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DC Road Trip to… West Virginia’s Potomac Highlands

Driving through West Virginia 2

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.

 

SUGGESTED ROUTE

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.)

Blackwater Falls artistic

My favorite shot of Blackwater Falls

Me at Blackwater Falls

A waterfall makes for an impressive photo op

 

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.

Purple Fiddle

 

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.)

Mountain State Brewery

 

4. Elkins

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.

Day 2! We're up early and off to the Cass Scenic Railroad.

Day 2! Gotta get up early and head off to the Cass Scenic Railroad.

 

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.)

Cass Railroad- sign

Cass Railroad 1

Cass Railroad- me on train

Cass Railroad scenery

 

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.

Seneca Rocks sign

Seneca rocks

Seneca Rocks 2

There were rock climbers all over the massive rock face. I couldn’t see them with my eyes, but my camera caught them!

 

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?

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9 Responses to DC Road Trip to… West Virginia’s Potomac Highlands

  1. Beth October 4, 2013 at 9:39 am #

    Next time you drive through the Potomac Highlands area you should check out Lost River State Park. It has some marvelous views from Cranny Crowe if you hike or better yet you can go horseback riding!!!
    Grant, Hardy, and Pendleton County will all be at the Washington DC Travel and Adventure Show, held at the DC conference center, February 22-23, come see us!! We would love to chat with you more on what our areas have to offer :o)

    • Christina Ricchiuti October 9, 2013 at 3:30 pm #

      Hi Beth,
      I will definitely add Lost River State Park to the list! Sounds like a gorgeous spot! See you at the Travel & Adventure show in 2014!

  2. Stephanie - The Travel Chica October 10, 2013 at 8:42 pm #

    You had me at brewery.

  3. Karen Tintle-Cook November 19, 2013 at 3:15 pm #

    Try camping at Big Bend campground (accessed through Cabins, WV) in Smoke Hole Canyon. The scenery is amazing, the Potomac River there is small and fun for wading, tubing, and just sitting in the small waterfalls. Early fall is best. It is very secluded and if the night is clear, you can see more stars there than anywhere else I’ve been in the eastern U.S. No restaurants, no breweries, no hotels….but well worth the trip!

    • Christina Ricchiuti November 19, 2013 at 8:23 pm #

      Karen- thanks for the tip about Smoke Hole Canyon. It sounds like a really nice time… you sold me with the idea of “sitting in waterfalls.” Fun! I’ll add it to the list for a future WV trip. Thanks!

  4. nicole April 8, 2016 at 3:44 pm #

    hi christina,
    i realize this post was a couple years ago now, but i’m planning a west virginia roadtrip this summer and i’ve found it really helpful! i was wondering which trip you did on the cass scenic rr – up to whittaker station or up to bald knob – and if you had a recommendation for which one. for 2 women who are not necessarily train enthusiasts, but think it’ll be fun to take a ride through the countryside and will do anything for great views. thanks!

  5. Akshar R April 9, 2016 at 2:15 pm #

    Wonderful collection of adventures. I might be using these as guidelines for my upcoming trips. I don’t know if you have done these already, but, while I was in Richmond for a couple months last summer, I went on a few hikes and might interest you. Feel free to explore https://arawal.wordpress.com/summer-15-virginia/ . Given that the writing is not as masterful as yours (love the succinct details),you get the point 🙂

  6. Jake May 17, 2016 at 12:03 pm #

    I would suggest:

    Morgantown, WV. There is plenty to do in town, and lots of neat local stores, as well as (of course, in Fall) FOOTBALL SEASON.

    Coopers Rock – beautiful views of Cheat Creek (or is it River … always forget) cutting up towards Cheat Lake, as well as the city of Morgantown. Also on the way back towards DC off I-68.

    Also, Berkeley Springs, WV is always a good go-to.

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