2022-04-02 09:34:24 By : Mr. Wang Peter

Country roads may not take you home on this curvy drive through the Appalachians, but the gorgeous views and small-town hospitality make it clear why West Virginians embrace John Denver’s classic song. This adventure is made for driving, with scenic backroads twisting up mountains, crossing ancient rivers, and swooping through hardwood forests. 

The route kicks off in the Eastern Panhandle then rolls through Morgantown, Charleston, the New River Gorge, the Greenbrier Valley, and Canaan Valley. From hot dogs to hot springs, a trove of roadside attractions await. Plan to spend at least a week on this drive. One bonus? State parks are free in the Mountain State. 

Walking along the cobblestone streets of Lower Town in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, one would hardly be surprised to see Thomas Jefferson striding along the streets lined with historic buildings. He called the view from a hill above town “one of the most stupendous scenes in nature.” Abolitionist John Brown, who attempted to spark up a slave revolt here in 1859, would likely recognize the backdrop too – the centuries-old structures are remarkably well-preserved. Today exhibits inside these historic buildings spotlight key events in the community’s history. Fun fact: Harpers Ferry is the easternmost point in the state, located at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. 

The chalet-style Bavarian Inn overlooks the Potomac in Shepherdstown, another historical town nearby. Grab breakfast at Betty’s, a compact diner dishing up home-cooked food that’s just as outstanding as the friendly service. 

Route: Follow I-68E through Maryland.

The view of the Cheat Mountain River Gorge from the overlook at Coopers Rock State Forest is an inspirational introduction to the Mountain State’s mountain-and-forest beauty. The park has 50 campsites across two campgrounds, and canvas glamping tents are also available. Non-campers should head to one of the hotels in Morgantown, home to West Virginia University, for an overnight stay — the newly renovated Hotel Morgan is a top choice. Join WVU students at Mario’s Fishbowl for tasty pub fare and enormous draft beers – served in fishbowl-sized goblets!

Route: From Morgantown, follow I-79S 20 miles to Fairmont.

Whatever you do, don’t ask for ketchup when ordering your hot dog at this legendary food hut (300 Washington St) in downtown Fairmont. Just accept the slathering of mustard, onions, and spicy sauce, and give a nod to its messy glory. Open since 1927, Yann’s served low-cost hot dogs and pepperoni rolls to miners and railroad workers over the decades. Today, acolytes descend upon the eatery from across the state. 

Route: Follow I-79S for 40 miles to Weston.

The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston isn’t for the easily spooked. A stone-cut behemoth stretching nearly one-quarter of a mile, this Gothic-style facility was a mental hospital until 1994. Eventually renamed Weston State Hospital, the complex treated patients for more than 150 years. Tours explore everything from the history of the hospital to paranormal shenanigans. Downtown, the Museum of American Glass showcases the region’s glass-making heritage and prowess. The expansive collection of colorful glassworks includes marbles, bottles, and tableware. After you’ve worked up an appetite exploring, try the potato encrusted salmon at Thyme Bistro- the dish is renowned across the state.

Route: Continue 100 miles south to Charleston, the state capital.

A designated path rolls past 26 discovery rooms inside this compelling museum. Each room is dedicated to diving deep into the most important geologic, historical, and cultural stories of the Mountain State. The museum is on the grounds of the state capitol complex, which is anchored by the capitol building and its eye-catching gold-leaf dome. The Kanawha River flows past just a few steps away. Taylor Books is a lively downtown bookstore with a coffee shop and art gallery. On a sunny day, you might see lawyers, legislators, and tourists sharing the patio at Pies & Pints next door. A full homemade breakfast is served at the well-appointed Brass Pineapple, a B&B close to the capitol complex.

Route: Route 60, also known as the Midland Trail National Scenic Byway, follows the Kanawha River east then climbs into the surrounding Appalachians. Stop by the 7th-generation JQ Dickinson Salt-Works in Malden, where the prized gourmet salt is mined by hand. Thirty-five miles ahead? The gravitational wackiness of the Mystery Hole. 

In a state filled with fantastic views, the overlook at Hawks Nest State Park is one of the most fantastic. Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the viewpoint takes in the New River Gorge and its forested slopes. An aerial tram drops from the park’s lodge to a riverside marina. Watch as jet boats speed out for views of the New River Gorge Bridge. For views with brews, settle in on the riverside deck at Smokey’s, a bbq-and-burger joint at Adventures on the Gorge.

Route: Follow Rte 60 through Ansted to US-19S. Turn right and take it to the national park.

As America’s newest National Park, a stop at the New River Gorge is a must. Check out the view of the park’s centerpiece, the New River Gorge Bridge, from the overlook behind the visitor center. The rugged gorge was carved by one of the oldest rivers in the world, the New River, and the park runs along a 53 mile stretch of it. Get even closer to the bridge with a guided Bridgewalk tour, which has daring adventurers clank along the catwalk beneath the span, serving up dizzying views of the river more than 850ft below. The park is an outdoor activity epicenter known for hiking, rock climbing, rafting, mountain biking, and scenic drives.

Feeling hungry? Sandwiches and lattes are served under stained glass windows at the Cathedral Cafe, a former church. Both Adventures on the Gorge and ACE Adventure Resort have cabins available to rent for overnight stays.

Route: It’s a 30-minute drive from the visitor center to Tamarack via US-19S and I-64E.

A stroll around Tamarack is a fulfilling artistic and cultural journey around the state, with crafts and artwork for sale from more than 2,800 West Virginia artists. Short-term exhibitions in the fine arts gallery showcase the state’s best craftsmanship, with rotating shows that vary by theme. The restaurant serves comfort food and locally sourced fare, including West Virginia trout, fried green tomato sandwiches, and The Greenbrier’s peaches and cream, a popular dessert served at the nearby luxury resort. (More on The Greenbrier below!)

Route: Follow I-64E to Hwy 3E. Hold on tight for this curvy ride up and over the mountains. Continue north on Rt 26. Sandstone Falls is about 40 miles southeast of Tamarack.

An eight-mile drive through New River Gorge National Park along the New River ribbons past gentle rapids, weathered trains, and waterfront homes on the way to another gem of the park: Sandstone Falls. One unusual sight? The river flows north – a fairly rare occurrence in the United States. Once you’ve reached the falls parking lot, take the wooden boardwalk as it crosses a soggy forest and ends at an observation platform with a view of the falls, which stretch 1,500 feet across the river. Nearby, Hinton, a former rail hub, is home to the Hinton Railroad Museum. The welcoming Market on Courthouse Square serves sandwiches and pizzas beside a pretty red-brick street dating from the 1870s.

Route: Rte 3 E crosses downtown Hinton then follows the Greenbrier River out of town. Follow Rte 3 and several country roads on the 50-mile drive east. 

For decades, The Greenbrier resort, a swanky, white-columned retreat, held a secret of highly-classified proportions. A vast bunker, carved into an adjacent hillside in 1958, lay in wait for the unthinkable – a nuclear attack on the US. In the event of a nuclear strike, members of Congress would relocate to the bunker for safety. An article in the Washington Post revealed its existence in 1992. Today, tours explore the facility, which holds 18 dorms, a power plant, a clinic, a cafeteria, and meeting rooms.  

Back above ground, the resort has plush rooms across various wings and cottages. Another overnight option is the historic General Lewis Inn in nearby Lewisburg. Live music, good pizzas, and cold beer are on tap at Lewisburg’s Hill & Holler, housed in a rustic cabin downtown.

Route: Follow Rte 92N to Rte 66W. It’s just over sixty miles to the next stop.

A steam train chugs to the summit of Bald Knob, the third-highest peak in the state, where views of mountains and valleys extend for miles. A lumber town for much of the 1900s, Cass today is a historic village and the home of five powerful Shay locomotives. The class C-80 Shay #5 has climbed Cheat Mountain – an elevation gain of 2,390 feet over 11 miles – for 115 years. Trips to the summit last about 4 1/2 hours. The multi-use Greenbrier River Trail is a pretty spot for a stroll. For a unique overnight stay, spend the night in one of the white-clapboard Cass company houses, once the homes of railroad workers.

Route: It’s fifty miles of mountain-and-forest driving to Seneca Rocks via Rte 92N and Rte 28N, with the final leg on US-33W. 

A jagged fin rising from a sea of forested hills, the peaks of Seneca Rocks are one of the most iconic sites in West Virginia. They’re also a hotspot for rock climbing, and climbers have tackled the formation’s sheer flanks since the 1930s. Sign up for a rock-climbing class with a local outfitter or simply hike the short trail that climbs to a rocks-adjacent observation platform. From here, you can see 4,863 foot-high Spruce Knob, the highest point in the state. Managed by the Monongahela National Forest Service, the Seneca Rocks Discovery Center has loads of information about outdoor recreation in the region (Mar-Oct).

Route: Follow US-33W to Rte 32N through Davis to Blackwater Falls. It’s a 45-minute drive.

The robust Blackwater Falls tumble 57 feet into a tree-lined gorge. Tannic acid released by fallen hemlocks and red spruce needles gives the falls its unique amber hue. There are more than 20 miles of hiking trails to explore here, plus more than three dozen furnished cabins are available for rent, and a midcentury lodge (also inside the park) boasts views of Blackwater Canyon. 

Route: It’s four miles to Thomas. Follow Blackwater Falls Rd to Rt 32N.

With its pressed-tin ceiling, wooden floor, and quaint collection of antique knick-knackery, the interior of the Purple Fiddle in Thomas resembles the small country stores that dot Appalachia. But the Purple Fiddle becomes something different altogether at night when musicians raise the roof – and sometimes croon sad songs – from the corner stage. The Fiddle is a hotspot for up-and-coming musicians as well as established acts, often playing songs infused with the musical sounds of Appalachia. They serve good sandwiches, too!

Route: It’s a 104-mile return to the eastern panhandle. Take US-48E to Rte 93E. Then take I-68E to US-522S into Berkeley Springs. 

Inns across the East Coast may brag, “George Washington slept here.” But how many can say that George Washington soaked there? The warm spring waters of Berkeley Springs have attracted travelers for centuries, and one brick-lined tub on the lawn of the state park claims to be Washington’s bathtub! Soak in the Old Roman bathhouse, then fill your thermos from the outdoor spout – the mineral-filled spring water is drinkable and totally free. Enjoy fine farm-to-table fare at Tari’s, then conclude this trip with a comfy night at the Country Inn of Berkeley Springs.

Carefully crafted collaboratively between West Virginia Division of Tourism and Lonely Planet. Both parties provided research and curated content to produce this story. We disclose when information isn’t ours.

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