The verdant mountains that surround Charleston, West Virginia, are known for their beauty and lush forests. But even without leaving the capital city, these six gorgeous parks and green spaces will leave you in awe.
Located just seven miles (11.2 kilometers) south of downtown, the Kanawha State Forest is 9,300 acres (37.6 km2) of natural beauty. The park was originally developed in the 1930s as a part of the Depression-era work program known as the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Today, the park has 25 miles (40 km) of trails. Of the numerous trails, 14 allow hiking only, while 10 allow hiking and biking. Many of the trails follow little mountain streams and babbling brooks for scenic walks tucked into the forest. You can also camp at one of the 46 campsites and picnic at the nine picnic shelters or picnic areas around the park.
A park filled with wine—that would be a beautiful thing. Wine Cellar Park no longer has wine, but it gets its name from antebellum wine cellars that once served a thriving wine industry. Located five minutes from Charleston in Dunbar, you can view the wine cellar ruins or hike and walk along paths in the woods or along Lake Anderson. The lush green of the grass and trees around the cellar walls in the summer provide a perfect spot for photos.
Little Creek Park is small and tucked away behind neighborhoods and strip malls in South Charleston, but it’s still one of the most beautiful green spaces in the area. Make sure to get a photo of the “Devil’s Tea Table” rock, where softer sandstone has eroded the harder rock below, leaving an anvil-shaped formation. An old sawmill, a natural spring, and the Trace Fork creek also provide more scenic views of this almost-secret park.
Ten minutes north of downtown Charleston is Coonskin Park, a park that has something for everyone but still feels like a true piece of nature. A gravel-surface path along the Elk River is perfect for biking or jogging, or you can explore the 1,000-acre (four km2) oasis of woodland on about five miles (eight km) of hiking trails. The park also offers more traditional city-park amenities, such as an Olympic-size swimming pool, an 18-hole golf course, tennis courts, picnic pavilions, a soccer field, and a skate park.
The Elk River flows south from Coonskin Park into the Kanawha River, and a little island used to be right where the two rivers meet. Magic Island was connected to the mainland and redeveloped into a park starting in the late 1980s. The playground, grassy areas, beach volleyball courts, and splash pad make the park a great place to hang out and enjoy the views of the river, but the real beauty of the park comes when the sun starts to go down. Somehow, the sun seems to take a slower time setting in West Virginia, and when the colors that flash across the sky reflect onto the Kanawha River, the real magic happens.
It’s hard to imagine that the grounds around the capitol building would be a beautiful park, but the State Capitol Complex fits that mark. Located along the Kanawha River, the complex houses the gold-domed capitol building, the Georgian Revival, brick governor’s mansion, the West Virginia Veterans Memorial, and plenty of large trees, fountains, and ornate flower beds. If you’re visiting the State Museum or Capitol Complex, be sure to enjoy the gardens and green space that envelop the politics, or check out the area during special events like the Easter Carnival or Vandalia Gathering.