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Why Is West Virginia Called the Mountain State?

West Virginia is known as the Mountain State due to its stunning Appalachian landscape, where rolling peaks and lush valleys paint a breathtaking canvas. This rugged terrain not only shapes its nickname but also its history, culture, and adventurous spirit. Discover how these ancient mountains echo the heart of West Virginia's identity. What secrets do these peaks hold for you?
Britt Archer
Britt Archer

West Virginia has three acknowledged nicknames, but only one of them, "The Mountain State," is official, following adoption by state lawmakers. The nickname comes from the fact that the state is home to a section of the Allegheny Mountains. The Allegheny Mountains comprise a little more than 10 percent of the land area in the Mountain State. Colonists began to populate the mountains in the mid-1700s. No less than seven recreation areas dot the landscape, including the Monongahela National Forest.

The mountains’ beauty also gave rise to a second nickname, "The Switzerland of America." At one time, other states also were called by this unofficial nickname because of their mountains, including Maine, New Hampshire, and Colorado. West Virginia’s third nickname is "The Panhandle State," so named because of the panhandle-shaped portion in the east that juts between Maryland and Virginia.

The Allegheny Mountains comprise roughly 10% of the area in West Virginia.
The Allegheny Mountains comprise roughly 10% of the area in West Virginia.

As befitting the Mountain State, West Virginia’s state quarter depicts a mountain scene, with the New River Gorge Bridge in the foreground. Designers chose this scene because it represents the beauty found in the Mountain State. The bridge, whose construction was completed in 1977, gave a much-needed transportation boost to travelers trying to get through dangerous mountain roads. The bridge cut the travel time along these narrow roads down to one minute from 40 minutes. It is the largest steel bridge in the world, at nearly 70 feet (21.33 meters) wide and more than 3,000 feet (914.4 meters) long. It is the second highest span in the country.

The mountains that gave West Virginia its Mountain State nickname have also influenced its state motto. The Latin motto Montani Semper Liberi translates to English as “Mountaineers Are Always Free.” The motto, which is displayed on the state seal, received official approval in 1863.

The Mountain State also has three official state songs, one of which drew inspiration from the topography when it was written in 1885: “The West Virginia Hills.” It received legislative approval in 1961. The popularity of “The West Virginia Hills” led to it being sung often at public functions before lawmakers officially adopted it, with lyrics penned by Ellen King and music composed by H. E. Engle. The other two official songs are “West Virginia, My Home Sweet Home,” composed in 1947, and “This is My West Virginia,” composed in 1962.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is West Virginia known as the Mountain State?

West Virginia is known as the Mountain State due to its topography, which is dominated by the Appalachian Mountains. According to the West Virginia Department of Commerce, the state is characterized by rolling hills and high elevations, with nearly 75% of its area covered by forests, making it one of the most mountainous states in the country. This rugged landscape has played a significant role in the state's history, culture, and economy, leading to its nickname.

What are the major mountain ranges in West Virginia?

The major mountain ranges in West Virginia include the Allegheny Mountains, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and a portion of the Appalachian Mountains. The state's highest peak is Spruce Knob, which stands at 4,863 feet above sea level, as noted by the U.S. Geological Survey. These ranges are part of the Appalachian Region, which extends from southern New York to northern Mississippi, encompassing a variety of ecosystems and rich biodiversity.

How does the mountainous terrain affect West Virginia's climate?

The mountainous terrain of West Virginia significantly affects its climate by creating a range of microclimates. The mountains can act as barriers to air movement, leading to variations in precipitation and temperature. For instance, the National Weather Service reports that the western side of the mountains often experiences more rainfall due to orographic lift, while the eastern side can be drier and cooler. This results in a diverse climate across the state, with distinct seasonal changes.

What role do the mountains play in West Virginia's economy?

The mountains of West Virginia play a crucial role in the state's economy. They are central to industries such as coal mining, timber, and outdoor recreation. Tourism is particularly significant, with the West Virginia Division of Tourism highlighting the state's appeal for activities like hiking, skiing, and whitewater rafting. The mountains also contribute to the state's cultural heritage, fostering a unique Appalachian music and arts scene.

Are there any conservation efforts for the mountains in West Virginia?

Yes, there are numerous conservation efforts in place to protect the mountains of West Virginia. Organizations like the West Virginia Land Trust work to preserve the state's natural landscapes through land conservation and stewardship. Additionally, the state boasts several national parks, such as the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, which are managed by the National Park Service to ensure the protection of the region's ecological and historical resources.

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Discussion Comments


@heavanet- If you have the time and you want to explore the entire state of West Virginia, you should start with the northern panhandle of the state and begin your adventure by car. When you experience West Virginia by road trip, you can stop when you see a state park or mountain area that has the activities you want to enjoy.

I made this trip with friends when I was in college, and we got to experience some of best hiking, swimming, and bicycling that the state has to offer. I have returned to West Virginia several times to spend time in beautiful Allegheny Mountains, and stopping in the areas that impressed me the most on my trip many years ago.


@heavanet- If you want to visit a great mountainous area of West Virginia that includes great dining and lodging along with all of your favorite outdoor activities, check out the Blackwater Falls in Tucker county. Here you can camp, hike, and explore nature then enjoy great dining experiences.


@heavanet- I think that the Monongahela National Forest is not only one of the best recreational areas in West Virginia, but in the entire country. When you visit the area, there is plenty to do including enjoying being outdoors and seeing beautiful landscapes.

The Monongahela National Forest offers visitors a great forest service department that can advise visitors about the best locations for their favorite outdoor activities. Whether you want to go horse back riding, camping, skiing or exploring, you will find these activities and more in this awesome West Virgina region. You can also easily travel to the nearby towns for great food, entertainment, and shopping.


What is one of the best mountainous areas of West Virgina to visit? I'm looking for great dining and lodging in addition to the great outdoors. I also love to hike and just being in the great outdoors.

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    • The Allegheny Mountains comprise roughly 10% of the area in West Virginia.
      By: Ruslan Olinchuk
      The Allegheny Mountains comprise roughly 10% of the area in West Virginia.