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Why Is West Virginia Called the Mountain State?

By Britt Archer
Updated May 17, 2024
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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.

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.

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Discussion Comments
By Spotiche5 — On Oct 18, 2014

@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.

By Ocelot60 — On Oct 17, 2014

@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.

By Raynbow — On Oct 17, 2014

@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.

By Heavanet — On Oct 16, 2014

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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