The Panhandle of West Virginia

Wild and wonderful West Virginia is one of our favorite destinations for getting outside and walking some place beautiful.

The eastern section (and much of the entire state) is very rural.  Small cities are spread out, so if you want to stay in a chain hotel you’ll have to drive a bit to get to some of your destinations.  In between, there are some impoverished looking areas where trailers and other homes appear in need of some TLC, and collections of discarded items seem to adorn every yard.  But these homes lie in the midst of beautiful, and often wild, surroundings which, to those that love them, and to those that are lucky enough to visit, are truly wonderful.

From the east, Harper’s Ferry is a great first destination.  This historical town is right at the borders of West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia.  We took a shuttle (for 5 mins) down to the town and walked up to “the Point” where the Shenandoah River, C&O Canal, and the Potomac Rivers intersect and you could see all three states, which was neat-o for all geography dorks.  There are lots of historical buildings including famous abolitionist John Brown’s fort, and you can climb hundreds of steps up to Jefferson’s rock (where Jefferson supposedly sat and thunk smart thoughts). 

There are also some weird and interesting little towns parked in various valleys that are just plain fun to visit.  Berkley Springs is one such town.  Nestled into the Appalachians, this eclectic little town is brightened throughout with murals and art galleries, and warmed by natural hot springs that also bring many tourists to the area.  There is a tiny, urban state park here, where the hot springs are fed into stone channels, and also pumped into old Roman bathhouses that can be rented in half hour increments.  We had the pleasure of trying one out for the first time last November.  The staff kindly lowered the temperature for the kids, and we were able to add as much cold water as we needed, and open the window to the chilly mountain breeze.  Still, we were all red-faced by the end of our half hour.  It was crowded for the six of us, but definitely pleasant.

The views in the area are lovely, so make sure to stop at several overlooks.  Do yourself a favor and bring a selfie stick!  You may be the only people at the overlook, and you want to get your whole family and that spectacular view for your memory bank!  Late October and early November sport the fall foliage against the backdrop of more distant mountains in violet blue, with the closer ones adorned in scarlet and auburn. 

Cacapon State Park is nearby, and a wonderful place for a hike, though perhaps not with the frigid November wind that was blowing when we went there.  We did stop and enjoy the waterfalls at the entrance, and the kids took the opportunity to roll down the giant grass hill next to it until I felt nauseous just looking at them.  We had lunch at the lodge, and found the food and service to be OK, and the views to be lovely.

Keep driving west and you hit Tucker County and Blackwater Falls.  The towns of Thomas and Davies are charming stops along the way to Blackwater Falls State Park, or places to stay with easy access to all kinds of beautiful spaces. The falls are impressive and the hike there easily doable with small children. 

There are plenty of parks, natural areas and ski resorts in the general area around Blackwater Falls, such as Canaan Valley, and staying in a cabin with a hot tub can be a heavenly retreat.  Be prepared for the fact that there is not much there, and you can go for miles without seeing a town or city.  This is part of the appeal, but it can be disconcerting when you are unfamiliar with the area and trying to find your cabin – get there during daylight hours if possible.  (Yes, we learned this the hard way!)  But, if given the chance to drive out in the fall and see the views of the Allegheny Mountains, you will not be sorry you did.