CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (WBOY) — If you go to West Virginia expecting only outdoor recreation, small town charm and beautiful deciduous landscape, well—you’re probably mostly right. But there are some places in West Virginia that completely break the mold of what it feels like to be in the Mountain State.
Here are a few places that feel like they completely transport you to somewhere beyond the mountains of Almost Heaven.
The Dolly Sods Wilderness is a well-known West Virginia location, but primarily because it doesn’t look like the rest of the state. Instead of rolling mountains of deciduous trees that West Virginia is known for, the high altitude plateau where Dolly Sods is located looks more like a tundra with bog, heath and red spruce like you would see in southern Canada.
Helvetia is a small, remote town in Randolph County that is already reminiscent of a Swiss town, but once a year, it holds its own version of Fasnacht, a festival that celebrates Swiss heritage. The festival is characterized by unique masks and costumes, a dance party in the Hütte, and the burning of Old Man Winter and takes place the Saturday before Mardi Gras. Despite the fact that the festival feels like it transports you to Switzerland, Helvetia has definitely become a place that is uniquely West Virginian.
Why does West Virginia have a lighthouse when it’s nowhere near the ocean? Located near Summersville Lake, the lighthouse was added partially as a joke in 2012 and is made out of a damaged wind turbine. Now, it serves as an attraction and transports visitors to what feels like the beach, even if they are in landlocked Nicholas County, West Virginia. The lighthouse even has a lamp room and a vintage Westinghouse rotational beacon.
Cathedral State Park
Cathedral State Park has the state’s largest old growth forest that is reminiscent of the famous redwood trees in California. Tres in the ancient hemlock forest at the park are up to 90 feet tall and 16 feet in circumference, according to WV Tourism. According to West Virginia State Parks, in total, Cathedral, which is in Preston County, has more than 170 species of trees, ferns and wildflowers. Although the forest feels way different than the forests across the state that West Virginians recognize, it actually shows what many forests in the state would have looked like if they hadn’t been disturbed.
In Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, there is a castle that feels like a trip in time and location. Build in the late 1800s, the castle has everything a castle should, including ballroom with a grand staircase, a secret passageway with a dungeon, gargoyles and a turreted rooftop with battlements. Currently, the castle is not open for visitors.
Greenbrier Government Relocation Facility
The Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia looks like the White House, and that was done intentionally. The Greenbrier, and the government relocation bunker underneath it, were deigned to house Congress in case of an emergency during the Cold War. The bunker itself is like a time capsule that takes visitors back to that time in American history, although it was never used. Now a resort, the Greenbrier is a star symbol of West Virginia, but its shadow of the house of Congress still shines through.
Much like Dolly Sods and Cathedral State Forest, the Cranberry Glades in central West Virginia just doesn’t look like West Virginia ecologically. The botanical area is bog—an acidic wetland that is more commonly found in Canada, according to the U.S. Forest Service. The ground is almost completely covered in peat made of spongy decaying plant material. A boardwalk through the area lets people see the unique bog without disrupting it. The unusual conditions allow some strange plant to grow there, including carnivorous, insect-eating plants.
New Vrindaban Palace of Gold
New Vrindaban is a Hare Krishna community that resides in the northern panhandle of West Virginia, and their Palace of Gold is definitely one of a kind in the state. The Hare Krishna is a Hindu movement that originated in Bengal in the 1600s, and followers wear items that are reminiscent of Indian culture. The grand palace is made from marble, onyx, teak and 22 karat gold leaf along with stained-glass, mosaic floors and mirrored ceilings. The palace also features gardens, fountains and a lily pond.
Preston County, West Virginia shares the rare Cranesville Swamp with Maryland. Due to a unique combination of mountain landscape, wind, water and temperature, a “frost pocket” captures moisture and cold air in the area, meaning the Cranesville Swamp looks more like Canada than West Virginia. According to the Nature Conservancy, Cranesville Swamp is one of the coolest and soggiest places in the state. Like Dolly Sods and the Cranberry Glades, it has plants that don’t normally exist in West Virginia but at a much lower elevation (Dolly Sods: up to 4,700 ft.; Cranberry Glades 3,400 ft.; Cranesville Swamp: 2,500 ft.).