Beckley is the gateway to southern West Virginia. Located at the intersection of Interstates 64 and 77 and U.S. 19, Beckley is a stop on the Coal Heritage Trail and the hub between three national parks, numerous state parks, a private ski resort and the variety of year-around recreation and entertainment they offer. Beckley Renaissance and the city of Beckley host events and festivals throughout the year. A list and dates are available at www.beckley.org.
From the highway, Tamarack’s spiked red roof beckons people to pull off the highway. Tamarack features West Virginia-made products. Chefs from the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs cook the West Virginia-inspired food that is sold in food court. Tamarack also has regular music concerts, a dinner theater, and rooms that can be rented for conferences. The center is open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily (8 a.m. to 7 p.m. January to March). Admission and parking are free. For more information, see www.tamarackwv.com.
The city’s Exhibition Coal Mine is a popular stop for tourists and school field trips from all over West Virginia. In 2002, the coal mine joined with the Youth Museum of Southern West Virginia, which is adjacent to the mine site at Beckley’s New River Park, 2.5 miles from Interstate 77 Exit 44.
Visitors to the Exhibition Coal Mine ride in groups on railed “man cars” that wind 1,500 feet into what was once a working coal mine. Guides, who usually are experienced miners, talk about the life of a coal miner, the tools, and how things have changed through the decades. Once back in the daylight, travelers can visit the 14,000-square-foot Rahall Company Store, visitor center, coal museum, fudgery, and gift shop. The grounds also contain a restored coal camp with a coal company house, superintendent’s home, Pemberton Coal Camp Church, and the Helen Coal Camp School.
The Exhibition Coal Mine is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily from April 1 to November 1, with the last tour starting at 5:30 p.m. For more information, call 304-256-1747 or 304-252-3730. The mine is always a cool 58 degrees, so bring a jacket.
The Youth Museum of Southern West Virginia is open to the public year-round. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily from April 1 to November 1; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday from November 2 to March 31. Extended hours are available by appointment for groups and special events.
The Youth Museum includes four railroad boxcars and a central showcase area featuring rotating exhibits. The museum also has a planetarium, to which groups of at least 10 can make pre-arranged visits. The Mountain Homestead behind the museum is a re-created Appalachian frontier settlement, complete with a weaver’s shed, two-story log house, one-room school, barn, blacksmith shop, and general store. Interpreters explain each building.
The Exhibition Coal Mine is a stop on the Coal Heritage Trail, which was designated in 1998 to tell the story of coal mining in West Virginia. Other stops along the Trail take visitors to train depots, company stores, miner memorials, and along the New River Gorge Bridge. For more information about the trail, see www.CoalHeritage.org.
The New River Gorge National River is just north of Beckley. The park has more than 70,000 acres of land along the New River, from the Bluestone Dam to Hawks Nest Lake. Fishing, hunting, primitive camping, horseback riding, hiking, and mountain biking are available. The park is popular for whitewater rafting and climbing, with more than 1,400 established rock climbs. Numerous private, licensed outfitters offer guided trips on the New and nearby Gauley Rivers, lasting from a few hours to a few days. While the New River can be run almost all year, the Gauley season is early-September through mid-October. Most trips on the New River involve a ride under the gorge bridge, which is the focus of one of West Virginia’s best festivals, Bridge Day, always the third Saturday in October.
The New River Gorge National River also encompasses the former Grandview State Park, part of the federal park system since 1990. Grandview is known for its breathtaking overlooks and Theatre West Virginia, the state’s only professional touring and historical outdoor drama company. It produces “Hatfields and McCoys” and “Honey in the Rock” annually at an outdoor amphitheater.
Other parks near Beckley include Babcock State Park, Bluestone State Park, Camp Creek State Park, Little Beaver State Park, Pipestem Resort State Park, Plum Orchard Wildlife Management Area, Twin Falls State Park. More information about the parks can be found at www.visitwv.com/attractions/parks/west-virginia-state-parks.
The Beckley area’s premier private recreational facility is Winterplace Ski Resort in Flat Top. The resort has 27 slopes and nine lifts in two terrain parks on more than 90 skiable acres, at an elevation ranging from 2,997 feet to 3,600 feet. The resort also has a snow tubing park. For more information, call 800-607-SNOW (7669) or see www.winterplace.com.
Written by Jennifer Bundy