On the rolling hillsides of Wheeling, West Virginia, the white pillars of the Mansion Museum stand majestically over the manicured lawns and landscaped gardens of the Oglebay Institute. Originally built in 1846 as an eight-bedroom farmhouse, the mansion entered the Oglebay family in 1900, and was willed to the city 30 years later to serve as a facility for education and recreation. Today it features a rotation of exhibits and programs, which share fine art, glassware, and environmental education with more than 100,000 people annually.
Tucked next to the Mansion, the glass museum has collected some 3,000 pieces of Wheeling glass, cut lead crystal, and Victorian art glass. The Sweeney Punch Bowl, a 5-foot, 225-pound piece of cut lead crystal, is the jewel of the collection, epitomizing the aesthetic splendor and unwieldy nature of most Victorian-era flasks. The Schrader Environmental Education Center imparts visitors with an appreciation for the natural world with interactive trail tours, campfires, and astronomy events; and the Stifle Fine Arts Center's ever-changing visual-arts exhibits display work from local and national artists.
In the 900,000-acre Monongahela National Forest, amid the bald eagles, deer, herons, and small-mouth bass, lies Blackwater Outdoor Adventures, a family-owned business dedicated to equipping treks into the outdoors that surround it. From their river outpost and general store, staffers dispatch water vessels to traverse the clear waters of the Cheat River, a scenic passageway carved into the rolling hills with plenty of areas for swimming and fishing. Blackwater also operates a 7-acre campsite on the banks of the river, where groups can lessen the edge of the outdoors with hot showers and space to store boats, gear, and inflatable six-bedroom homes.
Since 1972, River Expeditions’ seasoned river guides have organized whitewater-rafting trips down the New River and the Gauley River in southern West Virginia’s scenic Appalachian Mountains. There’s a stretch of water for all ages and skill levels, from those looking for a scenic float to paddlers craving a soaked-to-the-bone thrill ride. In addition to day trips, River Expeditions also offers overnight excursions, which typically include camping on the riverbank, cooking out beneath the stars, and paying off local owls to guard the food at night.
River Expeditions can also arrange horseback riding, ziplining, mountain biking, fishing, and ATV tours.
Though spectral forms and shadowy figures still reside in The Haunted Cottage, its greatest legacy is as the occasional vacation home of assassin John Wilkes Booth. Also known as the Booth House, The Haunted Cottage is home to paranormal researcher Vince Wilson, who helms the haunted abode's ghost tours and maintains the paranormal library and history museum, where guests can spy a vampire skeleton among other supernatural exhibits. All this knowledge pours from Vince's mouth during tours and investigations, which pair breakdowns of the house's 200-year history with actual equipment designed to catch ghosts, from cameras and digital recorders to EMF meters.
The Haunted Cottage also strives to school spirit-seekers with paranormal-research training that cycles through parapsychology topics such as extrasensory perception, hypnosis, and psychic healing.
The Children's Museum of the Ohio Valley may be a small space housed inside a storefront, but the square feet pack in a lot of fun and hands-on activities that enable kids to explore science and art through play. Past and current exhibits cover such topics as magnets?which can be used to push and pull ping pong balls?as well as more physically active explorations such as rock climbing walls or the opportunity to stand inside a giant bubble. Members and regular attendees get additional learn and play opportunities through classes, family events, kid-friendly performances, or even by hosting a child's birthday party in a museum without any decrepit mummies putting a damper on the fun.
Rivermen's New River rafting trips guide amateurs and avid aquanauts alike through some of the most scenic whitewater rapids of New River Gorge National River. Reverential rafters can drink up hearty eyefuls of the gorge and its abundant wildlife, weathered bluffs, and recognizable bridge, as seen on the West Virginia state Pog and quarter. The upper river excursion (4–6 hours, $124) traverses canyons on relatively mild waters punctuated by a few easy rapids. Easily navigable by group raft or inflatable duck (a kayak-like vessel that holds 1–2 people), the upper trip makes an enjoyable introduction to whitewater for families, beginner to intermediate rafters, and adolescent Loch Ness monsters. The lower route (4–6 hours, $134) quickens the pulse with more than 25 rapids, as well as tranquil pools and the requisite breathtaking scenery. Both tours will stop to provide lunch.