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Tourism is a big and growing business in West Virginia. In 2022, visitors spent $5.3 billion, supporting approximately 53,000 full- and part-time jobs and creating a total economic impact exceeding $7 million. This is an approximate 17 percent increase over 2021. Spending by tourists has increased by more than $1 billion per year since 2016, with growth in all 55 counties.

Some of the most popular destinations for visitors are state parks, Civil War sites, and museums. Visitors also took scenic drives, attended fairs and festivals, and explored the state’s rail heritage. Most out-of-state visitors came from the surrounding states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Maryland.

Some things appear to have changed little since a group of Virginia gentry mounted a fishing expedition to the Canaan Valley region in 1851 and published their travel journal as the classic book The Blackwater Chronicle. Urban tourists from the eastern seaboard still make pilgrimages to the mountains, streams, and forests of West Virginia, seeking renewal in nature. Outdoor recreation remains a major attraction, though today skiing, whitewater rafting, hiking, biking, and rock climbing compete with traditional outdoor sports such as hunting and fishing. Outstanding resources such as the Monongahela National Forest, the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, the many state parks and state forests, and several private ski resorts give West Virginia an advantage in attracting tourists interested in the outdoors. The second-home industry is booming, particularly in the national forest and resort areas.

While still a small part of the overall industry, cultural or heritage tourism is also growing in West Virginia. Such tourism is based upon the places, traditions, industries, and celebrations that portray the history and character of the state. West Virginia has a diversity of attractions and events to draw cultural tourists, who tend to spend more money and stay longer than other travelers. The rich industrial heritage of the timber, coal, and other industries is captured in places such as Cass Scenic Railroad, the site of the Matewan Massacre and other places related to the West Virginia Mine Wars, Thurmond, and the Wheeling National Heritage Area. Battlefields and related sites, such as Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, showcase the Civil War era, while state parks at Blennerhassett Island and Point Pleasant interpret a much earlier period in the nation’s history.

Visitors seek cultural experiences as well as history in West Virginia. The Contemporary American Theater Festival of Shepherdstown provides cutting-edge drama to capacity crowds each summer, while the Snowshoe Institute in Pocahontas County offers a wider cultural array. The Wheeling Jamboree live radio show has drawn country music lovers to the Northern Panhandle since 1933. Mountain Stage, headquartered in Charleston, is one of the longest running contemporary music programs on radio and attracts audience members from across the country. Many thousands of people visit West Virginia’s arts, crafts, and music festivals, including the Vandalia Gathering, Mountain State Art & Craft Fair, Stonewall Jackson Jubilee, and West Virginia State Folk Festival. At Beckley, Tamarack has become one of the country’s foremost outlets for fine handicrafts. The Greenbrier offers unexcelled resort accommodations.

There have been large investments in tourism in recent decades, including the building and expansion of ski resorts and of gambling facilities at state racetracks. A robust whitewater rafting industry has developed, on the New, Gauley, Cheat, and other rivers, and an extensive network of trails for all-terrain vehicles is continually expanding in the southern coalfields.

State government has invested major funds, including state lottery proceeds, into promoting tourism. As part of that effort, tourism officials have divided the state into nine regions: Mid-Ohio Valley, Northern Panhandle, Mountaineer Country, Eastern Panhandle, Potomac Highlands, New River-Greenbrier Valley, Hatfield-McCoy Mountains, Mountain Lakes, and Metro Valley.

Last Revised on September 12, 2023


Sources

Fitsch, A. Ecotourism in Appalachia. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2004.

Hollenhorst, S. & P. Salstrom. Keeping the wild in Wonderful West Virginia. West Virginia Public Affairs Reporter, (Summer 1994).

Wang, T., et al. Growing Heritage Tourism in the Mountain State. West Virginia Public Affairs Reporter, (Winter 2001).

Cite This Article

e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia "Tourism." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 12 September 2023. Web. 25 June 2024.

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