If West Virginia is “Almost Heaven,” then Greenbrier Valley is heaven’s welcome center, enticing visitors with breathtaking natural beauty, charming historic towns, and an outstanding array of activities. Surrounded by the Allegheny Mountains in a region of the southeastern part of West Virginia, it is well known for spectacular scenery, opportunities for a variety of outdoor adventures, and premier golfing destinations. The valley also prides itself on an impressive food and beverage scene.
My husband and I visited Greenbrier Valley for the first time. Below are some of the experiences that made us wish we’d discovered this gem much sooner.
Our Greenbrier Valley visit was generously hosted by the West Virginia Department of Tourism. However, all opinions are entirely my own.
1. The Greenbrier Resort
The elegant, historic Greenbrier Resort is located in the town of White Sulphur Springs. If you’re not staying in one of its 710 rooms, treat yourself to a meal in one of the resort’s restaurants. Arrive early and explore the stunning 11,000-acre property, featuring the famous golf course, a tennis stadium, and shops.
My husband and I enjoyed an outstanding dinner at the hotel’s Prime 44 West. Our entrées were perfect and our sharable side of lobster mashed potatoes was heavenly with generous chunks of lobster.
2. The Bunker Tour
Another way to see the Greenbrier property is to take the extraordinary guided Bunker Tour.
In the 1950s, the Cold War was in full swing and the U.S. government needed a plan for its continuation in the event of a nuclear strike. The government approached the Greenbrier and construction of an Emergency Relocation Center — an enormous and sophisticated bomb shelter — began. A new hotel wing built at the same time provided perfect camouflage.
The Washington Post revealed the secret in 1992 and the decommissioned bunker is now available for public tours. Our guide took us into a complete city encased in concrete. The bunker contained dormitories, a clinic, a cafeteria, and decontamination chambers. The Bunker Tour is wheelchair-accessible with the exception of the decontamination shower and the power plant.
3. The Schoolhouse Hotel
We had the privilege of staying in the Schoolhouse Hotel, a former Sulphur Springs high school built in 1912, which holds the distinction as the world’s first fully accessible hotel. Each of the 30 thoughtfully appointed guest rooms are fully accessible, as are the upscale restaurant/grill, rooftop bar, and ballroom. The Schoolhouse is completely inclusive. Every private and public space exceeds ADA standards.
Our room was clean, comfortable, and spacious enough for a wheelchair to maneuver easily. The bathroom was all high tech. The commode seat automatically lifted when one of us entered and lowered when unoccupied. A remote enabled us to pamper our behinds with a warm water wash before flushing.
After a good night’s sleep, we enjoyed a tasty breakfast at the hotel’s Varsity Club.
4. North House Museum
The historic town of Lewisburg is home to the North House Museum, an 1820 structure containing artifacts telling the Greenbrier Valley story from early settlers to the Civil War and beyond. The museum houses an impressive collection of period furniture, textiles, Civil War displays, decorative arts, and more.
We spent over an hour delving into the lives of everyday valley residents through the centuries and came away enriched by the legacy they left behind.
5. Walking Trails
Greenbrier Valley is a mecca for hikers with countless trails available for nature lovers of all ages and abilities. We found two unique trails — both wheelchair accessible — that made for comfortable walking.
The Greenbrier River Trail
The longest trail of its kind in West Virginia, the Greenbrier River Trail is a 78-mile former railroad track. Hikers, bikers, and horseback riders can access and exit the trail at various points.
My husband and I took an hour-long walk that seemed much shorter due to the delightful views. The Greenbrier River rolled along one side, while the landscape on the other wooed us with lush forest, fascinating rock formations, and hillsides dotted with residential properties.
Located in the 70,000-acre New River Gorge National Park & Preserve, Sandstone Falls is the largest waterfall on the New River. A quarter-mile level boardwalk led us to an observation point with a breathtaking view of the roaring water plunging into the gorge.
6. Hawk Knob Hard Cider & Mead
My husband and I spent an entertaining and informative couple of hours as guests of Josh Bennett, CEO and founder of Hawk Knob Hard Cider & Mead. Josh and Jason Nerenberg, director of hospitality, greeted us warmly and directed us to a table on a covered deck adjacent to the small tasting room. Over a decadent charcuterie board and generous samples of Knob Creek hard cider, Josh and Jason had our full attention as they talked about the company and Appalachian cider history.
We sampled four traditional ciders and several with interesting twists. We loved them all, but among my favorites were the elderberry-infused traditional and a brand-new take on a margarita that tasted, well, surprisingly margarita-like.
7. Lost World Caverns
Exploring what lies 120 feet below a patch of ground surrounded by Greenbrier Valley farmland is an extraordinary experience any time of year. But since the temperature remains at a pleasant 52 degrees year round, Lost World Caverns should definitely be on everyone’s Greenbrier Valley summer vacation list.
My husband and I opted for the self-guided tour along a 1-mile loop that took nearly an hour. As soon as we descended the first series of steps, it felt as if we had entered another dimension. Moving deeper into the vast cavern, remarkable stalactites, stalagmites, and surreal rock formations surrounded us on either side and overhead.
Once we had completed the loop, we made our way back up to the surface. On our way out, we stopped at the small interactive museum. The entire experience was mind-boggling and thrilling at the same time.
8. Charming Small Towns
Among Greenbrier Valley’s many attributes are the friendly towns dotting the landscape. During our visit, we explored three, which made us want to return and discover more.
White Sulphur Springs
Since our hotel was located in White Sulphur Springs, we had several opportunities to look around this delightful town.
We strolled the main street lined with historical buildings, shops, and dining options. A fantastic find for local craft beer was Big Draft Brewing. The building used to be a hardware store, now it serves up tasty food and excellent beer in a friendly atmosphere. The barbecue nachos were outstanding, as was the boldly flavored stout.
Lewisburg turned out to be as vibrant as it was picturesque. This historic town had an artsy element along with a friendly vibe.
The downtown area was chock full of one-of-a-kind shops, eateries, and entertainment options. We found The Golden Rabbit and Brick House Antiques fun stores to browse. As for dining, we liked The Wild Bean for breakfast, Hill and Holler Pizza for a casual lunch, and Stardust Cafe for a relaxed dinner.
Hinton is a remarkable Victorian-era railroad town surrounded by rolling hills. It is also the gateway to the New River Gorge. Staying in Hinton gives visitors the convenience of a charming historic town, coupled with access to nearby hiking, biking, rafting, and other outdoor activities.
My husband and I took a self-guided walking tour of Hinton’s historic district, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. We took in eclectic architecture dating back to the late 1800s, poked our heads into quaint shops, and relaxed over lunch at Lucky Rivers Cafe. We had lunch at The Market on Courthouse Square when we stopped on the first day as we drove to White Sulphur Springs. Both had tasty offerings and delightfully chatty staffs.
West Virginia’s spectacular mountains are a popular draw for outdoor enthusiasts and anyone who wants to enjoy being surrounded by nature’s majesty. Greenbrier Valley offers plenty of Allegheny eye candy and outdoor adventures, along with a bounty of unique experiences you won’t find anywhere else. The valley enchants, engrosses, and enlivens the spirits of all who partake in her abundant offerings.