MARLINTON, W.Va. — Less than a day's drive from most metropolitan areas in the east, West Virginia in the off-season is great for family get-togethers, and vacation escapes here are all the more alluring. Still, there's more here than discounted travel to be discovered.
Manageable winter weather
With some exceptions, winter in West Virginia doesn't grow remarkably severe. You'll find snow in the mountains, but it doesn't linger long in the lowlands. Flakes fall as early as October in the highlands near its ski resorts, but some low-lying valleys may see no more than a dusting all year.
The least snowy areas are found in the broad valleys of the state's eastern panhandle near Washington, D.C., and in its southwestern valleys among the low mountains south of the Ohio and Kanawha rivers. Popular lowland destinations include the capital city at Charleston and Huntington and Parkersburg, both on the Ohio River.
Its deepest snows fall in the lofty Allegheny Mountains along its eastern border with Virginia and Maryland. The state's four ski resorts—Snowshoe, Timberline, Winterplace, and Canaan Valley—are found in this high-mountain area. CAUTION: Four expressways—I-64, I-68, I-79, and US-48—cross the highest mountain range in West Virginia, and weather conditions can grow severe there in winter.
Low lodging rates
Even at luxury resorts such as The Greenbrier, rates are generally least expensive in winter—with the exception of lodging near ski resorts. Many hotels near state and national parks offer winter travel packages.
Half-day from metros
Washington, Columbus, and Charlotte are an afternoon's drive from West Virginia, and New York City is only four hours away. Thanks to the completion of the US-48 expressway, it's only 2.5 hours from D.C. to Canaan Valley skiing.
Far-flung friends and family groups have made West Virginia a rendezvous. It's also an ideal stop-off for snowbirds. Six interstate expressways cross the state—I-64, I-68, I-70, I-77, I-79, and I-81.
Peace and quiet
Winter may be one of the most changeful and beautiful seasons in West Virginia. More than anything else, it's a land of peace and quiet, insulated by the mountains from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the metropolitan east.
Where to find more winter travel information for West Virginia
So, where do you go to in West Virginia in winter, and where do you stay? Here are five exceptional communities that can provide for a variety of options both snowy and mild, accessible and relatively remote. You'll find links to local travel bureaus for each.
At the very center of the state, Braxton County, on I-79, is an ideal rendezvous for families traveling between the Carolinas and western Pennsylvania. Enjoy warm hearths at the Cafe Cimino, tour the Braxton Monster Museum, or explore the eerie landscape at Sutton Lake during its winter stage when waters are low. Find out more here.
Along I-64 between Charleston and Huntington, Putnam County's charming villages are renowned for their great locally-owned restaurants and shops and boutiques. What's more, there's fast access to the Charleston and Huntington metro area to the east and west and beautiful countryside to explore to the north and south. Find out more here.
On the new US-48 expressway, the winter wonderland of Tucker County is now a drive of fewer than three hours from Washington, D.C. Here you'll find snow almost all winter long as well as sleds runs, tubing parks, and downhill and cross-country skiing areas. And there are miles of national forest to explore. Find out more here.
Nature's mountain playground, Pocahontas County is one of the state's principal outdoor-recreation destinations and becomes a chief winter destination when Snowshoe Mountain opens in November. There's also the Green Bank Observatory and the restored town of Cass to explore. Find out more here.
Off I-79 between Morgantown and Clarksburg, Marion County boasts some of the most diverse beauty in northern West Virginia as well as some of the best ethnic food. Settled by Italian laborers, Fairmont is famous for its pepperoni rolls and restaurants. Scenic locals such as Valley Falls State Park abound. Find out more here.
Read also: The Glory of Winter in West Virginia: The Photography of Rick Burgess