WVU expert encourages exploration of West Virginia’s ‘wonderland for outdoor adventures’

With more than 78% of West Virginia covered by forests, according to the state’s Division of Forestry, the Mountain State ranks as the third-most-forested state in the nation. The state map is dotted with public lands free for outdoor recreation and each acre is filled with hundreds of wild animals that call West Virginia home.

Every day is packed with opportunities to enjoy all the state has to offer, especially as summer creeps ever closer, so much so that it can seem daunting — luckily, a local recreational expert has advice for beginners and seasoned adventurists alike to appreciate West Virginia’s natural offerings, from its thrilling rapids to relaxing trails.

For some, the most-popular outdoor tourism activities might come to mind easily, like hiking the mountainous terrain for which the state is known or whitewater rafting on the rapids of the New River. Local groups and hobbyists, though, consistently highlight the great variety of activities possible in the deepest of forests or right in your back yard, including bird watching, biking, rock climbing, backpacking, field sketching, tubing and more.

“The beauty of the outdoors is that you can enjoy it simply by showing up,” said Morgan Haas, associate director of WVU’s Adventure WV, an outdoor recreation program serving WVU faculty, students and the community.

And showing up is easier than ever. In addition to public outdoor activities organized year-round, navigational apps like AllTrails or OnX, outdoor gear rental stores and the limitless online resources available at our fingertips make it simple to explore independently or in a group.

“West Virginia is a wonderland for outdoor adventures,” said Haas. “The state offers world-renowned activities like whitewater boating and rock climbing, both of which can be enjoyed in our national park, the New River Gorge, along with pristine hiking and biking trails. Beyond our national park, West Virginia boasts amazing recreational opportunities in numerous communities throughout the state. Whether you’re seeking thrilling adventures or peaceful retreats, West Virginia has something for everyone.”

Haas recommends synthetic clothing made for wicking away moisture, a waterproof rain jacket, a day pack, a couple 32-ounce water bottles, shelf-stable snacks, sun protection, a fleece jacket, a headlamp and a first-aid kit as preparatory items for endless days of exploration. For adventurers with young ones, there are plenty of ways to adjust your expeditions in line with your children’s ages. 

“As a mom of a toddler, I’ve found some activities are perfect for her age, while others require a high level of patience and commitment and really aren’t fun for any of us,” said Haas. “As children get older, activities become more accessible and easier to participate in together while having fun.”

She recommends easy and for-fun activities for younger children, while activities that strive for specific goals like backpacking may be more suitable for older children. Ventures like hikes or biking can be adapted for young children with tools like bike trailers or specialized backpacks. 

Finding the right excursions for your lifestyle can take some sleepless nights, admitted Haas, but the memories will be worth it.

“Embrace the excitement of being a beginner. There’s something deeply satisfying about learning new skills as an adult, even though it can sometimes feel intimidating. I encourage you to get comfortable with being uncomfortable — that’s how we grow as outdoor adventurers,” said Haas.

She recommends community workshops and certification programs for developing skills that catch your interest. Perhaps most importantly, though, she recommends finding people to share your adventures with, whether that be family, friends, or like-minded strangers.

“Finding a supportive community is also a powerful catalyst. You’re not the only one looking to tackle more-challenging activities — many others are on the same journey. Your local area likely has organized groups with missions focused on getting outside and connecting with like-minded people,” said Haas.

Locally, organizations like the West Virginia Botanic Garden, the WVU Core Arboretum, Adventure WV and others consistently host outdoor recreation activities open to the public.

For more information on West Virginia outdoor tourism, visit the state Department of Tourism’s activity guide at WVTourism.com/Things-to-do/Outdoor-Adventures.

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