West Virginia’s capital city, Charleston, springs up from the convergence of the I-64, I-77 and I-79 and spreads out along the banks of the Kanawha and Elk rivers. With a greater metropolitan population of around 220,000, Charleston definitely qualifies as a small city. What it lacks in census girth, however, the city makes up for in surprisingly cool curiosities to keep you busy. At least for a day or two.
Kanawha State Forest (7500 Kanawha State Forest Drive) is a great example of the technical trails the Appalachian Mountains are known for and offers intermediate to advanced-intermediate riding.
Start your ride off by heading up Middle Ridge Road, a gravel, jeep trail accessible from Range Road, which will (eventually) level off on top of the ridge. Pick up Middle Ridge Trail from here, which meanders back and forth across Middle Ridge Road for a few miles and keeps you up on top of the ridge.
Once you’re warmed up, hit Polecat, Ballard or Teaberry Rock trail(s), then loop back up Middle Ridge Road to jump on something else. Whatever you decide to ride, don’t leave KSF without taking on Black Bear Trail, a super chunky, technical thrill ride that’s over far too quickly.
If you’re in the mood for pizza and want to hang out in a cool, artsy, former-house-turned-restaurant, then head over to Lola’s (1038 Bridge Road) and get one of their handmade, Neapolitan-style, stone hearth fired pizzas. They also make amazing salads (goat cheese salad, seriously) and have an assortment of craft brews and specialty sodas to quench your post-ride thirst.
If hot dogs are more your thing, then you’ve got to go see Jason Myer at Super Weenie Hot Dogs (corner of Capitol and Lee streets). Jason hand built his hot dog cart, which he parks at the corner of Capitol and Lee most days, and for a couple of dollars he’ll hook you up with a made to order dog and a bag of chips. I recommend the West Virginia Dog, which features both coleslaw AND chili. Jason also offers veggie sausage substitutes and soft drinks.
After you get your fill of West Virginia Dogs, head over to Taylor Books (226 Capitol St.) and peruse the assortment of new and used books and magazines (including this fine publication). They also offer coffee and pastries.
Stroll through the inside/outside Capitol Market (800 Smith St.) for an assortment of goods from local farmers and merchants and stock up on local produce, honey, wine or hand-made chocolates.
Don’t leave the Mountain State’s capital city without checking in with the cool kids at Kin Ship Goods. This hipster meets hillbilly print shop offers a ton of super cool graphic tees and products with a West Virginia vibe. Check out their online shop too at kinshipgoods.com.
During the summer months, Charleston hosts Live on the Levee (Haddad Riverfront Park), a free to attend, open air concert, right on the banks of the Kanawha River. It’s a fun way to spend an evening, and to walk off all the food you’ve eaten.
While you’re downtown, make sure to swing by the Capitol building itself, which is one of the few in the country to boast a golden dome.