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Recognizing a need to restore and preserve wilderness, the state of West Virginia purchased several acres of wilderness in 1938 from a mining company. That same year, the Civilian Conservation Corps, which was established by President Roosevelt’s New Deal program, flocked to Greenbrier State Forest in droves. They constructed a set of buildings that were, for a few years, called Camp White Sulphur. Though the original buildings are no longer standing, the Forest headquarters are now located in this area. Civilian Conservation Corps also created a swimming pool and blazed several miles of trails that are still used today.
The closest town is White Sulphur Springs, which is about five miles to the northeast. The small community of around 3,000 residents is best known for being an exclusive vacation resort town, and was, at one time, intended to house the United States Congress during a nuclear attack. Lewisburg, which is about eight miles northwest, has a larger variety of shopping and dining options, and a small hospital with an emergency center.
Encompassing over 5,100 acres of magical green woods, outdoor lovers are treated to the sight of second-growth trees intermingled with old-growth trees that are centuries old. There are around 20 miles of established trails for hikers to explore and an additional 10 miles of trails that were created by bygone hikers. Though adventurers are welcome to venture off the beaten tracks, they are cautioned to be very familiar with orienteering because it can be easy to lose the trail.
Hunting is a longstanding tradition in West Virginia, and of course, safety is tantamount. Greenbrier State Forest operates an archery field range at which beginner and experienced archers can learn and test their skills. There is also a muzzle-loading rifle range, though all participants must have the appropriate licenses to operate these weapons.
The state park's pool, which was constructed in 1938, has been updated with a heating system. Relaxing in a warm pool is a wonderful way to unwind at the end of a long hike. Be aware, though, that the pool is open only between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
For even more hiking, horseback riding, and biking fun, join the other adventurers on the 78-mile-long Greenbrier River Trail, which winds and weaves through the woods as it follows the banks of the Greenbrier River. The trail is laid over a now-defunct railroad track. The Backpacker Magazine rated the trail as one of the top 10 hiking trails in the country. Note that sections of the trail pass through a National Radio Quiet Zone, and cellphone signals may be nil.
Head into the bowels of the earth at Organ Cave, which has over 45 miles of mapped tunnels. Although all visitors must be escorted by a guide - it wouldn’t do if someone got lost. After all - there are a few different types of tours ranging from sedately to adventurous. The daring can opt to go spelunking, which entails squeezing through tight passages, navigating through difficult corners, and passing through some of the deepest, darkest tunnels in the Organ Cave system. All of the necessary equipment is provided, though participants are advised to wear sturdy closed-toe shoes. Organ Cave, a few miles south of Ronceverte, has been featured on the History Channel and National Geographic.
Skip the long drive from a motel and RV camp in the wild woods, surrounded by pristine nature. The Greenbrier State Forest RV campground is a smaller facility with only 16 sites. The upside is this means it’ll be a quieter camping experience. There are electric hookups and a bathroom with flush toilets.
Should space run out, which does happen on occasion during the summer months, there are a few other options within 30 miles. Pleasant Valley Campground in White Sulphur Springs offers full hookups, internet, and cable TV.
RV camp at Monongahela National Forest at the Blue Bend Campground. It has electric hookups and running water (seasonally available), and flush toilets. The campground is situated in deep woods by a babbling creek that’s popular for trout fishing.
In the remote West Virginia woods, it’s easy to think that there isn’t much to do other than hike or fish. However, the small towns are full of interesting sights, friendly locals, and history, and traveling from town to town is always fun in a vintage Airstream rental. Many towns operate historical societies or small museums that honor their heritage and culture. The Historic Masonic Theatre and Amphitheatre in Clifton Forge, VA, constructed in 1909, has been restored to its former glory. The small, intimate theater and amphitheater regularly host concerts, bands, plays, operas, and even films.
Hop into a rental motorhome and go waterfall hunting. There are several waterfalls scattered around this part of West Virginia, and many are easily accessed from a road or with a short hike. Bring a camera, too. The Cascade Falls, near Pembroke, VA, is a stunning two two-tier waterfall. The water tumbles over a granite shelf on the upper portion in nearly perfect freefall, only to smash into several shallow tiers that splay the waterfall into a delicate veil. Framed by lush fern and tall pines, it’s a scenic spot that will delight a landscape photographer.