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Appalachia and Americana in West Virginia

Much of West Virginia is still wild: Dense forests, rushing rivers and the rolling hills of the Allegheny Mountains lend the state an untamed air. But West Virginia is also home to bustling college cities, quaint small towns and historic luxury resorts.

Groups that visit the region should explore the forests of Logan County on a UTV trail ride, tour the formerly top-secret fallout shelter hidden beneath an elegant hotel and sip moonshine made from the Hatfield clan’s recipe.

Greenbrier County

For 30 years, The Greenbrier hid a secret. A 112,000-square-foot bunker buried 720 feet into the hillside beneath the historic luxury hotel was built to house members of Congress during a national emergency or a nuclear war.

“It was private for 30 years; then the New York Times broke the story that there’s an actual bunker there,” said Kristi Godby, media relations manager for the Greenbrier County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The Greenbrier is a National Historic Landmark that has been welcoming guests, including several presidents, to its 11,000-acre resort since 1778. But visitors don’t have to stay at the exclusive Greenbrier to see the fallout shelter. Behind the 1.5-foot-thick door is a military bunker that “is such a contrast with The Greenbrier,” she said. Public bunker tours are available daily, and groups of 15 or more people can schedule private tours.

The Greenbrier hotel is a centerpiece of Greenbrier County, but Lewisburg, a town of 4,000, is the county seat. Downtown covers a three-block area with arts, shopping, restaurants and even a Carnegie Hall.

“When I came here 17 years ago, I thought Lewisburg was adorable,” Godby said. “It was the first time I was old enough to realize the allure of a cute small town.”

Steel baron and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie built Lewisburg’s Carnegie Hall in 1902, initially for the Lewisburg Female Institute. Lewisburg’s is one of only four Carnegie Halls in the world still in continuous operation. Today, the Georgian Revival structure houses a cultural center, and the soaring columns at the entrance welcome visitors to concerts, films and art exhibitions. During the summer, the center has free concerts on the lawn. Groups can also arrange for a walk-and-talk tour of Carnegie Hall’s three small art galleries before enjoying a private musical performance by a staff member who plays the harp.

The mellow Greenbrier River is nice for a float, and the 78-mile Greenbrier River Trail that runs along its banks is another favorite way to experience the river. Greenbrier Outfitters offers kayaking, falconry, geocaching and mountain bike rentals, and both Greenbrier Outfitters and Free Spirit Adventures offer bike rentals and rides along the Greenbrier River Trail. Part of the trail, however, is now closed due to flooding damage. Greenbrier River Campground offers group day trips on the river via canoe, kayak, tubes or river pontoon boats.

The Allegheny Mountains are strewn with caves and caverns. Lost World Caverns is a “huge, open cavern with some really beautiful natural features,” Godby said. Stalagmites and stalactites surround the walking path, which offers an easy, self-guided tour that a 5-year-old or a 90-year-old can handle. Organ Cave is popular with both geology and history buffs. The cave was one of the biggest suppliers of saltpeter, a primary ingredient in gunpowder, for the Confederate Army, and visitors can see the preserved Civil War-era equipment in the cave during guided walking tours.

Rachel Carter

Rachel Carter worked as a newspaper reporter for eight years and spent two years as an online news editor before launching her freelance career. She now writes for national meetings magazines and travel trade publications.