03 Oct DC Road Trip to… West Virginia’s Potomac Highlands
All throughout the mid-Atlantic, a change is taking place. Yes, friends, it’s time to say goodbye to summer and celebrate fall once again!
Fall is arguably my favorite time to plan a weekend trip in this part of the U.S. The weather’s consistently temperate and mild, the natural scenery is at its peak beauty and the area just emits local pride with an abundance of festivals celebrating the harvest, the season and the region as a whole.
To get my annual dose of the changing leaves, I typically make a pilgrimage through Virginia, towards local favorites like Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive. This year, however, I tried something a little different, and instead turned my compass west to head into “Wild and Wonderful” West Virginia.
Trip Overview: This DC Road Trip takes you into West Virginia’s scenic Potomac Highlands. The route showcases the best that the Mountain State has to offer, winding through national forests, over mountains, past waterfalls, and by quaint towns and the area’s best attractions.
Total Mileage: Around 500 miles, roundtrip. I know… this trip has a lot of driving. But it’s driving through some of the East Coast’s most beautiful scenery, so bring your camera and a car-full of snacks and enjoy the trip.
Time Needed: 36-48 hours
Map of this DC Road Trip: Below and here.
1. Blackwater Falls (1584 Blackwater Lodge Road, Davis, WV 26260)
Considered one of the most photographed sites in West Virginia, Blackwater Falls is the perfect spot to kick off this WV Road Trip. Blackwater’s considered to be the highest above-ground falls in the state and makes for a pretty picture. The best part? They’re easily accessible – just head to the Trading Post, and hike down the brief boardwalk trail to get up close to the falls, enjoying several vantage points along the way. If you’re looking to stretch your legs out a bit more, check out one of the park’s other hiking trails (there are over 20 miles of trails throughout the park.)
2. Purple Fiddle (21 East Avenue, Thomas, WV 26292)
The best way to describe the Purple Fiddle in downtown Thomas is that it’s a place with real local flavor. With the vibe of a comfy coffee shop, this popular spot is known throughout the area as a family-friendly venue for really good live music and regionally-inspired (and vegan-friendly!) food. Plan your visit around a show, stop in for a meal or an afternoon snack of locally-made ice cream or a shake, or just to relax with a beer and a game of cards. But do stop here… no trip to this area is complete without a visit.
3. Mountain State Brewing Co. (1 Nelson Boulevard, Thomas, WV 26292)
In these parts, you might think that moonshine would be the best local brew. But the microbrews made at Mountain State Brewing Co. may just change your mind. Here, just $4 buys you four 2-ounce servings of their West Virginia ales. My favorites were the Cold Trail Ale and the “Almost Heaven” Amber Ale. The main pub is dark, cozy and full of locals… just like it should be! And the brewery’s fireplace makes this a year-round spot. (Also, check out Mountain State Brewing Co.’s other locations in Morgantown, WV and Deep Creek Lake, MD.)
After a day full of driving, finding a central place to spend the night is key. Elkins was our choice, and it turned out to be a nice stop to round out Day 1. Elkins has a cute historic downtown district with lots of churches and places to eat. (Surprisingly, there was some diverse food choices, and we opted for the Venezuelan El Gran Sabor, which was tasty. As far as where we stayed, we chose the Hampton Inn, which didn’t have a lot of character, but was clean, cheap and served up free breakfast.
5. Cass Scenic Railroad (242 Main St., Cass, WV 24927)
What’s better than climbing aboard an authentic steam locomotive and chug-chug-chugging along the fall-soaked West Virginia countryside? Not much, I say! National Geographic Traveler named the Cass Scenic Railroad one of the top 10 train trips in North America, and while I wouldn’t quite go that far, it was a lovely way to sit back and enjoy a beautiful autumn Sunday morning. (Note: Trains operate from Memorial Day weekend to the end of October. Several trips depart from the main depot daily, each lasting between 2 to 4 1/2 hours.)
6. Seneca Rocks (At the intersection of Route 33 and Route 55)
If you’re looking to get in some hiking or rock climbing on this road trip, Seneca Rocks is your best bet. Not only is it incredibly scenic, but it’s very accessible right off the road on your way back towards DC. The trails to the top of Seneca Rocks are not for the faint of heart (or those without proper gear like ropes, helmets and carabiners), but a 2.6 mile round trip trail to a platform at the base of the rocks promises a sweeping view of the valley and the rock formations. TIP: Keep an eye out for climbers… seeing them the size of ants along the rock face shows just how big this rock formation is.
7. National Radio Astronomy Observatory (W. Virginia 28, Green Bank, WV 24944)
Driving through West Virginia’s Potomac Highlands is an organic, natural experience. But there comes a point after you leave Seneca Rocks when the valley opens up and you notice a massive structure that stands out and captures your attention. The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a 17 million pound telescope that’s nearly as tall as the Washington Monument, which pans the sky 24 hours a day capturing data about the universe. Stop in for a tour at the facility’s science center, or just marvel at the wonder of technology as you drive on by.
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN TO THIS PART OF WEST VIRGINIA? ARE THERE ANY OTHER MUST-DOS THAT I SHOULD ADD FOR A FUTURE VISIT?