There are few places in the U.S. that offer many different experiences in a compact area. This is just one reason that Nicholas County and Summersville is unique. Within its boundaries, Nicholas County contains West Virginia's largest lake, West Virginia's only lighthouse, a Civil War battlefield, and some of America's most challenging whitewater rapids. Here are four family vacation spots that can be found around Summersville:
Summersville Lake is a man-made reservoir that was created when the Summersville Dam was built on the Gauley River. The dam was originally built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1966 to control flooding in the Kanawha valley, but it was upgraded in 2001 to generate hydroelectricity. The naming of the dam is atypical for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects because it is not named after the closest town to the dam, the town of Gad, to avoid the unfortunate and potentially mispronounced name "Gad Dam."
Public campgrounds in the U.S. account for about 70% of family camping trips. There are two public camping areas near Summersville Lake to turn your vacation into a family camping trip.
The Battle Run campground, a developed campground with amenities like electricity, is operated by the U.S. National Park Service. The waterfront campground gives easy access to boating, water skiing, family fishing, and boating on Summersville Lake. While it may seem unexpected, your family camping trip to Summersville Lake can also include scuba diving. The lake is one of the cleanest and clearest lakes east of the Mississippi River and includes an artificial reef created by a boat that was deliberately sunk in the 327-foot deep lake for scuba divers to explore.
The other public campground is located below the dam. It is a primitive campground with no amenities. However, it is adjacent to the river and is the location where many rafters enter the Gauley River.
Summersville Lake Lighthouse
West Virginia's only working lighthouse is located near Summersville Lake. The lighthouse was erected in 2012 and stands 104 feet tall. The lighthouse is open for public tours with paid admission and provides views of Summersville Lake and Gauley River.
The lighthouse is host to the Summersville Lake Lighthouse Festival. This event takes place every August and includes live entertainment, food booths, a car show, and arts and crafts booths.
Gauley River runs below the dam that forms Summersville Lake. Most of the Gauley River National Recreation Area is inaccessible by motor vehicles. While camping is allowed throughout the recreation area, only the most adventurous and experienced will include this on their family camping trips. Campsites are undeveloped and must be accessed by floating down the river.
On the other hand, for those with the experience and skill, the Gauley River is one of the most challenging whitewater rafting rivers in the U.S. with many Class V (or expert) rapids. If your family can navigate the rough rapids, opportunities for fishing and hiking can be found throughout the recreation area for your family camping trip.
Carnifex Ferry Battlefield State Park
One of the oldest state parks in West Virginia lies along the Gauley River where it meets the Meadow River. The Carnifex Ferry Battlefield State Park was made a state park in 1935 to preserve the site of the Battle of Carnifex Ferry, a Civil War battle that took place on September 10, 1861.
The groundwork for the battle was laid when a Confederate army of about 4,000 men crossed the Gauley River heading north through what was then Virginia. The Confederate army forced Union soldiers near Carnifex Ferry to retreat and began building defensive entrenchments to defend the area. On September 10, 1861, Union forces attacked with infantry and artillery. Although the attack was repelled, the commander of the Confederate army ordered a retreat across the Gauley River. The Union's success in stopping the Confederate army's advance into the northwest counties of Virginia allowed those counties to hold a vote just a month and a half later to separate from Virginia and form the state of West Virginia.
The Carnifex Ferry Battlefield State Park includes three hiking trails and a museum.
A vacation to Summersville can include activities for the whole family including camping, fishing, boating, and hiking.