Some of the best memories are made when the family is in the outdoors, fishing, camping and exploring, away from the electronic cares of the world.
Most of my favorite vacation memories include spending time with the family fishing, exploring and having fun at various state parks and forests throughout West Virginia — my son catching his first fish at Watoga Lake, my daughter horseback riding at Cacapon Resort State Park and my grandson pulling a yellow perch from Moncove Lake.
Other adventures include hiking through Greenbrier State Forest, touring the famous gristmill at Babcock State Park and fishing for native brook trout at Kumbrabow State Forest. In fact, the Mountain State has many locations where families can get away from the hectic life to enjoy each other’s company in the outdoors.
WATOGA STATE PARK
Located near Marlinton in Pocahontas County, Watoga State Park and its namesake 11-acre lake is a real jewel for families. Situated in the highlands of southeastern West Virginia off Route 219, Watoga Lake is a two-story fishery.
“There’s a very good bluegill, channel cat and largemouth bass fishery, and trout are stocked from January through May,” said Matt Yeager, district administrator for state parks. “People can catch trout all summer from the deeper parts of the lake, and bluegills can be found along the shoreline.”
The aptly named Lake Trail winds its way around the impoundment, with plenty of openings for fishing from the bank. A real hotspot for bluegill action is the dock area near the trail’s beginning. Boat rentals are available, and visitors have a choice of canoes, kayaks, rowboats and paddleboats.
Yeager says that another angling option is for folks to enjoy fishing for smallmouth bass, rock bass and redbreast sunfish in the Greenbrier River, either from the bank or a boat. However, keep in mind that the Greenbrier often becomes quite low by mid-July — good for wade fishing but not for floating. Another option is to walk the Greenbrier River Trail and stop at the many openings along the trail to wet a line.
Watch The Video Gallery Above To Help you Improve Your Family Fishing Fun!
One aspect about Watoga State Park that is especially appealing is the lodging possibilities. The park features legacy cabins, constructed by Civilian Conservation Corps members during the Great Depression. Modern cabins are available, too, along with electric hookup campsites, where families can setup for a day, a week or longer.
Along The Way: The Cass Scenic Railroad is a superb side trip for families, being only 24 miles up Route 219 from Watgoa and featuring traditional steam engine trips. One of the highlights is a stop at a logging camp from the 1940s. The mountain scenery is spectacular as well. The historic town of Cass also offers a railroad-themed museum and several places to dine.
TOMLINSON RUN STATE PARK
Another quality destination can be found all the way up the state at the tip of the Northern Panhandle. Situated off Route 8 near New Manchester in Hancock County, Tomlinson Run State Park features a 30-acre lake that abounds with bluegills, catfish and largemouth bass. Even better, bank fishing exists at Tomlinson Run Lake, especially at the southern end where a boat dock lies near the dam. The Bigfoot Trail meanders along the eastern side and offers more bank fishing for those who want to escape the crowds. Boat rental is available Thursday through Monday.
Trout are stocked in the lake from January through April, and some holdover fish should be available in May and early June. Tomlinson Run itself receives stockings once each month from February through May, and some folks like to wade and bank fish below the lake’s dam for these fish.
At 1,398 acres, Tomlinson is one of West Virginia’s smallest parks; nevertheless, quite a few amenities exist. The 54-site campground offers 34 with electric hookups. Worthy of mention is that campsites 28 through 50 are located near several small ponds with standard warm water fisheries. For a different experience, visitors can also stay in one of four yurts, each of which comes with a lantern, propane stove, cooler and cookware.
Parents and children might also enjoy playing miniature golf at the park, and older children can engage in disc golf. Trails are available for hiking and biking, and a swimming pool is also on site.
Along The Way: While there, consider taking a day trip to Oglebay Bay Resort and Conference Center, which has a zoo, golf, biking trails, spa and more. The Good Zoo hosts some 50 species with the bald eagle, cheetah and river otters being real crowd pleasers.
A little further away is West Virginia Independence Hall on Market Street in downtown Wheeling. The site is considered the birthplace of the Mountain State as this is where West Virginia formally separated from Virginia. Admission is free.
CACAPON RESORT STATE PARK
Another outstanding state park is Cacapon in Morgan County off Route 522 in the Eastern Panhandle. Yeager says that bluegills are abundant in the six-acre Cacapon Park Lake, and the impoundment also holds crappie, channel catfish and largemouth bass. Cacapon also receives trout twice in February and once weekly from March through May.
But the really big news about trout fishing at this mini-impoundment is that it will receive heavy stockings of golden trout come spring.
“Cacapon Park will be one of our lakes participating in our West Virginia Gold Rush event this spring,” said Yeager. “The lake already offers nice bank fishing, and young kids having a chance to possibly catch a golden trout while there is pretty special. One of the major purposes is to get people new to fishing, especially kids, excited about the sport. And golden trout have a tendency to do that.”
Besides, Cacapon, other state parks that will receive golden trout include Blackwater Falls, Pipestem Resort, North Bend and Watoga. Other state parks and forests are also expected to receive these hybrid rainbows.
Cacapon Park Lake is really a focal point at this establishment, as swimming and picnicking are also available there on the west side of the lake and a snack bar is nearby. The best bank fishing is probably on the north side in the dock area. A picnic shelter and play area is nearby. Other amenities include horseback riding (including nocturnal treks with dinner provided), game courts and hiking trails.
Yeager says families with older kids might want to trek up the Ziler Trail to Cacapon Mountain for the overlook, which provides a spectacular view of three states in addition to West Virginia — Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. All in all, nine different trails, from easy to advanced, cover some 23 miles.
Along The Way: Families might want to make the short drive up Route 522 and sojourn at Berkeley Springs State Park. A museum is located on the second floor of the bathhouse, and visitors can learn more about the history of the area and the spa. For instance, this spa was the first of its kind in this country, Thomas Jefferson’s father surveyed the area, and George Washington considered the spa as one of his favorite getaways. Admission is free. Afterwards, families could visit the park’s swimming pool, which is filled with natural, spring water. It’s a little chilly in early summer, but always exhilarating.
BEECH FORK STATE PARK
Families in the western reaches of the Mountain State should find Beech Fork State Park near Barboursville in Cabell and Wayne counties a dynamic destination this spring and summer. The 720-acre impoundment supports a quality warm-water fishery, featuring bluegills, crappie, sauger, catfish, hybrid stripers and largemouths. The hybrid stripers and sauger aren’t likely to be caught from the shore, but Beech Fork is one of the few lakes in the state that hosts both of these gamefish.
The lake has a 9.9 horsepower limit, which makes it more suited for families interested in fishing around the body of water rather than pleasure boaters. Boat rental is available for canoes, kayaks and paddleboats beginning annually on Memorial Day.
Shore anglers will find much to like about Beech Fork Lake. On the western side of the impoundment, the Mary Davis Trail offers periodic access as it winds around the body of water, often providing less fishing pressure than on the eastern shore, which has a number of access points, such as Lakeview Camping Area and Four Coves Camping Area. Additional access exists in the upper reaches of the impoundment at the Moxley Branch and Old Orchard camping areas. The latter also offers access to one of the lake’s main tributaries, Beech Fork Creek. Only people staying at the park can fish from the camping areas.
Beech Fork boasts an impressive number of campsites, plus six cabins. A swimming pool is also on site with a snack stand nearby. With 3,144 acres for folks to ramble, the area has some quality trails to explore. The Lost Trail as a good option for both bikers and hikers.
Along The Way: Drive up Route 152 from the park toward Huntington to can check out two very family friendly places. One of them is the Heritage Farm Museum and Village. Real highpoints of this establishment are the seven museums that cover such topics as the state’s heritage, country stores, children’s activities, dolls and carriages. Appalachian period structures from the 1800s into the 20th century are present, and on weekends, historic re-enactors and artisans are present. One of the most impressive aspects of Heritage Farm is that it is the first West Virginia Smithsonian affiliate, which speaks volumes about the quality of the experience.
Another possibility is the Huntington Museum of Art on McCoy Road. The establishment has a strong nature component with an approximate one-mile hiking trail through a woodland; guided tours are available. The institution also hosts West Virginia’s only plant conservancy, where kids can learn about both unusual and exotic plants and their roles in the ecosystem. One of the most fascinating aspects of the museum is that it has a tagging program for monarch butterflies.
Over the years, my family has visited over 30 West Virginia state parks and forests, and truly has enjoyed a good time at every one of them. Fishing has always been a major reason for traveling to most of these locales, but there are definitely many other quality outdoor-related activities for families to enjoy.