These Appalachian Hills Are at Their Best in the Fall
Mountain mama gets on her stylish seasonal ensemble.
For anyone living outside of West Virginia, there’s a pretty good chance that your first introduction to the Mountain State stems from the iconic anthem “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” And while John Denver and his fellow writers had never actually been to the state before penning the song, they did a surprisingly stellar job of highlighting its strengths.
Though the deep interior of the state is home to spectacular natural wonders like New River Gorge National Park and Lost World Caverns, there’s no need to travel far to find some truly gorgeous landscapes. Just a couple hours south of Pittsburgh, West Virginia’s Mountaineer Country offers scenic overlooks, roaring waterfalls, and a varied food and drink scene all neatly packed into three counties—Monongalia, Preston, and Taylor, to be precise.
As the Mountain State’s sprawling forests don their dazzling fall colors, there’s no better time than now to set off on your own Appalachian journey. Whether you’re planning on tackling rugged mountain trails, paddling along the surf on a kayak, or just drinking your weight in craft beer, Mountaineer Country serves as a shining example of just how close to heaven this underrated state really is.
Taste flavors from near and far
It’s tough to find a better foodie destination across the Mountain State than Morgantown. Home to West Virginia University, this charming college town is packed with more than 25,000 active students—and this collection of academics has fostered a seriously diverse dining scene. For fans of Southeast Asian cuisine, the downtown Chaang Thai is a top spot for coconut massaman curry and lad na, while nearby Fresh Mint Indian Grill serves masterfully crafted fare from the west Indian coast, with flavorful dishes like chili paneer, aloo gobi masala, and beigan bertha all gracing the menu.
Though Morgantown may dominate the surrounding gastronomy scene, it’s far from the only place worth visiting in Mountaineer Country. Just east of Morgantown, Tropics offers a tiny slice of Hawaiʻi in West Virginia, equipped with an expansive outdoor dining area and classic dishes like loco moco, kalua pig, and chicken katsu with mac salad. Further south, the more sparsely populated reaches of Mountaineer Country are home to a couple of underrated gems, with both Leonard's Grill and Monroe's serving up classic American fare.
Trek along stunning Appalachian Mountain trails
As you may have already guessed from the name, the Mountain State is packed full of top-tier hiking, mountain biking, and wildlife viewing destinations—and in Mountaineer Country, the crown jewel is undoubtedly Coopers Rock State Forest. Located just east of Morgantown, this massive expanse of land measures in at more than 12,500 acres, offering ample opportunity for outdoor exploration.
For casual hikers, the two-mile Raven Rock trail culminates in gorgeous vistas from the eponymous cliff face—and offers a surprisingly diverse array of fungi and arthropods along the way. Not a fan of hiking? No worries, the park’s main overlook (and a smaller ADA-accessible overlook just steps away) can be easily reached by car, with both highlighting some of the finest natural beauty in all of Mountaineer Country. Perched more than 2,000 feet above Cheat River, visitors can take in spectacular views of Appalachia’s pristine forested hills as far as the eye can see, with fascinating native species like Allegheny woodrats and flat-spired three-toothed land snails calling the area home.
While Coopers Rock State Forest may be Mountaineer Country’s top hiking destination, it’s far from the only one worth visiting. In the southernmost reaches of Preston County, Cathedral State Park is home to the largest old-growth forest in West Virginia. And those who prefer to stick closer to Morgantown can find peaceful trails throughout both the WVU Core Arboretum and West Virginia Botanic Garden.
Sample fresh Mountain State brews across the region
After a long day of exploring the trails, there’s nothing quite as refreshing as a cold ale—and fortunately, the Mountain State is overflowing with the stuff. As with most industries in Mountaineer Country, Morgantown is one of the best destinations for imbibing, with a high concentration of top-tier breweries all within walking distance. To kick off your crawl, swing by Morgantown Brewing Company, a colorful outpost next to the Monongahela River that excels at sours, ranging from the tropical fruit-loaded Mr. Goofy Coconuts to the self-explanatory Mr. Goofy Strawberry Shortcake Ice Cream Bars.
Next up, two particularly enticing destinations sit within Morgantown limits, each one offering a drastically different vibe. Launched in 2005, Mountain State Brewing Co is a lively venue, offering trivia nights, wood-fired flatbreads, margarita flights, and a massive array of West Virginian brews. Meanwhile, Chestnut Brew Works puts the micro in microbrewery, with just a couple of tables and six seats lined along a tiny backbar. Though small in stature, brews like the Sex on the Cheat strawberry rhubarb ale and The Bloob blueberry ale pack a king-sized punch of flavor for any fruit lovers out there.
There’s also a world of beer to explore outside Morgantown limits as well, with two particularly charming venues located in Preston County just west of the Maryland border. In the heart of Terra Alta, High Ground Brewing has earned local acclaim for its incredible cuisine and diverse array of IPAs, while the rurally-located Screech Owl Brewing holds the record for oldest brewery in the county, providing visitors with refreshing blonde ale, dark porters, and everything in between.
Wind around waterfalls and lakes
Though West Virginia ecotourism tends to center around hiking, the many mountains and hills across the state have given rise to some seriously gorgeous waterways, with no shortage of crashing waterfalls and rushing rivers to explore. For Mountaineer Country in particular, Valley Falls State Park serves as one of the region’s finest examples, measuring in at 1,145 acres of protected Appalachian land. While the area is home to sawmill ruins and roughly 18 miles of hiking trails, the main draw here is the park’s four massive waterfalls churning along the Tygart Valley River.
The topography of West Virginia isn’t particularly conducive to large bodies of water, but have no fear—the state is home to a wealth of artificial lakes that solve that problem. Just a hair south of Grafton, the ultra-idyllic Tygart Lake State Park is a paradise for all forms of water sport, with kayaking, swimming, fishing, and even scuba diving taking place in its waters. In addition to aquatic activities, the ten-mile-long lake is also home to hiking trails, camping sites, and a gorgeous lodge and restaurant, making this stunning state park one of northern West Virginia’s top spots for an outdoor-focused vacation.