Amidst the rolling emerald hills of West Virginia, the city of Beckley offers tourists a great destination for active, family fun. Beckley’s motto is “Gateway to Southern West Virginia,” in part because of its location an hour’s drive south of Charleston, the state capital. Interstates 64 and 77 converge near Beckley, leading travelers to the whitewater of the New River Gorge National River area—and to the southern portion of the state, where residents consider themselves true representatives of the American South. Other parts of West Virginia identify more closely with neighboring Pennsylvania to the north and Washington, D.C., to the east.
One of the top attractions in Beckley showcases the area’s identity as a coal-mining town. Located in New River Park, Exhibition Coal Mine invites the public to tour a real underground mine, as well as above-ground vintage structures that include a worker’s shanty and coal camp school. Beckley tourism spikes from April through the end of October, when the dark tunnels of a preserved drift mine are open for tours, guided by veteran miners. A family campground hosts RV and tent campers during those months as well.
Admission to the coal mine allows access to several attractions. Visitors can explore the restored miners’ camp and 1836 Wildwood House, which is furnished with period antiques. Wildwood was the home of town founder General Alfred Beckley and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Stroll across the park from the mine and use coal mine tickets to get into the Youth Museum of Southern West Virginia, which kids love. The changing exhibits have included a re-constructed giant T-Rex and a showcase of children’s authors. A trip to the museum’s planetarium highlights group tours.
Behind the museum, more historical treasures await at the late 19th-century Mountain Homestead. Tour the two-story log house, weaver’s shed, one-room school house, barn, blacksmith shop and general store. These depict homestead life, in contrast and complement to the mining camp exhibition.
About 10 miles east of the city, New River Gorge National River is another hot spot for Beckley summer tourism. The rapids of West Virginia are famous among whitewater rafters, and this protected stretch of the New River is notable for its diverse conditions. The southern section is excellent for beginning rafters, with its long pools and rapids up to Class III. The northern part, known as “the Lower Gorge,” generates large, sometimes raging rapids from Class III up to Class V.
For indoor fun and eats, visit another of the top attractions in Beckley, Tamarack. Located west of the interstate, the retail complex is a shopping and dining headquarters for everything West Virginia. Tamarack's food court features West Virginia jams, locally raised catfish and other homegrown delicacies in daily menus. Shoppers discover woodworkings, ceramics, baskets and artwork crafted by artisans in the state. Even the entertainment reflects the area identity—you can catch a dinner theater show like Driving Miss Daisy or an Appalachian folk music performance at the on-site theater.