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The Best Lake You’ve Probably Never Heard Of (Unless You’re From West Virginia)

The Gauley River is known for its world-class whitewater. Rafting enthusiasts travel long distances to enjoy the challenges the Gauley River provides.

Something else the Gauley River provides is the water for West Virginia’s largest lake. Summersville Lake is a 2,700 acre reservoir created by the second largest rock-fill dam in the United States. It has over 60 miles of shoreline, and the

Summersville Lake

sandstone cliffs that surround much of that shoreline create some spectacular scenery for the folks who spend time on its waters.

History

Summersville Dam was built by the Army Corps of Engineers as a flood control structure for the Kanawha River basin in 1960. It was dedicated by President Lyndon Johnson on September 3, 1966. It was this ceremony that led the Corps of Engineers to break from the long standing tradition of naming dams after the closest town to the structure.

The closest town to this dam was a small community named Gad. Gad was actually flooded when the reservoir was filled. The Corps didn’t feel comfortable asking the President to dedicate the Gad Dam, so Summersville, the next closest town, was used instead.

Things To Do

In addition to the amazing whitewater that flows out of the downstream side of the dam, Summersville Lake provides plenty of opportunities for recreation and relaxation. Here are some of the things you can do if you plan on spending time at Summersville Lake.

•                Camping – Campgrounds are right on the lake and in the close vicinity.
•                Fishing – Largemouth, smallmouth, walleye, catfish and a number of species of panfish call this lake home. Trout are stocked in the river below the dam.
•                Hunting – There is plenty of public hunting with a large State Wildlife Management Area around much of this reservoir.
•                SCUBA diving – With superb water quality and depths over 200 feet, the lake offers some of the state’s best diving.
•                Biking- Both mountain biking and road biking can be done here.
•                Rock Climbing – With lots of rock cliffline around the lake, there’s plenty of climbing available.

Of course with 2,700 acres of water, boating, water-skiing, and swimming are a given. And if you don’t have a boat, you can rent one from the local marina.

Summersville Lake is a great place to wile away a few hours (or a few days) during the summer. Make a visit to WV’s largest lake a priority for your next vacation outing.

What’s your favorite WV lake?

Where the Locals Go in Raleigh County, Part 2

The last time we talked about Raleigh County, we looked at some great places locals like to visit.  Here are a few more:

To See

This list highlights some of the other areas of Raleigh County that you should check out.

Burning Rock Outdoor Adventure Park

    Exhibition Coal Mine- This is an actual old working underground coal mine in the middle of Beckley that showcases the mining process from years gone by. Locals love it because many of them had family that worked in similar mines.  You’ll learn just how hard mining was before some of the automation that is available today.

    Glade Creek- There’s a great recreation area at the mouth of Glade Creek where it meets the New River. This area has boat ramp, toilet facilities, and a first-come, first-serve camping area. There is a hiking trail that borders Glade Creek going upstream from the recreation area.  The bottom 3.5 miles of the creek are catch and release fishing spots for trout.

  • Stephens Lake- Only 9 miles from Beckley, this lake is an excellent fishery with largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie, tiger musky, walleye, and channel catfish. The lake contains one of the best tiger musky fisheries in the state and has camping and boating opportunities.
  • Burning Rock Outdoor Adventure Park- With over 100 miles of trails designed for off-road fun, it’s a local favorite because of the terrain and views. It’s also a great place to ride safely and legally.

Dining

There are plenty of great places to eat in Beckley, the county seat of Raleigh County. Here are some of the eateries that locals frequent.

    The Char- One of Beckley’s finest restaurants since 1965, locals love The Char’s relaxed atmosphere and great food.

  • Pasquale’s- In business for over 40 years. Pasquale’s satisfies local Italian cuisine cravings.  Be sure to try the meatballs.
  • Delightfully Yours- Eclectic food and a casual atmosphere make Delightfully Yours a local favorite.
  • McBees Irish Pub- McBees is one of the newest places to dine in Beckley.  Great food (including some Irish favorites) and live music make a visit to McBees a real treat.
  • Tamarack- Folks love Tamarack because they can dine on WV specialties, see a show or art exhibit, and shop for WV made arts and crafts.  Ever tried a fried green tomato?  You can at Tamarack.

Know of any other local favorites in Raleigh County?  Share them with us in the comments.

Your Guide to Southern West Virginia Lakes

Southern West Virginia is an outdoor paradise. There are so many things to do, it’s hard to decide where to start sometimes. Rafting, hiking, biking, rock climbing, and zip lining  are awesome West Virginia adventures, but don’t forget about our  lakes and just how much fun they can be.
Our Lakes Were Made For Fun

Boley Lake @ Babcock State Park (Pic by Teresa Perdue)

The lakes here offer many different possibilities for getting your play on.  Here’s a quick rundown:

  • Summersville Lake is the largest lake in WV, with over 2,700 acres of water. It offers camping, boating, fishing, rock climbing, scuba diving, and has a state-managed hunting area as well. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the World Class Gauley River is just downstream of the dam.
  • Little Beaver Lake is located just east of Beckley.  It has fishing, boating, hiking, and biking trails.  Set up at one of the campsites and get your vacation started.
  • Lake Stephens is another Beckley area lake about 7 miles out of town.  It has over 20 miles of trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. It also features a skate park, tennis, volleyball, and basketball courts, and has awesome fishing to boot.
  • Bluestone Lake is created by a flood control dam on the New River at Hinton. It has a State Park and Wildlife Management Area; the list of recreation opportunities is virtually endless.
  • Plum Orchard Lake is a sweet little Fayette County lake known for its fishing and laid back camping areas. A great place to get away for a weekend.
  • Hawks Nest Lake is created by another dam on the New River. Located at the western edge of the New River Gorge National Park, it offers boating, fishing, and jet boat rides. Hawk’s Nest State Park is perched on the rim of the Gorge just above the lake.
  • Boley Lake is located within the confines of Babcock State Park. There’s hiking, horseback riding, fishing, and rowboat and paddleboat rentals. This is one of the most overlooked lakes in the area.
  • Moncove Lake is in Monroe County, where the lake and adjoining Moncove State Park make a truly great place to get away. Hiking trails, great birdwatching, and superb fishing and hunting make this lake a great place to commune with nature.

So, which lake are you going to visit first?  Tell us in the comments!

Beyond the Bridge – 14 Must-Try West Virginia Adventures

Since the New River Gorge Bridge was completed in 1977, it has been a marvel admired by millions.  1977 was a time even before whitewater rafting was a  popular tourism

Ranger Led Hike - Enjoying the View

activity.  The completion of the Bridge was a very significant step in the progress of southern West Virginia becoming a substantial outdoor vacation destination.

The present day New River Gorge area is abundant with a multitude of outdoor activities to keep the adventurous (and even the not so adventurous) vacationer busy.  Even if you’ve vacationed in this area for years, you may be surprised to find new activities popping up all the time.  Below is a list of adventures that can be enjoyed all within a 20 minute drive of the New River Gorge Bridge.

  •   Whitewater Rafting- Some rafting companies offer packages that include many other adventures.
  •   Canoeing and Kayaking- Our rivers have sections that will allow the most novice or expert paddler to enjoy themselves.
  •    Rock Climbing- Either on your own or a guided tour, this area offers climbing for any level of experience.
  •    Mountain Biking- Trails from beginner to advanced, the Gorge will test the mettle of even the best bikers.  Lots of outfitters even offer bike rentals.
  •   Hiking- There are trails for all ages and fitness levels.
  •   ATV Riding- We have some of the most beautiful riding scenery you’ll find anywhere in the United States
  •   Horseback Rides- A wonderful way to enjoy the beauty of the Gorge.
  •   Heritage Tourism - There are a multitude of historical areas to explore in southern West Virginia.
  •   Fishing- From floating the rivers to boating the lakes, the area fishing spots won’t disappoint.
  •   Boating- There are lots of beautiful lakes to enjoy here.
  •   Zip lines- They’ve popped up everywhere in the Gorge; you’ve gotta give zip lining a try.
  •   Camping – From state parks to private campgrounds, you can find an area that best fits your camping style
  •   Skydiving- Get a birds-eye view of the Gorge while trying not to scream.
  •   Bi-plane rides- See the description above.

While many of these activities can be done on your own,  most can also be arranged with a guide.  Many companies are activity specific and specialize in making sure their guests have an enjoyable, safe experience.

So what are you going to try?

Our Favorite Places to Spend Dad’s Day

Fishing in Southern WV

Father’s Day (June 19th!) is coming up and we’re considering getting Dad more than just another tie. (He never wore it anyway.)

This year – we’ve asked Dads to select their top picks of where they would like to spend their day in Southern WV. While almost all of them said they’d like to have a great meal, it was after they mentioned they’d like to do something fun with the family.

Top Dads’ picks include:

Summersville Lake. Most Dads we talked to would like to get outside more and the a great place to get outside is  Summersville Lake.  Rent a boat, sit in the sand, or just take a hike around the exterior …these are all things that make active Dads happy.

The golf course. OK so a lot of us don’t golf – but to a lot of Dads this would be a great place to spend their Sunday.  Offer to take him out on the course for the day or if you don’t golf you can ride along on the cart at one of our great golf courses where Dad can do something he really loves.

Ziplining. Whether they’ve tried it before or they’d like to – Dads love this idea.  Consider a canopy tour or a zipping speed ride and bring the kids along. It can be a really fun family outing.

Fishing. Dads that we talked to love to fish but never really find the time to do it.  Consider parking yourself along a lake or river for some great bank fishing or hook up with one of our great outfitters and hit the water with your #1 guy.

This year, we hope you’ll consider treating Dad (or Granddad) to something he’ll love; a place that can create memories that last a lot longer than a tie or shirt.

What’s The Big Deal With Nicholas County?

In the northernmost reaches of Southern West Virginia (?!) are the beautiful rolling hills of Nicholas County.  It’s the gateway to

Summersville Lake

Summersville Lake

West Virginia’s mountain lakes region, and there’s a lot going on up that-a-way.

First up on the Nicholas County list of cool things is, of course, the world famous Gauley River.  Nicholas shares the big time whitewater part of the Gauley with Fayette County, it’s fine neighbor to the south, and they are brought together once every year for the phenomenon known as Gauley Season.

Gauley Season starts the weekend after Labor Day Weekend and rolls into mid-October.  During that time, the whitewater world descends on the Nicholas county area for food, recreation, and some of the wildest excitement this side of, well, northern West Virginia.

Nicholas County famously won the war to host Gauley Fest, the largest whitewater festival in the world.  Gauley fest is a little hard to describe- part trade show, part family reunion, and part outdoor nightclub is probably as close as anyone is going to get.  One thing’s for sure:  if you go, you’ll never forget it.

Nicholas county also gets to claim what’s on the other side of the dam there on the Gauley River – Summersville Lake.  The lake is often referred to by divers as the “Little Bahamas Of The East”.  That’s a bit confusing, as the original Bahamas are also little and located, well, east.  But who cares?  It only means that the diving is fantastic, clear, and scenic.

Nicholas County is also home to it’s very own winery and distillery which hosts an annual ‘Grape Stomping Festival‘ in September.  (Anyone thinking of Lucy and Ethel stomping grapes?)

The lake also boasts something lakes are not really famous for – great climbing.  A lot of the river outfitters (and all of the area’s climbing outfitters) take climbing trips  to the sheer sandstone walls that rise straight up out of the lake.  It’s the perfect place to go if you want to have a climbing experience that’s way, way out of the ordinary.

Beyond the lake is the town of Summersville, the county seat.  Summersville is not unlike some other towns in southern West Virginia in that its buildings are beautiful, its people are friendly, and its food is outstanding.  Anyone visiting southern West Virginia from the north owes it to themselves to stop over in Summersville and hang out for a while.

Summersville also attracts plenty of art, music, and culture from the rest of the county, and puts it all in one place.  The town often hosts touring productions of plays, big name music acts, and entertainment of every stripe.  The performing artists that come through are eclectic and interesting; they make it always  worth checking out the Nicholas County calendar of events.

Wasn’t music mentioned there a while back?  Nicholas County hosts what’s often the country’s biggest bluegrass festival, Music in the Mountains.  For almost 30 years, the lineup at Music in the Mountains has gotten bigger and better.  It’s a staple for the festival crowd, and a sight for any and all travelers to see.

Plus, there’s tons of other stuff to see and do in Nicholas County.  This is just a tiny fraction of it.

Interested?

What’s The Big Deal With Summers County?

Pipestem State Park Tram

Pipestem State Park Tram

If you go less than 200 miles from home, is that considered a “stay-cation”?  If so, and you live in Southern West Virginia, go ahead and sign up for one in Summers County.

Hinton’s there.  If you have any interest in railroads, or rivers, or coal mining history, or hot dogs (you know what I’m talkin’ about!) that’s your town.  Hinton was a hub in during the coal boom, mainly because 3 major rivers, and as many major rail lines, come together there.

Trivia:  Guess which rivers.  If you said the Elk, Big Coal, and Kanawha, you’re wrong! And you’re thinking of Charleston.  The three rivers that meet in Hinton are the Bluestone, the Greenbrier, and the New.

And, it just so happens that Hinton is also the gateway to some of the coolest outdoor recreation in SWV.  That’s saying a lot.

Bluestone State Park
Just minutes down the road from Hinton is Bluestone State Park, at the mouth of the Bluestone River where it joins the New.  Actually, that’s all part of Bluestone Lake, being backed up by the Bluestone Dam.

But the park – the park is awesome!  Very laid back.  Clean.  Friendly folks.  Lots of space.  The cabins are the way to go if you want to be up on the mountain, but there’s a lot of great camping down at the river.

A bonus is the YPP- Young People for Parks program.  A naturalist meets up with kids every afternoon and evening to explore part of the park.  Check out the bats, find wild mushrooms, go fishing, and on and on.  It’s a very cool program for keeping the kids entertained.

Pipestem
Pipestem is a jewel in the crown of the West Virginia State Parks system.   The park opens up to a big rolling hill of green grass and tall trees, pushed right up to the edge of the Bluestone River Gorge.

Let’s just say that the picture window in the lodge is a good place to spend about 15 hours watching wildlife.  Deer, bear, all kinds of birds.  Walk outside and you’re in a painting.

Also, there’s a ton to do.  If you have kids, and you want the “park” experience, go there.  Archery, interpretive hikes, swimming.  Mini golf, not-so mini golf (par 3 course), big golf.  Camping, cabins,  and two lodges – one’s accessible only by tram.

That’s right.  I said tram.

The place is like a perfect mountain getaway, with plenty to do.  And plenty to not do.  It all depends on what you want.

Bet Summers County has it.

5 Best Lakes In Southern West Virginia

Lake Stephens Marina

Lake Stephens Marina

Ok, maybe not the best.  We should say 5 of  the best lakes in southern West Virginia.  Here are the ones we chose…

Bluestone Lake
Bluestone is probably one of the most well known lakes in the entire Mountain State.  Easy to get to from I-77 or I-64, Bluestone has boating, fishing, camping, and all the other stuff you’d look for in a lake vacation.  Start at Hinton, one of the most historic of America’s railroad towns (and don’t forget to get a hotdog at the Dairy Queen).

Summersville Lake
Right above the world famous Gauley River is the pristine  Summersville Lake.  Sometimes called the “Little Bahamas of the East” by divers, Summersville is probably the best place on the list to chill out a little.  There’s a nice beach there, too, if you’ve got the desire to hit the water, but don’t have a boat.

Lake Stephens
If you’re close to Beckley and looking to add a little play to your work, do not miss an opportunity to go to Lake Stephens.  It’s only nine miles away, and sits right in the middle of almost 2000 acres of hardwood forest.  Lake Stephens is the site of several fishing tournaments throughout the season- and there’s a good reason for that.

RD Bailey Lake
On the good side of the West Virginia, Kentucky, and Virginia tri-state, RD Bailey Lake is a beautiful mountain reservoir next to the town of Justice, WV.  Right on the Guyandotte river, RD Bailey is remote and folded within the steep mountains of Wyoming County.  If you’re wanting to really get away, game on.

Plum Orchard Lake
It’s actually Plum Orchard Wildlife Management Area, but what it can really be described as is secret.  Most people bypass Plum Orchard Lake on the West Virginia Turnpike, missing this small gem just outside of Scarbro.  There are three boat launches for easy access, and you’ll find plenty of room out on the water, too.

Well, those are our picks.  What are yours?

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