West Virginia: Geography


Nicknamed the “Mountain State,” West Virginia is very hilly and rugged, with the highest mean altitude (1,500 ft/457 m) of any state E of the Mississippi. Nearly all of the state is on the Allegheny Plateau, with the jagged Virginia–West Virginia line roughly following the eastern escarpment of the plateau (known as the Allegheny Front). Extremely irregular in outline, West Virginia has two narrow projections—the Northern Panhandle, which cuts north between Ohio and Pennsylvania, and the Eastern Panhandle, which cuts east between Maryland (with the Potomac River forming the state line) and Virginia. In the Eastern Panhandle, a part of the Appalachian ridge and valley country, lie the state's lowest point (240 ft/73 m) near Harpers Ferry where the Shenandoah River joins the Potomac, as well as its highest point, Spruce Knob (4,860 ft/1,481 m).

West Virginia is well drained; its important rivers include the Tug Fork, the Big Sandy River, the New River, the Kanawha, the Little Kanawha, the Cheat, and the Monongahela, all of which find their way to the Ohio. The New River and the Kanawha combine to form the most important waterway entirely within the state. West Virginia's climate is generally of the humid continental type, with hot summers (except in the highest areas) and cool to cold winters.

West Virginia's natural beauty is spectacular, and the excellent hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, and skiing offered here form the basis of a growing tourist industry. The state has numerous state parks, public hunting areas, and state forests; Monongahela National Forest and a portion of George Washington National Forest (most of which is in Virginia) are in West Virginia. Mineral springs are scattered throughout the state, notably at the resorts of Berkeley Springs and White Sulphur Springs. Other tourist attractions include Harpers Ferry National Historical Park (see National Parks and Monuments, tablenational parks and monuments, table) and various mounds built by ancient peoples, most notably Grave Creek Mound in Moundsville, one of the nation's largest. Charleston is the capital and largest city; Huntington is the second largest city, followed by Wheeling and Parkersburg.

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