If you’ve been dreaming of spending time on the water but you’re not yet ready for international travel, Summersville Lake in West Virginia — otherwise known as the Little Bahamas of the East — has a lot to offer.
“Summersville Lake is the largest lake in West Virginia and is also considered the most scenic,” explained Tracy R. McCoy, executive director, Summersville Convention and Visitors Bureau, of the area that attracts more than 1 million visitors a year. “It not only offers beautiful, clear water that is popular with scuba divers but is also rated No. 25 by FarandWide.com as one of the best lakes in the U.S. for standup paddleboarding.”
She added, “For the more adventurous, the Summersville Lake tailwaters go into the Gauley River, which offers epic whitewater rafting opportunities in fall.”
Whether you’re looking for dive lessons or to rent a paddleboard, kayak, or pontoon, local businesses including Sarge’s Dive Shop, the Summersville Lake Marina, Lakeside Outfitters, and Summersville Lake Retreat can provide what you need. If you’d prefer to see the sights without getting wet, you can even sign up for a scenic dinner cruise.
The Summersville Lake Retreat and Lighthouse also offers the opportunity to climb the state’s only working lighthouse, and the Summersville Dam, which provides flood control for the Gauley and Kanawha river basin area, is a must-see as well.
There are more than 300 rock-climbing routes for those who love high adventure, as well as more serene hiking, biking, and horse trails around the lake. “Of course, fishing is huge, and you can catch largemouth and smallmouth bass, catfish, and walleye, and the tailwaters of the lake are stocked with trout in both spring and fall,” said McCoy.
The Summersville area also has playgrounds and geocaching opportunities for kids, tours and tastings at the Kirkwood Winery and Isaiah Morgan Distillery for adults, and Carnifex Ferry Battlefield State Park for anyone who loves Civil War history.
Those wanting to make a weekend (or longer) of it can tent camp, and there are RV sites and cabins as well. For the less outdoorsy, there are numerous nearby hotels.
McCoy noted that, while it’s very popular in summer, the area is truly a year-round destination.
“We have events going on all year, from live music on weekends and an around-the-world dining event in February to the Mountain Made Makers’ Market this June,” she said. “And you can’t miss the annual Nicholas County Potato Festival in September, which includes a pageant, parade, and mashed potato eating contest.”
As the gateway to the south, Summersville also provides easy access to other attractions, including the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, the nation’s newest national park. “Visitors can set up a base camp here and, every day, travel out in a new direction,” said McCoy.
Starting May 1, there will be one more reason to visit, she added.
“When travelers check in at the lodging of their choice, they will receive a travel bingo card with the names and logos of participating businesses,” she said. “They’ll get a stamp with purchase, and when they check out, they turn in the card for a chance to win a prize. When the contest ends in September, we’ll do another drawing for a grand prize, like a boat rental or cabin stay, that they can use the next year.”
For more information, visit summersvillecvb.com.