more challenging hikes in nearby Coopers Rock State Park or the Snake Hill Wildlife Management Area.
If you really want to get off the beaten path and try something West Virginia is known for, check out fly fishing. The intricately tied lures “fly” out from the reel and sit on top of the water, waiting for trout to hook the line. Although the northern streams around Morgantown are not as well known as those in the central and southern parts of the state, Coopers Rock Lake has easy access and a good shoreline for casting out lines, or you can get a lesson and rental from world-renowned fisherman Jack Bell of Old Rag Outfitters.