Leslie and Travis Griffith share their first ski lift ride as a married couple at Canaan Valley Resort State Park.
photographed by McMillen Photography

State parks offer destination weddings close to home.

This story was originally published in the January 2018 issue of  Wonderful West Virginia. To subscribe, visit  wonderfulwv.com.

written by Lori Kersey

Leslie and Travis Griffith said “I do” at the same spot where they love to ski.  

Tucker County’s Canaan Valley is a special place for the Charleston couple. Leslie, a television reporter, frequently took trips there with her family growing up. They’d visit Blackwater Falls and stay in cabins at the resort. She and Travis, an attorney, also take trips there to ski and see the autumn colors. 

“We just thought it would be the perfect place to get married,” Leslie says. “It was just so beautiful … it was really the only place I looked at and decided to do it.” In June 2016, the couple and their 150 wedding guests rode the chairlift at Canaan Valley Resort State Park to the ceremony, held on the Gravity ski slope at the top of Weiss Knob.  

Griffith says she would recommend the Canaan Valley park to other couples—especially those looking for something a little out of the way. Having the wedding in the couple’s hometown of Charleston likely would have meant hosting about twice as many guests as they did. “And at Canaan, it was still a destination wedding, I guess you could say, but it still felt local and like you were at home,” she said. 

Like the Griffiths, countless other couples have found West Virginia State Parks offer a destination wedding that’s still close to home, with convenient on-site amenities. 

Jennifer Zuniga and Branson Watson take in the view at Pipestem Resort State Park.
photographed by The Oberports

Whether at the top of a mountain, in front of a majestic waterfall, or at any of the many other postcard-worthy spots in the Mountain State, the natural scenery is the biggest draw for couples considering a wedding in one of the state’s parks. That’s true “particularly if they are very nature-oriented, enjoy outdoor activities, or find parks as a middle ground for both families and friends to gather,” says Sissie Summers, who works in program services for the park system.  “Some weddings are planned at parks because the couple had their first date at a park or parents included parks as special places in their childhood or for school trips.”

A park wedding can be a simple ceremony at an overlook with a few friends and family looking on, or an elaborate indoor or outdoor event with food service and accommodations for guests. But advance booking is important. “Weddings typically are on a weekend day, and weekends are when folks plan class and family reunions, general weekend getaways, and some conferences,” Summers says.

Different Parks, Different Experiences

It’s difficult to say which park is the most popular for weddings because they’re unique, and each park appeals to different couples, Summers says. Services and accommodations also vary from park to park. “The best way to think about a wedding at a state park is to decide which state park, contact the group service staff, and have a conversation about the event as a whole and go from there,” Summers says.

Babcock State Park, home of the famous Glade Creek Gristmill seen on calendars and mousepads the world over, is perfect for any couple looking for a picture-perfect wedding in the southern part of the state. “It’s one of the most photographed places in West Virginia. I challenge anyone to find a prettier place to get married than Babcock State Park,” says Division of Natural Resources Director Stephen McDaniel says.

If you need further proof, consider this: Southern Living magazine recently picked Babcock as the 17th best place to get married in America. But the park doesn’t only offer picturesque backdrops for ceremonies and photos. There park’s 4,127 acres also features 28 cabins, perfect for out-of-town guests or wedding parties who want to stay onsite for their big day.

Blackwater Falls State Park has long been a favorite site for wedding ceremonies—countless couples have exchanged vows before the namesake waterfalls, or at one of the sweeping canyon overlooks. But the park’s Blackwater Lodge, which sits on the south rim of Blackwater Canyon, features both a full-service restaurant and conference center that are perfect for receptions large and small. There’s lodging available, too, both at the lodge and in the park’s cabins.  

McDaniel considers Blennerhassett Island State Park “the granddaddy of them all,” when it comes to wedding venues. Since the island is only open during the day, weddings are held on Friday and Saturday evenings, when the couples and their guests have the whole island to themselves. 

Wedding parties can ride the paddlewheel ferry over, have the ceremony on the lawn in front of the beautifully-reconstructed Blennerhassett Mansion, then retreat to the riverside picnic area for the reception. The park is working on a package that will offer candlelight ceremonies at the mansion, as well an option for brides to arrive via horse-drawn carriage. “There will be nothing like it in the state of West Virginia,” McDaniel says. “It’s definitely a venue for a fairytale wedding.”

Cacapon Resort State Park also offers multiple scenic sites for wedding ceremonies, but the real attraction is the park’s Roman bathhouse, a Civilian Conservation Corps-built structure with hardwood floors and stone fireplace. “It’s absolutely beautiful,” McDaniel says. There’s lodging available here, too—both in the 48-room lodge and the vintage 12-room inn.

Canaan Valley Resort State Park has lodging that includes bridal suites, indoor and outdoor venues, on-site spa services, and food and beverage service. Like the Griffiths, many couples who wed at Canaan Valley have their ceremonies on top of the mountain. 

Pipestem Resort State Park, the state’s largest resort, offers multiple options for a scenic ceremony. Receptions can be held at the McKeever Lodge, open year-round at the top of the gorge, or at the seasonal Mountain Creek Lodge, accessible by aerial tramway on the valley floor.

Wild, Wonderful Weddings

McDaniel has been thinking a lot about weddings since taking over as DNR director in February 2017. While state parks offer some of most beautiful settings in West Virginia, the parks haven’t marketed themselves as wedding venues. “We haven’t done a good enough job in putting together a complete wedding package,” he says.

Under McDaniel’s leadership, the agency is working to change that, compiling a “menu of services” for each location. That way, when a couple wants to plan a wedding, park event planners can provide a list of trusted local caterers, DJs, florists, photographers, videographers, and rental companies. This will both help local small businesses and offer couples an easy, stress-free route to world-class weddings. 

At the same time, the park system is working to revamp many of its most popular venues, specifically with weddings in mind. The bathhouse at Cacapon will be freshly repainted and landscaped. The park also is getting a new lodge which will feature 78 additional rooms. “Once we get all that together, that will rival Blennerhassett Island,” McDaniel says.

One of the projects McDaniel is most excited about is the old museum at Hawks Nest. The structure, built by the CCC, is currently closed to the public but features a large main room with a stone fireplace, as well as an overlook room with windows that provide a sweeping view of the New River Gorge. “If you want to get married on the New River Gorge, that will be the place,” McDaniel says.

State Parks is upgrading picnic areas at Babcock and creating new areas for reception tents. Watters Smith Memorial State Park is also getting an upgrade at its picnic area, which will feature new and improved picnic shelters and kitchen facilities.

McDaniel says State Parks will have many of these projects completed by spring 2019. So, if you’re planning to tie the knot sometime soon, pop the question and make your reservations now.


To plan your own wedding at one of the state parks we’ve mentioned, call the numbers listed below.

Babcock State Park
304.259.5216 ext. 407

Blackwater Falls State Park

Blennerhassett Falls State Park

Cacapon Resort State Park

Canaan Valley Resort State Park

Hawks Nest State Park

Pipestem Resort State Park

Watters Smith Memorial State Park

For information about booking group functions or reserving any state parks property, call Megan Brown, Destination Sales Consultant, at 304.558.2764.