West Virginia Travel Regions
-Wonders of WVA
|West Virginia: Potomac Highlands: Articles|
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. Thanks to a natural snow belt created by the Allegheny Front and plenty of new snowmaking technology, West Virginia's winter playgrounds are open for business as soon as the temperature drops. Most years, the deep, fresh snow extends the ski season through mid-April.
Snowshoe Mountain, one of the major all-season destinations in the East, keeps getting bigger and better. Ski magazine's 1999 reader survey awarded the Pocahontas County resort two silver medals and ranked it in the top ten for snow, scenery and weather. Along with 56 slopes and trails for downhill skiers-including the Jean Claude Killy- designed Cupp Run and epic Shay's Revenge-there's Mountaineer Terrain Park for snowboard, skiboard and free skiing fun; Kid's World at Ruckus Ridge; Ski & Snowboard Scholl with Snowshoe's snow pros; and a host of other ways to enjoy the white stuff, form high-speed tubing to old-fashioned sleigh rides. The newly competed Rimfire Lodge joins a smorgasbord of lodging choices in Snowshoe's nearly-mile-high village of shops, pubs, nightclubs and restaurants. You may never come down from the mountain.
Canaan Valley Resort State Park in Tucker County has 34 interconnecting slopes, offering full range of ski experiences, from beginners' terrain to expert challenges. Its tube park, ice skating rink and other park facilities make it a popular family destination, and affordable lodging/ski packages are available.
Minutes away, Timberline Four seasons Resort is another great family destination. Its Salamander Run, the longest ski trail south of New England treats skiers with an awe-inspiring view of Dolly Sods Wilderness Area. Snowboarders enjoy the resort's 200-foot halfpipe. Dining and plenty of apres-ski options in the lodge are part of the Timberline experience.
Ski touring centers in both counties open the Monongahela National Forest to Nordic skiers. As more and more visitors are discovering, there are excellent trial systems throughout the Potomac Highlands. For starters, try the Cranberry Wilderness Area, Cranberry Backcountry, Highland Scenic Highway and Greenbrier River Trail.
What better way to see the Potomac Highlands than from an open train car? Three excursion railroads operate in the region, offering distinctly different rides - and they may just whet your appetite for other rail travel adventures throughout the Mountain State.
On nine trips out of ten, passengers on The Potomac Eagle do spot American bald eagles as the train glides through a narrow, pristine valley beside the South Branch of the Potomac River. During the three-hour trip, which begins in Romney, they also see fish resting in shady shallows of the clear waters, abundant wildflowers, evergreens and mixed hardwoods on unspoiled mountainsides. Enjoy first-class dinner and lounge service, or bring your own picnic. Trains operate weekends spring through fall, with weekday and daylong trips during fall foliage season and for regional festivals.
The authentic steam whistle hoots and the pistons pulse as Cass Scenic Railroad transports passengers back in time and up in altitude. A restored steam-driven Shay locomotive belches thick, black smoke as it chugs from Cass to Whittaker Station and then (if you choose) from Whittaker Station to Bald Knob, the second highest point in West Virginia. The train travels the same line built in 1902 to haul lumber to the mill in the logging town of Cass. Trains run from Memorial Day through early November. Special excursions, dinner and holiday trips are available, and overnight guests can get the full historic experience by staying in refurbished logging-camp cottages.
Nearby, the Durbin and Greenbrier Railroad follows a once-abandoned section of track along the Greenbrier River from Durbin toward Cass. You'll feel as if you're gliding right on the lovely river as "the little engine that could" pulls its passengers and a red wooden caboose on the ten-mile round trip, which takes about an hour and a half. The train runs from Easter weekend to late fall, with special excursions during fall foliage season.
More excursion rail travel is just around the bend in the Potomac Highlands. The 132-mile West Virginia Central Railroad, soon to be fully operational, will offer several outstanding scenic tours, including a section that runs along the beautiful Shavers Fork of the Cheat River.
On a Roll: Biking in West Virginia
Bicycling is no longer West Virginia's best kept secret, it's arguably the fastest-growing outdoor activity in the Mountain State. That's good news, but it gets better: there's plenty of room left! Mountains and mountains of rugged single-track territory. Hundreds and hundreds of miles quite, picturesque country roads. A well developed, growing system of beautiful rail trails. Family excursions that combine biking with history learning adventures. Inn-to-inn tours. Lighted nighttime rides through spectacular National River scenery. Bike-and-train tours. State park and national forest trails and excursions.
The Potomac Highlands spawned some venerable and highly respected mountain bike racing events, and new races are popping up all the time in this and other areas of the state. Private event planners, state and national associations sponsor more than a score of mountain and road races in West Virginia-on the sort of terrain that lured US Olympic teams to train for the 1996 summer games.
Mountain bikers needn't compete to take a thrilling ride. Every region of West Virginia offers challenging terrain, and everyone, from novice to pro, can find the perfect outing among a bountiful choice of outfitters, excursions, camps, special-interest weekends and custom-designed tours.
For a gentler ride, turn your wheels to one of the state's rail trails, scenic highways or back roads. Some inns offer attractive inn-to-inn packages that send you off with a good breakfast and top off your day's workout with a gourmet meal, a warm bath and a welcoming bed.
You'll find excellent bicycling opportunities throughout the Potomac Highlands, but don't overlook other areas of the state. Call (800) CALL WVA to request your bicycling information packet, including a comprehensive Adventure Guide, a list of cycling web links and information on outfitters and bicycling organizations.
Mountainous terrain to make you breathe hard, and natural beauty to take your breathe away - it's a combination that has made the Potomac Highlands one of the hottest destinations in the East for bikers. Families with youngsters cruise along back roads and rail trails; aerobic adventurers head for hair-raising single tracks. Mountain bike events, regional tours, instruction and races are an important part of the region's recreational scene.
High and Low
The sheer sandstone face of Seneca Rocks, lunging skyward some 1,000 feet in Pendleton County, is an unmistakable West Virginia landmark and a climber's rite of passage. Visit the US Forest Service visitors center/museum at the base and hike the gentle "Granny Trail" for a great view. For would-be rock scalers, several professional climbing schools offer lessons.
For underground adventurers, several outfitters lead cave expeditions. The National Speleological Society and the US Geological Survey publish maps for experienced cavers. Two commercial caves offer guided tours. Smoke Hole Caverns, west of Petersburg in Grant County, operates year-round; Seneca Caverns, near Riverton in Pendleton County, is open spring through fall.
Going Downhill - or Cross-country
For many people, the Potomac Highlands is synonymous with skiing. If you like the thrill of a steep downhill, make your way to Canaan Valley Resort State Park or Timberline Four Seasons Resort in Tucker County, or head for the Snowshoe/Silver Creek complex at Snowshoe Mountain Resort in Pocahontas County.
Cross-country skiers will find that many of summer's hiking trails, including those at Blackwater Falls State Park, become wonderful ski trails when the snow flies.
Spruce, Bogs and Berries
The Monongahela National Forest stretches over most of the Potomac Highlands. Within its 901,000 acres are the rhododendron and hemlock groves of the 20,000-acre Otter Creek Wilderness, the primeval red spruce forests of the Gaudineer Scenic Area and the wild, windswept moors of the Dolly Sods Wilderness, where tiny, sweet blueberries proliferate and hawks sail over the Allegheny Front. Equally mysterious is the tundra-like Cranberry Glades Botanical Area.
At 4,861 feet, Spruce Knob is the state's highest point, offering a panoramic view in all directions. The Falls of Hills Creek, the second-highest in the state, are nearby.
This region is also home to 100,000 acres of the George Washington National Forest and four state forests - Calvin Prince, Greenbrier, Kumbrabow and Seneca. Some feature rustic lodging in old-time log cabins amidst ancient woods.
The Potomac Highlands, once a prized hunting ground for several Native American tribes, still abounds with whitetail deer, black bear, squirrel, rabbit, wild turkey, pheasant and grouse. Hunting is permitted in the region's forests and at the Warden Lake Wildlife Management Area (WMA) near Wardensville, the Handley WMA at Edray and Blackwater WMA in Tucker County. Hampshire County's thousands of acres of wilderness include Nathaniel Mountain, Short Mountain, Edwards Run and Springfield WMAs.
Five fish hatcheries keep local streams stocked with bass, trout and other game fish. Temporary and year-long West Virginia fishing and hunting licenses are available at most local sporting goods stores. The US Forest Service requires hunters and fishers to purchase stamps for sporting within national forest boundaries.
The wildlife is strictly protected in the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, the nation's 500th such refuge and the only one wholly within West Virginia's boundaries.
Dozens of waterways dear to anglers and paddlers begin in the Potomac Highlands, among them the mighty Cheat, gaining volume from 18 smaller streams. Both the North and South branches of the Potomac wind through the region, passing through much scenic country on their way. In the southern part of the Highlands, the great Gauley begins to build its force. The Greenbrier, the longest free-flowing river in the East, runs southward through more spectacular scenery.
Some of the scenery, including a legendary section of the South Branch of the Potomac known as The Trough, is not accessible by car but makes for a wonderful float in a canoe - or a spectacular train ride on the Potomac Eagle Scenic Railroad. Outfitters throughout the region offer guides, equipment and canoe and raft rentals. The train embarks from the quaint town of Romney, and passes through beautiful countryside that is also a fragile habitat for regal birds of prey, including osprey and bald eagles.
Golf attains another dimension in the Potomac Highlands. Try the naturally rugged setting (and challenge) of the Gary Player Hawthorne Valley Championship Course at Snowshoe Mountain Resort - named one of the top ten American courses by Golf Digest. Enjoy the Valley View Golf Course near historic Moorefield, or get out on the greens at Canaan Valley Resort State Park's acclaimed course. These, as well as other courses that dot the region, make golf in the Highlands a memorable pleasure.
Put It in Park
Near the state's eastern border, Lost River State Park is rustic and full of history. Stay in your own cabin and visit one, now a museum, built by General Robert E. Lee's father, Harry "Light Horse" Lee.
Enjoy the scenery year-round at Canaan Valley Resort and Blackwater Falls state parks, within minutes (or a nice hike) from each other in Tucker County. The latter's five-story falls and Canaan's mountain-ringed "snow bowl" are destinations in themselves.
Nearby, visit tiny Fairfax Stone Historic Monument State Park; the stone marks the once-disputed boundary between West Virginia and Maryland.
To the south, in Pocahontas County, are several state parks, each with its own character. Watoga is West Virginia's largest and among the most popular, with its 1930s chestnut log cabins tucked into a 10,000-acre forest. Cass Scenic Railroad State Park is a nearly-intact 1920s logging town where, spring to fall, massive Shay engines pull visitors to Bald Knob, the state's second-highest peak. Special excursions, a museum, a general store and company-house cottages add to the atmosphere.
History-rich Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park was the site of a bloody battle in 1863 and is part of the Civil War Discovery Trail. (Other Potomac Highlands stops on the trail include Camp Allegheny, Rich Mountain Battlefield and Cheat Summit Fort.) At Beartown State Park, visitors follow a half-mile boardwalk though a hushed, mysterious wonderland of huge boulders, moss and ferns.
The 75-mile-long Greenbrier River Trail is a gentle path for bikers and a beautiful riverside hike - with campsites and bed and breakfast lodgings conveniently close. With many access points and a route that passes through seven state parks and forests, it deserves its rating as one of the top rails-to-trails conversions in the country. It is part of the 330-mile Allegheny Trail that traverses north to south through the entire state.
Folkways and Fine Arts
Outdoor exercise must feed creativity, for music, dance and the arts flourish in the Potomac Highlands. The Randolph county college town of Elkins, recently ranked highly in both America's Hundred Best Small Art Towns and The 100 Best Small Towns, is home to a sophisticated community of musicians, performers, artists, writers and crafters. The creative atmosphere and its crisp mountain climate make it the ideal location for the 27-year-old Augusta Heritage Arts Workshops, five weeks of intensive classes in traditional music, dance, crafts and folk art beginning in July each year. Evening concerts are open to the public. A three-day public festival in the city park and on the campus of Davis & Elkins College caps the series. Elkins' many lodgings include the brilliantly restored Graceland, one of two palatial homes built by the town's founders.
In Hampshire County's Capon Bridge, live bands, great callers and enthusiastic dancers at the Buffalo Gap Community Camp raise a ruckus during marathon dance weekends in spring, summer and fall. In Hardy County, Moorefield's restored McCoy-McMechen Theater offers musicals, plays and performances throughout the year.
In Tucker County, the neighboring towns of Davis and Thomas, coal and lumber boomtowns at the turn of the 20th century, are now buzzing with cultural activity, from live theater and concert performances to coffeehouse concerts, poetry readings and jazz brunches. Dealers in antiques, fine arts, crafts and other specialty shops line the main streets.
Swiss Ingenuity and Crafters' Creativity
In a remote southwestern corner of Randolph County, the Swiss village of Helvetia preserves the heritage its founders brought with them in 1869. A restaurant, inn, small museum and a number of Swiss-accented community events and festivals allow visitors to share their traditions.
In Hardy County, look for high-quality arts and crafts by regional artisans at the Lost River Craft Cooperative near Lost River State Park and Thistle Pass Traders, on scenic US 55 (The Highland Trace) near Wardensville. In Hampshire County, a charming shop called Three Sisters caters to craft lovers passing through Springfield, and Mountain Traditions Craft Guild in Romney is open seasonally.
A Writer's Residence
You'll find arts, crafts and old-time music at Morning Star Folk Arts, and step back in time at the Hillsboro General Store, both in Hillsboro, beside US 219 in Pocahontas County. Literature lovers will also find the birthplace of prolific novelist Pearl S. Buck. Her family home is open for tours. (Another beloved West Virginia author, former state poet laureate Louise McNeill, was born just a few miles north, at Buckeye.)
Something Old, Something New
The first recorded settlement west of the Alleghenies, in 1747, was at Marlin's Bottom, now Marlinton, the Pocahontas County Seat. The local historical museum, open spring to fall, chronicles the county's history from its past as a Native American thoroughfare to its present as an outdoor adventure destination.
Nearby, in Green Bank, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory is one of four centers in the world where interstellar impulses are monitored on gigantic radio telescopes. The observatory's newest gadget is the world's largest fully steerable radio telescope. Summer visitors learn about galaxies, black holes and pulsars during free daily tours; tours are available by appointment year-round.
Ancient and Antebellum History
Visit the largest Hopewell Indian burial mound east of the Ohio River, dating from 500 to 1,000 AD, at Romney's Indian Mound Cemetery, also the site of the Confederate Monument and Cemetery. West of Romney on WV Route 28, Fort Ashby in Mineral County was one of a string of 69 forts built on the orders of Colonel George Washington in 1755. Today, the restored fort is the only one still standing, and is open for museum tours by appointment.
Romney had a hard time of it during the Civil War - reeling from Union to Confederate control no less than 56 times. Fort Mill Ridge Trenches just west of town are considered the best-preserved Civil War trenches in existence. Civil War buffs will find historic treasures throughout the Potomac Highlands. Moorefield was the home of McNeill's Rangers, a Confederate partisan unit that surprised and routed Union General Kelley's forces. In Keyser, Civil War-era Fort Fuller is now the campus of Potomac State College, where the fighting has been replaced by a fine arts and cultural series sponsored by Highland Arts Unlimited.
In the area east of the Allegheny Front, a low humidity/rainfall phenomenon called rain shadow makes this part of the region ideal for growing grapes. Four wineries operate in the region. Tours and tastings are available at Pliska Winery in Purgitsville, Potomac Highland Winery in Keyser, Schneider's Winery in Romney and West-Whitehill Winery in Moorefield.
Bed and Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner
In the Potomac Highlands, outdoor adventure meets comfort. Excellent campgrounds are found throughout the region, as are affordable state park and private cabins. But there are also luxury condos, cozy bed and breakfast accommodations, gracious country inns and resort hotels. Add interesting cafes, fine restaurants, fun shopping and living history lessons - it's a winning combination for a wonderful vacation.