Celebrate West Virginia’s Birthday with a Visit to the State Parks and State Forests of Nature’s Mountain Playground

Michael Moore

Montani Semper Liberi (or “Mountaineers are always free” for those of us who can’t read Latin) has been the state motto of West Virginia since our admission to the Union in 1863.  It’s a very fitting adage, for it captures in a few words the true independent nature and spirit of the people of West Virginia.  And no better example of that spirit could be offered than that of the driving factor behind the creation of our great state.  Although 60 years of political and social tension between the people of eastern and western Virginia had gone as far as stirring up debate as to whether a separation from Virginia should take place, it wasn’t until 1861 and the beginning of the American Civil War, when Virginia seceded from the Union, that talk among the people of northwestern Virginia took a serious turn and some began to reply with a resounding “no” to the idea of leaving the Union.    

As the Civil War created national division among the people of the United States, so too did division on a state-wide level take hold in Virginia.  Delegates from northwestern Virginia convened on two separate occasions in meetings known as the Wheeling Convention and ultimately decided on an official separation from Virginia with intention of forming a new state, originally to be named Kanawha. In the settling of final matters, a suggestion was approved to change the new state’s name to West Virginia, and by the issuance of proclamation, President Abraham Lincoln declared that on June 20, 1863, West Virginia would officially become a state.  On that date our first Governor, Arthur I. Boreman, officially declared West Virginia America’s 35th state.  And although our statehood was the source of early in-state fighting and was met with legal challenge by the state of Virginia in 1871, West Virginia has remained – thanks to those whose spirit of independence and resolve sought a different path.

Well, with that West Virginia history lesson behind us, this June 20, West Virginia Day, we here at Nature’s Mountain Playground would like to officially say Happy West Virginia Day and extend our invitation to you to celebrate our state’s birthday by exploring some of the best West Virginia day hikes to be found.  What better way to celebrate our state’s rugged, independent spirit than to experience some of the most beautiful and rugged outdoor recreation in West Virginia?  With five state parks and two state forests calling Pocahontas County home, we’re confident you’ll find countless trails to hike, bike, and explore.  So, if a birthday celebration counting miles hiked in a beautiful and rugged state park or forest, opposed to counting candles on a cake sounds good to you, pay us a visit here in Pocahontas County this June 20 as we say Happy Birthday West Virginia.  Here’s a quick look at what we have to offer in Nature’s Mountain Playground. 

West Virginia State Parks in Pocahontas County

Watoga State Park 

At an impressive 10,100 acres, Watoga State Park is the largest state park in West Virginia.  Within the sprawling park you’ll find well over a dozen trails to hike and explore as well as opportunities for biking, swimming, fishing, and boating.  Whether you choose to stay in one of the park’s rustic cabins or secluded campgrounds for a weekend of quality trail time or include the park on your list of West Virginia day trips, either way it’s hard to beat Watoga State Park as a quality destination point to celebrate West Virginia Day. 

Greenbrier River Trail

Greenbrier River Trail State Park

Although the Greenbrier River Trail is, as the name implies, a trail developed for  hiking, biking, and horseback riding, it is designated by West Virginia as a state park.  Converted into a trail from an abandoned rail line of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway and paralleling much of the Greenbrier River, this 78-mile-long rail trail is the longest of its kind in West Virginia.  What better way to celebrate the “Mountaineer Spirit” this West Virginia Day than with a hike or bike ride along the Greenbrier River Trail as it carries you into the remote and rugged beauty of West Virginia; passing by small towns, over timeworn train bridges, and through two deep, mountain tunnels?

Beartown Sate Park      

Imagine descending a staircase into a deep, stony crevasse – a narrow, walled world of towering boulders, overhanging sandstone cliffs, and ink black, hidden alcoves.  If you’ve captured that image in your mind’s eye, you’ve got a pretty good idea of what exploring Beartown State Park is like.  Without doubt one of the most unique state parks in Nature’s Mountain Playground, Beartown is a 110-acre, minimally developed state park preserving and highlighting the unusual sandstone formations that create the park.  The heart of the park features a half-mile board walk loop leading you in, above and all around the massive stone formation.  Because of the stone crevasse’s crisscross pattern (only seen from above) resembling the street layout of a small town, as well as the claims from early settlers that black bears made their winter dens in many of the caves within the park, it seemed fitting to name the park Beartown. 

Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park

It’s hard to celebrate West Virginia Day without a reverent acknowledgement of the Civil War.  After all, it is during that dark, struggling period in our nation’s history that West Virginia found her beginnings.  And if you’re a Civil War buff visiting Pocahontas County this West Virginia Day, you’ll definitely want to pay a visit (and your respects) to Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park.  Dedicated in 1928 as West Virginia’s first state park, Droop Mountain commemorates the last major Civil War engagement to be waged in West Virginia.  While visiting, take some time to explore the eight trails throughout the park ranging in levels of easy, moderate, and difficult.  Relax at one of the two picnic shelters available while the kids enjoy one of the two play areas.  Round out your visit with a climb up into the observation tower and look out over the same majestic valley panorama witnessed by civil war troops over 150 years ago.

Cass Scenic Railroad State Park

Well, as far as state parks go, we’ve covered the largest one in West Virginia, as well as a 78-mile-long rail trail, a black bear hideaway of yesteryear, and a significant Civil War battlefield.  How about an entire town designated as a state park?  If you’re into all-things-trains and timber, you’ve got to spend some time this West Virginia Day at Cass Scenic Railroad State Park.  Founded in 1901 by the West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company, the town of Cass was a company town of the timber industry; built for loggers working in the surrounding mountains.  Kick-off your West Virginia Day celebration a little early and join the good folks of Cass the weekend of June 17 as they celebrate “Cass Days”.  This weekend long celebration will feature lots of live music, dancing, arts, and plenty of good food.  The timber and rail industries were instrumental in the development of this region of West Virginia and Cass holds on tight to that history.  Check them out this West Virginia Day.  You’ll be glad you did. 

West Virginia State Forests in Pocahontas County

Calvin Price State Forest

One of the newest additions to the West Virginia Sate Park system, Calvin Price State Forest was sold to the state in 1953 and officially dedicated on May 15, 1954.  The forest’s namesake comes from the late Calvin W. Price, owner and editor of the Marlinton newspaper the Pocahontas Times.  The Calvin Price State Forest encompasses of over 9,000 acres of mostly undeveloped hardwood and pine forest with a portion of the Allegheny Trail running through the eastern part of that forest.  And while there is a certain level of timbering taking place, Calvin Price State Forest represents a great opportunity to get away from the crowds and explore a beautiful, remote part of Pocahontas County.

Seneca State Forest

Coming in at nearly 13,000 acres (12,884 to be precise), Seneca State Forest is West Virginia’s largest and oldest state forest.  If you’re looking to celebrate this West Virginia Day by putting a few more miles on those hiking boots, Seneca has 23 miles of hiking and biking trails to explore.  And if your idea of celebrating our state’s birthday involves aquatic adventure, be sure to check out boating in Seneca Lake or the nearby Greenbrier River.  Hoping to make your West Virginia Day celebration an overnighter?  Seneca State Forest offers cabins, campgrounds, and even an overnight stay atop the Thorny Mountain Fire Tower.  So, whether you’re looking for a quick day hike or an extended stay, Seneca State Forest has you covered. 

Allegheny Trail

We West Virginians have always been an independent lot.  We love our freedom, and we love our state.  I can’t say with a high degree of certainty, but I have a feeling our state’s founders put a good deal of thought into our state motto.  Or perhaps I’m wrong.  Maybe the choice was obvious from the beginning.  Either way, the motto rings true – “Mountaineers are always free”.  This West Virginia Day, June 20, 2022, we here in Nature’s Mountain Playground, Pocahontas County, West Virginia, would love for you to pay us a visit as you say Happy Birthday to West Virginia.  Come roam the trails and waterways of our state parks and forests.  I’ll wager you’ll find a little of that freedom we’re still celebrating today.