Tourism is a big and growing business in West Virginia. In 2010, $4.27 billion was spent by visitors. Spending by visitors supported approximately 44,000 full- and part-time jobs with a total payroll of $988 million. Local and state government revenue from tourism was $582 million.
In 2010, some of the popular destinations for visitors were state parks, Civil War sites, and museums. Visitors also took scenic drives, attended fairs and festivals, and explored the state’s rail heritage. Most of the 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 River, 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 the Cass Scenic Railroad, Matewan, Thurmond, and the Wheeling National Heritage Area. Civil War battlefields and related sites such as the 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. Many thousands of people visit West Virginia’s arts and crafts festivals, including the Vandalia Gathering, Stonewall Jackson Jubilee, and Mountain 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 was created in the southern coalfields.
State government has invested major funds, including state lottery proceeds, in the promotion of tourism. As part of that promotional effort, tourism officials have divided the state into nine regions. They are 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 April 25, 2013
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).