Breathtaking vistas illustrate “Almost Heaven” in every part of West Virginia.
Whether you prefer a serene sunrise view with a hot cup of coffee or an afternoon of adrenaline-packed adventures, overlooks at West Virginia State Parks and Forests offer something for everyone. From ziplining across the Bluestone River to strolling along the New River Gorge, tourists and residents alike can enjoy tailor-made experiences all across the Mountain State.
A 360-degree View from Mountaineer Country
Overlook views are abundant at Coopers Rock State Forest along the band of sandstone cliffs that line the Cheat River Gorge. The centerpiece is the main overlook, which provides a panorama of the gorge and the distant horizons, with views stretching to Morgantown and beyond.
The views are well worth the drive, says Coopers Rock State Forest Office Manager Jonas M. McClenahan. He personally prefers the panoramic sunset view, when the crowds have dwindled and the setting is nothing short of spectacular. “There’s this feeling of awe when you see the sunset,” McClenahan says. “If you’re afraid of heights, it can be a bit unnerving, but once you get on the rock, you realize it’s not going anywhere. It’s safe and there’s a railing all the way around it. Still, it can give you butterflies in your stomach.”
The park is rich in history, as many of its structures, including the bridge and surrounding overlook features, were constructed in the early to mid-1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Coopers Rock State Forest was officially established in 1936. The remains of the Henry Clay Furnace, the first steam-powered blast furnace in western Virginia, is a popular hiking and biking destination in the forest. And if you’ve ever wondered where this state forest gets its name, legend has it that Coopers Rock was named for a fugitive, a cooper by trade, who hid alongside the cliffs at what we know today as the main overlook. The fugitive used the overlook as a hideout from law enforcement, where he continued making and selling wooden barrels.
The views along the path to the overlook are noteworthy as well, McClenahan says, with a well-maintained flat stone walkway adorned by rhododendrons that reach peak bloom around the end of June. Fall is a gorgeous time across the Mountain State, and Coopers Rock is no exception. “October is when we have our highest visitation numbers. Once the leaves change, it brings people from all over—New York, New Jersey, Ohio, and beyond. It’s really the best time to be here. You can see colors for miles and miles.”
Many folks enjoy a drive through the forest during autumn, as the park is abundant with tulip poplars as well as maple and oak trees and bursts with the full spectrum of orange, yellow, and red foliage. For peak viewing, McClenahan recommends visiting the third week of October—on a weekday if you’re looking for a less crowded experience.
Gorge-ous Views from Our National Park’s Neighbor
From the main overlook, visitors at Hawks Nest State Park can get a bird’s eye view of New River Gorge. Located on U.S. Route 60 in Ansted, it’s hard to miss, says Superintendent Joe Baughman. The paved, horseshoe-shaped trail is 80 yards long with a handicapped viewing station of the dam and the dries of the New River.
Named for the birds that like to nest alongside the overhanging cliffs, Hawks Nest Overlook is constructed on a large flat stone atop the cliffs. Baughman says the area supports osprey and red-tailed hawk with abundant hunting opportunities for the birds of prey above the New River.
“Whenever people stop at the smaller overlook, we try to give them a naturalist guide. It lists all the flora and fauna specific to Hawks Nest, so they can try to identify it while they’re here,” Baughman says. Deer, raccoons, and foxes can regularly be spotted. He even sees black bear from time to time. “Even a bad day can turn around just by looking outside my window here.”
Like Coopers Rock, many structures at Hawks Nest were constructed by the CCC in the 1930s, including the flagstone steps at the main overlook area, the picnic shelters, and the restrooms. “The stonework is amazing,” Baughman says. “It’s worth a visit just to see that.” He says the iconic stone tower restroom is one of the most photographed structures at the park and the third most photographed view in the state.
Baughman offers regularly scheduled “Ranger on the Rocks” history chats, where he discusses the history of the overlook, the park, and nearby points of interest, like the 1930 Hawks Nest Tunnel Disaster. On busy days, he’s also likely to be found sharing info with tourists as well. “It’s amazing how captivated people can be in talking about the history.”
Since the designation of New River Gorge as a national park, Baughman says visitation has grown by more than 40%. He sees Hawks Nest as a base camp of sorts, a place for adventure lovers and serenity seekers to unwind and enjoy the natural beauty and amenities the park has to offer—including a full-service restaurant, a renovated lodge and pool, and a jet-boat excursion that’s offered June through October.
Visitors will find stunning views of the canyon rim from the restaurant as well as from the balcony of each room at the lodge, Baughman says. “We’re right in the middle of the fall foliage season, and there are stunning views from wherever you choose to be here. It sells itself—the views do all the work. We just have to point people in the right direction.”
Adrenaline-filled Adventures Atop the Trees
Some folks like to take in their views from the safety of enclosed cliffsides—others prefer an experience that will get their blood pumping. At Pipestem Resort State Park, the zipline tour offers a view like no other. Along the multi-zipline course, participants can soar at speeds up to 50 miles per hour through the treetops and see breathtaking panoramic views of the Bluestone River Gorge.
The zipline tour begins atop the Canyon Rim Center and makes nine stops over the course of three-plus hours to the bottom of the Bluestone River Gorge. The longest zip measures nearly 1,600 feet. The tour is sure to elevate heart rates, but safety is top priority: Two professional guides accompany each group of eight zipliners, all of whom are clipped in securely to the safety system. The tour ends with a tram ride back up the mountainside from the Mountain Creek Lodge.
“If you’re into ziplining, you can see everything the park has to offer,” says Tara Pack, sales manager at Pipestem. And if thrill-seeking isn’t your thing, the park has an abundance of easily accessible overlook opportunities, including the Bolar Lookout Tower, the Bluestone Overlook near the lodge, Cardinal Deck at the lodge, and any gorge-view room at McKeever Lodge.
“From the Bolar Lookout Tower, you can see over Sun Valley, Athens, Princeton, and Pipestem,” Pack says. “It’s also a great stargazing spot if you’re at the park at night.” Past the Nature Center to the right, she says, a scenic overlook lies beyond a half-circle parking lot. “It’s beautiful in the fall, and the dogwoods are gorgeous there in the spring. Sometimes you can catch a horseback rider making their way to or from the barn or the trail.”
For the Waterfall Chasers and Winter Adventurers
Blackwater Falls State Park boasts excellent views no matter the season, especially for folks who are looking for spectacular waterfalls. The most iconic is the park’s namesake, Blackwater Falls, a 57-foot cascade known for its signature amber-colored water. The falls are accessible by the stairway at the boardwalk or the ADA-accessible Gentle Trail. Additionally, guests can enjoy Elakala Falls near the Blackwater Lodge and Pendleton Falls from an overlook past the lodge.
Superintendent Jim Browning always recommends the view to the right of the lodge, which gives a 180-degree view of Blackwater Canyon. “It’s the only place you can look upstream and really appreciate the gradient drop of the river, which has 232-feet-per-mile drops,” Browning says. He also suggests Pase Point Overlook, which can be accessed by a trail near the Nature Center. “Anywhere along the canyon rim, there’s an overlook.”
For fall leaf peepers, park Naturalist Paulita Cousin says her favorite overlook is Pendleton Falls because of the contrast of the conifers on the north-facing slope against the autumn foliage on the south-facing slope. For a sunset view in the fall, Browning suggests Lindy Point, where guests can view Backbone Mountain, along with Douglas Road snaking along the ridge and Blackwater Canyon rail-trail closer to the bottom of the canyon.
Lindy Point is also a wintertime favorite, as guests can rent cross country skis to the overlook and surrounding areas. Parking at Lindy Point is very limited, park officials note, and the roadway is closed during the winter months. Parking at the Blackwater Falls Sled Run—another excellent winter adventure opportunity—is recommended, then a 1.5 -mile walk or cross country ski to the trailhead for Lindy Point Overlook. Cousin says it is recommended that skis be removed at the trailhead due to trail conditions.
No matter the season, whether you’re in the state’s northern reaches or the winding stretches of southern West Virginia, spectacular views are waiting for you. To learn more, visit www.wvstateparks.com.