A Camper’s Guide to West Virginia

By: Megan Williams

Picture it: You wake up with the chill of mountain air in your lungs and the first thing you hear is the subtle rustle of a chipmunk rummaging in some nearby brush. Before your eyes are even open, you feel the warmth of the sun start to beam through your tent, your first clue that daybreak has arrived. As you unzip your tent, you’re greeted with sweeping mountain vistas dotted with towering hemlocks and red spruce trees. You take it in, ready your camp stove for a cup of instant coffee, and perch yourself on a nearby log to allow yourself to wake up with the rest of nature. After all, it’s just you and the thousands of acres in front of you and you have all the time in the world.

Did I mention you’re in West Virginia?

West Virginia is a treasure trove of natural beauty. From the rugged peaks of the Appalachian Mountains to the tranquil flow of the New River, the state’s landscapes are a testament to its untouched wilderness. Hiking trails wind through lush forests adorned with vibrant wildflowers, while meandering rivers and serene lakes provide opportunities for fishing, kayaking, and solitude. Whether exploring the ancient rock formations of Seneca Rocks or marveling at the cascading waterfalls of Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia never fails to inspire a sense of awe.

As the third most forested state in the country, West Virginia offers a variety of landscapes for campers to enjoy with breathtaking vistas and endless outdoor recreation activities, without the hassle of booking months in advance—making for the perfect weekend getaway or extended stay this year. 

Solo Camping in West Virginia

Solo camping in West Virginia—or anywhere, for that matter—can be an incredibly rewarding experience. When you’re only bound by your schedule and the circadian rhythm of nature, it can feel like the entire world is at your fingertips—and it is. There are a few things to remember, however, to set yourself up for solo camping success:

  1. Permits and Regulations: Check with the local authorities or park rangers about any permits or regulations required for camping in specific areas. Make sure you understand the rules regarding campfires, waste disposal, and wildlife interactions.
  2. Weather Conditions: West Virginia’s weather can be unpredictable, so be prepared for various conditions like rain, wind, or sudden temperature drops. Pack appropriate clothing, gear, and a reliable weatherproof tent. For example, I backcountry camped in Dolly Sods Wilderness one Labor Day weekend and was greeted with a surprise two-inches of snow in the middle of the night—beautiful, but chilly in my camping hammock!
  3. Wildlife Awareness: West Virginia is home to various wildlife species, including black bears. Familiarize yourself with wildlife safety tips, such as storing food properly, avoiding leaving food scraps around your campsite, and using bear-proof containers if necessary.
  4. Navigation and Maps: Have detailed maps of the area you plan to camp in, along with a compass or GPS device. Pay attention to trail markers and landmarks to avoid getting lost, especially if you’re exploring remote areas.
  5. Emergency Preparedness: Carry a first aid kit, emergency supplies (such as a whistle, flashlight, extra food, and water purification tablets), and know basic first aid skills. Let someone know your camping plans and expected return date.
  6. Leave No Trace: Practice Leave No Trace principles by minimizing your impact on the environment. Pack out all trash, avoid damaging vegetation, and follow established trails to preserve the natural beauty of the area.
  7. Food and Cooking: Pack lightweight, non-perishable foods that are easy to prepare. Use a camp stove or portable grill for cooking, follow safety guidelines, and be mindful of fire regulations. Use bear-proof containers as West Virginia is bear country, or hang food in a bear bag away from your campsite.
  8. Water Sources: Identify reliable water sources for drinking and cooking. Bring a water filtration system or purification tablets to ensure water safety if you’re collecting water from streams or rivers.
  9. Campsite Selection: Choose a campsite that’s flat, away from hazards like dead trees or rocky areas, and follow any designated camping areas or regulations. Set up your tent on durable surfaces like grass or gravel.
  10. Solo Safety: Be cautious and aware of your surroundings when camping alone. Trust your instincts and avoid risky activities. Make sure your cell phone is fully charged with your location tracking on before you start your trek.
  11. Respect Local Communities: If you’re camping near local communities or private properties, respect their rights and follow any specific rules or guidelines they may have regarding camping and outdoor activities.

The Best Places to Solo Camp in West Virginia
Solo camping in West Virginia can be a fantastic experience for outdoor enthusiasts, but it’s crucial to be well-prepared, knowledgeable about the area, and mindful of safety considerations. West Virginia offers diverse terrain, including mountains, forests, rivers, and caves. While this provides excellent opportunities for outdoor activities, it also means you should be prepared for varying conditions based on your location and the time of year.

However, there are a number of locations within West Virginia that are well-traversed by solo and group campers alike. Follow in their footsteps to:

  • West Virginia State Parks: With more than 1,500 campsites across 27 state parks and forests, there’s no better place to embark on a camping experience than the Mountain State. Travelers can sleep amongst the towering hemlock and red spruce trees while taking in the unparalleled beauty of Blackwater Falls State Park. Another campsite hotspot, Pipestem Resort State Park offers zipline tours, horseback riding, guided trout fishing trips, rock climbing, and breathtaking mountain views. 
  • Dolly Sods Wilderness: Dolly Sods Wilderness, within the Monongahela National Forest offers incredible camping under some of the darkest skies on the East Coast. Campers can traverse over 3,000 feet in elevation change on remote trails and take in jaw-dropping vistas at rocky, scenic overlooks. Trust me, the terrain changes alone will keep you entertained and in awe.
  • Grand Vue Park: Located in the beautiful Northern Panhandle, Grand Vue Park offers endless fun-filled activities, lodging, camping, events and more! Guests can choose from treetop villas, traditional or deluxe cabins, the 40-spot RV park, tent camping sites, and a variety of outdoor shelters to host their groups. Thrill seekers can enjoy zipline tours, Adventure Park fun with rock climbing, ropes courses, and more! 

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