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Free or Almost Free Family Vacation Fun in Southern West Virginia. It’s not just college kids looking for free stuff anymore. For all of us attempting to create a family vacation on a budget it is useful to know where to find free or almost free family fun.

Adding a vacation bonus without extra costs takes planning. I am not talking about “kids eat free” although they may be able to do so. Instead I am providing a viable list of activities worth adding to a family vacation in Southern West Virginia.

Into the Blue. With over 2,100 acres of heavily forested rugged mountainous terrain, Bluestone State Park, on the gorgeous 2,000 acre Bluestone lake, is a great place for families to take a walk (or a swim) on the green side. In the middle of the park, just five miles south of Hinton, families can take advantage of modern cabins, a campground and great recreational activities including: fishing, boating, and water-skiing, equipment for croquet, shuffleboard, and horseshoes. Additionally, the park naturalist provides special weekly programs such as nature hikes, movie nights, wildlife slide shows, volleyball and softball games, wiener roasts and a host of other great family-oriented activities. Bluestone State Park is also laced with several hiking trails, some of which afford hikers panoramic views of Bluestone’s picturesque lake and the surrounding mountains of Southern West Virginia. Bonus Points: In addition to Bluestone Lake there is an onsite swimming pool which is open during the summer months (guests pay a nominal fee), and cabin guests enjoy year round swimming privileges at Pipestem Resorts’ indoor pool. Out of pocket expense: Admittance to the park itself is free of charge, rates for cabins and campground space vary by season. Location on the planet: Take exit 139 (Sandstone/Hinton) off Interstate 64 to WV 20 South, and drive 15 miles to the park. From the south on Interstate 77, take the Athens Road Exit (exit 14) to WV 20 North, and travel 22 miles to the park. 1(304) 466-2805, www.bluestonesp.com.

Tour Blue Smoke. One of the best companies located in Southern West Virginia has to be Blue Smoke Salsa. Located in Ansted, they offer tours of their facility, complete with samples of their divine salsa. Tours start off with an introduction from Robin, the founder of Blue Smoke Salsa, as she tells her story of growing up in West Virginia and deciding to open Blue Smoke. Then tours explore how Blue Smoke Salsa makes its famous salsa – tours on a production day will get to see all of the works: cooking, canning, labeling and everything else that goes into each jar. At the end of the tour everyone’s invited to try some salsa – anything from mild (no spice at all) to wild (pulling a cookie sheet out of the oven with your lips!) Bonus Points: Their website has a great section with recipes featuring Blue Smoke Salsa, such as Blue Smoke Salsa Cornbread Casserole, Blue Smoke Salsa "Southern West Virginia" Chili and Blue Smoke Salsa "Southern West Virginia" Chicken – a great way to take the flavors of Southern West Virginia home with you! Out of pocket expense:  Adult tickets are $5, group rates are available. Location on the planet: 119 East Main Street Ansted, WV 25812. 1-888-725-7298 (make sure to ask for Cecilia!) or www.bluesmokesalsa.com.

Fishing for Fun. Pipestem Resort State Park is a great place for families. Not only is Pipestem home to the Nature Center and the Harris Homestead but it’s also a great place for anglers of all ages and talents. Open year-round, the Nature Center features an expansive display of plant and animal life indigenous to West Virginia, and a series of informative and fun naturalist lead programs. Also at the Nature Center is the Harris Homestead, a historical reconstruction of the homestead (including house, barn and meat house) of a Summers County family circa 1900. Also within the park are Long Branch Lake, the Bluestone River and nearby the New River, all offering fun fishing experiences. If fishing’s not your game, the park also has more than maintained twenty trails for year-round exploration. Bonus point: During the summer Pimpstem hosts a series of concerts, performances and cultural events which are either free or extremely affordable ($6 is the average price for an adult ticket). Out of pocket expense: Cost is entirely dependent on which activities you want to do – check their website for the latest prices. Many activities are free of charge, such as hiking. Location on the planet: Pipestem Resort State Park is 14 miles north of Princeton and 12 miles south of Hinton on WV 20.  From I-77, take Exit #14 and the park entrance is 14 miles north on Rt. 20.  From the Sandstone Exit # 139 of I-64, the park entrance is 22 miles south on WV 20. 1-800-CALL WVA or www.pipestemresort.com.

Walk Along the River. The Bluestone National Scenic River is a protected 10.5-mile section of the Bluestone River in Southern West Virginia, preserved as a living landscape which provides an unspoiled stunning experience for visitors and a haven for indigenous plants and animals. From late spring until autumn, Bluestone National Scenic River offers the Bluestone River Walk, a two-mile round trip ranger-led river hike. Fishing is a very popular activity along the Bluestone River, which is home to smallmouth bass, rock bass and bluegill among others. Bonus Points: Nearby are the New and Greenbrier river, which also offer great fishing amidst breathtaking natural beauty. Note: A West Virginia fishing license is required. Out of pocket expense: There are no entrance fees. To access Bluestone National Scenic River from Pipestem Resort State Park, there is a fee for the tram ride from the rim to the river. Location on the planet: Bluestone National Scenic River is located in southeastern West Virginia and is best accessed via one of two West Virginia State Parks that lie at each end, Bluestone State Park to the north and Pipestem Resort State Park to the south. To reach these parks from I-64, take exit 139, then south on Rt. 20. Bluestone State Park is 15 miles and Pipestem is 22 miles. From I-77 take exit 14 to Rt.20 north. Pipestem is 14 miles and Bluestone is 22 miles. 1(304) 466-0417, www.nps.gov/blue.

Experience Wolf Creek. Located in the stunning mountains of Southwest Virginia, Wolf Creek Indian Village & Museum, is a fantastic (and budget friendly) educational experience. Based on the site of an actual archeological excavation, Wolf Creek is a recreated Eastern Woodland Indian village carbon dated to 1215. On site interpretive guides lead visitors on an exploration of the living archeological village, demonstrating the skills which were essential for everyday life 500 years ago. Inside the museum visitors can see artifacts transferred from the original archeological site, as well as from local collections. Bonus Points: The grounds also host lovely rhododendron thickets strewn with nature trails as well as ample picnic facilities for families looking to make a day of it. Out of pocket expense: Wolf Creek offers a family rate (for 2 adults & 3 or more children), $35 for admittance to the Village & Museum. If your family is smaller then the going adult rate is $10, children between the ages of 5-16 are $6 each, and children under 5 are admitted free. Location on the planet: Just off Interstate 77, only 15 minutes from Wytheville, Virginia and Bluefield, West Virginia. Take exit 58 at Bastian Virginia and follow the brown signs to the entrance. 1(276) 688-3438 or www.indianvillage.org.

Make it happen. Southern West Virginia is made up of the nine counties. The Eastern edge includes Monroe and Greenbrier counties and the unspoiled wilderness of Allegheny Ridge. The Central Plateau and Valleys includes Mercer, Summers, Raleigh, Fayette, and Nicholas counties with the New River Gorge and New, Bluestone, and Gauley Rivers. The mountainous southern area defined by the state’s coal mining heritage includes McDowell and Wyoming counties.  Each one has something to offer families on vacation. Toll-free at 1-800-847-4898, (304) 252-2244 or www.visitwv.com.

Content researched and posted Nancy Nelson-Duac, Curator of the Good Stuff for the Family Travel Files. Images provided by Southern West Virginia Tourism. Copyright updated 2016.
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