This Small Town in West Virginia Is One of the Quietest Places in the Country

Thanks to the Green Bank Observatory, cell service and wi-fi are restricted by law here.

Green Bank Observatory
The Green Bank Telescope, the world's largest fully steerable radio telescope. | Photo by Jee Seymour, courtesy of Green Bank Observatory
The Green Bank Telescope, the world's largest fully steerable radio telescope. | Photo by Jee Seymour, courtesy of Green Bank Observatory

When planning a trip to Green Bank, West Virginia, local experts will remind you to download or print a map well before entering the city limits of the three square-mile town, population: 141. That’s because this tiny, idyllic village, nestled in the Allegheny Mountains, is at the heart of the National Radio Quiet Zone—an area where radio transmission, which includes cellular service and wi-fi—are restricted by law. So if you’re looking for the quietest place in the country, you’ve come to the right place.

For those who live in or visit the 13,000 square-mile National Radio Quiet Zone, peace and solitude are at the top of the list of priorities. And in Green Bank, it isn’t enough that cellphones, wireless devices, electric toothbrushes, microwaves (they’re responsible for electromagnetic current generation) and other vestiges of the 21st century are effectively disabled—they’re seriously banned. A so-called radio policeman uses special equipment to detect any and all signs of unauthorized and unregistered electronic devices.

The enforcement of silence isn’t simply a gimmick; rather, it’s all in service of the Green Bank Telescope, the largest fully steerable radio telescope in the world and key to scientists’ attempts to discover signs of extraterrestrial intelligence. The telescope is also credited with a number of key discoveries, including the largest neutron star ever found in 2019. Because the Allegheny mountains protect the telescope from radio interference outside of Green Bank, the instrument is one of the most sensitive and well-positioned to listen (and observe) in the world.

While the town has long attracted scientists, academics, and researchers, it has also become a mecca for those looking for an escape from noise pollution and the seemingly unending buzz of modern-day life. Green Bank, after all, takes unplugging to a new level.

The most obvious attraction is the Green Bank Observatory, whose sheer size is enough to warrant significant marveling at the scientific achievements of recent years (though the fact that it can hear a star dying is pretty cool, too). That said, there are also natural wonders to behold within the Allegheny, with a multitude of hikes and trails readily available in and around Green Bank. But perhaps most precious and inimitable of all the attractions in Green Bank is the opportunity to truly hear the world as it may have sounded long before humans began to walk the Earth, and just maybe, experience a few square miles as they ought to have been.

Green Bank Observatory
Photo courtesy of Green Bank Observatory

Drive Time to Green Bank, West Virginia:

About 4 hours from Washington DC

Where to Eat in Green Bank, West Virginia:

For a truly unique dining experience, check out the Starlight Cafe within the Green Bank Observatory. The menu is simple with pizzas, subs, hot dogs, and chips, but the real draw is the location. Naturally, you won’t be able to pay with your phone or credit card, so best to have cash handy here (and just about anywhere in town).

Where to Stay in Green Bank, West Virginia:

Given that the town itself is only three square miles, it goes without saying that hotels are hard to come by in Green Bank proper. That said, 20 minutes south you can find the Mountain Quest Inn, situated in the Monongahela National Forest on an old 1905 farm, and offering free breakfast. Alternatively, head 30 minutes west to the Corduroy Inn and Lodge, with views of the Whistlepunk ski trail, and just 10 miles from Cass Scenic Railroad State Park.

Where to Have Morning Coffee in Green Bank, West Virginia:

Trent’s General Store offers basic groceries and caffeine needs, as does Henry’s Quick Stop, a gas station-cum-local watering hole that offers coffee, donuts, and other small town necessities. You’ll likely run into several of the town’s few denizens while inside.

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Lulu Chang is a Thrillist contributor.