Time to give my beloved state of West Virginia some love.
In the U.S., the Appalachian Region spreads across parts of 13 Eastern states. Fun fact: West Virginia is the only state to be entirely within the Appalachian Mountain region. I’m a wanderluster, and have had the privilege of seeing much of the United States. I believe West Virginia (aka “The Mountain State”, aka “Almost Heaven”, aka “Wild & Wonderful”) is one of the most beautiful places in America. You can get away from it all, while get in touch with nature. It’s a place you are sure to make some precious memories.
So here’s where you need to go… See that purple section? In that purple section are Pendleton, Grant, Randolph and Tucker Counties.
Why go here? These 4 adjacent counties are home to Dolly Sods Wilderness Area/Bear Rocks Nature Preserve, Spruce Knob and Seneca Rocks National Recreational Areas, the ultra-remote Smoke Holes (Smoke Hole Road) and North Fork Mountain, Smoke Hole Caverns, Nelson Rocks Outdoor Adventures, Blackwater Falls State Park, and so much more. Each of these places deserve their own lengthy article; for now, I will give you a brief glance at each.
These places offer terrain that is unspoiled, full of wildlife, and refreshingly uncrowded of people. This (4-county) area is ideal for explorers/adventurers, hikers, fishermen, bird-watchers, photographers and nature-loving families. West Virginia offers the best hiking, and some of the best scenery, in the East.
1. First up, Spruce Knob. It is the highest point in West Virginia, one of the highest in the Appalachian Mountains, at 4,862 feet. It has many hiking opportunities, some suitable for any age and physical prowl. You can also choose to explore more challenging paths. In all, there are over 75 miles of hiking trails in this area. The half-mile trail that circles around the very top of the mountain is family-friendly and handicap-accessible. There are picnic areas. There is an observation tower. There are restrooms! You can drive on paved road all the way to the top. The views are incredible. There is a rather small, stocked-lake in the area for fishing too.
Tip: Take a jacket, it tends to be much cooler and windier up there! Trust me!
At the bottom of the mountain, sitting off the main road, is one of my favorite restaurants, The Gateway. This sit-down, casual restaurant offers traditional country fare (think: comfort food and pies). I recommend you stop there.
2. Next comes my ultimate favorite place anywhere – Dolly Sods. 17,371 acres of breathtaking wilderness.
I will be lumping Bear Rocks Nature Preserve in with Dolly Sods Wilderness Area. They are adjacent to one another and it is hard to tell when you technically cross from one into the other. There borders just kinda blend together. Essentially, if you go to one you will be going to the other. You’ll see when you get there, haha!
Bear Rocks Preserve is 477 acres that is owned and preserved by The Nature Conservancy. God bless The Nature Conservancy, for conserving places such as this. It is a categorized as a National Monument.
There are numerous hiking paths of all lengths throughout Dolly Sods. The network of hiking trails totals 47 miles. You want to (literally) hike for days? This is your place (just set up camp for the night and then keep going!). You want to experience truly unique terrain? This vast wilderness area is it. You are a nature-lover, but want a more leisurely stroll, and just can stay for a few hours? This is it. You want to do some rugged camping? Go here (you can set up camp nearly anywhere). This is your place!
I really cannot say enough good things about Dolly Sods. You really need to go! Take plenty of water for yourself, and stay as long as you can. Landscape doesn’t get much more beautiful, hiking doesn’t get much more fun.
3. Now on to the majestic Seneca Rocks.
Seneca Rocks has something for everyone. Rock Climbers, hikers, families – a lot is happening here from extreme to leisurely. There is a stunning wildflower garden and a fantastic educational discovery center (open seasonally).
There is a one-way (steep) hike up to the top. Or, you can stay at the bottom and hike around the more leveled paths that surround the area.
You can reach the top on horseback as well. April thru November, Yokum Stables offers a horse riding experience that takes you on a ride to the top of the rocks. You will need reservations. Check out their website at yokums-stables.biz for information.
If you are in to extreme rock-climbing, this is your place. It is worldly renoun for its rock climbing. Definitely a destination for serious rock climbers.
***Down the road is Seneca Caverns, a stunning cave (only open seasonally).
4. Now for what I consider to be the most remote of all – North Fork Mountain. Locals refer to North Fork Mountain as, simply, North Mountain.
North Fork Mountain is best for avid, experienced hikers. It is not easy hiking, not great for children (but not impossible), and is not great for physically challenged individuals. There is basically one main trail leading you across the mountains – The North Fork Mountain trail. This trail is 23.8 miles long. I am in decent, but not great physical shape, it was a challenging (but doable) hike for me. I came nowhere near hiking the entire trail. Most people don’t. In order to achieve hiking the entire trail, it would likely entail overnight camping.
This trail is marked as difficult. So, what’s the payoff? (Apart from a good work out, of course. Haha!). The views are unbeatable. The further you hike, the better the views. Take along plenty of water. Tip: As you move along, hike up (away from the main trail) to the edge, in order to take in the magnificent views.
Note: Optimally, you need a rugged vehicle (think: 4-wheel drive) to get up the road to hike in this spot. The road is rocky!
5. At the bottom of North Fork Mountain lies the Smoke Holes/ Smoke Hole Recreational Area.
No hiking is necessary to enjoy this remote, beautiful river area. You can follow along Smoke Hole Road in your vehicle, just taking in the gorgeous scenery. If you love fishing, this area is for you! Trout is abundant and the river water is pristine. This is a terrific place for skipping rocks. This area is about enjoying the simplest pleasures in life. Wild nature. Skipping rocks with your family. Fishing. Fresh air. Every time I visit this river area, I am met with wildlife – bald eagles, coyotes, and ground hogs to name a few. If you enjoy rugged camping, this is a good place to try.
At the end of Smoke Hole Road, you will find Smoke Hole Caverns and Gift Shop nearby. The gift shop is massive and full of some very nice stuff. In fact, they claim to have the largest gift shop in West Virginia. That’s kind of cool!
The cave’s entrance is located right next to the shop. The cave is stunning and suitable for all ages. Unlike Seneca Caverns, this cave is conveniently open year-round. It’s a very fun place for adventurer’s and families alike. There is a very decent selection of food and snacks available in the gift shop’s snack bar, such as hot dogs and pizza. It’s a perfect stop along your way, or as your main destination.
6. Adventurer’s paradise -Nelson Rocks.
Nelson Rocks is located in Circleville, WV – just around the corner from Spruce Knob. Here you can check out NRocks Outdoor Adventures (NRocks.com). They offer zip-lining, rock-climbing, spelunking outings and more. The area has numerous unmarked caves, their spelunking tour can take you to some. This beautiful place is a haven for adventure-seekers. There is also free hiking onsite. The Gateway Restaurant is only a few minutes up the road from Nelson Rocks. Stop in there for a country-style lunch!
7. Finally, there is BlackWater Falls State Park. Perhaps the most touristy spot to make my list (but that’s okay!). Who doesn’t love to take in a beautiful, 62-foot cascading waterfall?
So here we are dealing with an actual state park. It has all of the onsite amenities you would expect, including a nature center (open seasonally), camping, lodging, a restaurant, and accessibility. There are numerous trials ranging from easy to difficult.
There are seasonal happenings going on there throughout the year, so have a look at their event calendar online before you go. wvstateparks.com
Any of these destinations would make for a perfect day trip, that is – if you live closely enough. If not, there are places for you stay overnight throughout the area. If you want to visit all or most of the places I have mentioned in my post, you should plan to stay in the area for several days in order to do so. I have collected 10 choices for nearby lodging. Where you pick ultimately depends upon where you will be coming from, where you want to visit, and what type of lodging you prefer. But, here is my list of 10 places, to get your search started:
1. Blackwater Lodge, located within BlackWater Falls State Park. wvstateparks.com There is a restaurant within the lodge.
2. Smoke Hole Caverns and Log Cabin Resort. 57 minutes to BlackWater Falls. 19 minutes to Seneca Rocks. 54 minutes to Spruce Knob. 21 minutes to Dolly Sods Picnic Area. 29 minutes to North Fork Mountain. smokehole.com There are several lodging options to choose from. They offer cute cabins situated in a resort-style setting. Below is a photo taken out front of the Smoke Hole Resort area check-in. The nearest town to the Smoke Hole area is Petersburg, WV.
3. North Fork Mountain Inn is a secluded Inn located in the heart of the Smoke Holes. It offers upscale dining. It is 35 minutes to Seneca rocks. northforkmtinn.com
4 & 5. Graceland Inn and Hampton Inn are both in the city of Elkins. 44 minutes to Seneca Rocks. 54 minutes to Dolly Sods. 1 hour and 22 minutes to Spruce Knob. 1 hour to Smoke Hole Caverns. 57 minutes to BlackWater Falls. Gracelandinn.com Hamptoninn.com
Elkins is home to a popular sit-down restaurant called Smoke On The Water. I hear very good things about it. Elkins has a Kroger’s grocery store, and offers numerous fast food options.
6. South Branch Inn is located in Moorefield. 48 minutes to BlackWater Falls. 44 minutes to Dolly Sods. 50 minutes to Seneca rocks. 32 minutes to Smoke Hole Caverns. 1 hour and 25 minutes to Spruce Knob. Moorefield offers plenty of restaurants, a bowling alley and a movie theater as well. wvfun.com
Moorefield is in Hardy County, which is adjacent to the 4 counties I have highlighted in this post. There is a Walmart there, along with two other grocery stores. There is a Burger King and McDonalds. A popular place to eat in Moorefield is the made-to-order food at Sheetz gas station. It is awesome! They have a huge selection of various foods and options.
7. Village Inn Motel is located in Davis. Only 7 minutes to BlackWater Falls. 45 minutes to Seneca Rocks. Canaanvillage.com
Davis has a Subway, BlackWater Brewing Company and Barrel’s Brewhouse. In this area is the restaurant located inside BlackWater Falls State Park lodge, which is named The Smokehouse.
8. Breath of Heaven Bed & Breakfast is located in the Petersburg area. If a quaint bed & breakfast is more your thing, this is a very nice one to try. It is in a beautiful location away from the main road. Breathofheavenbb.com
9 & 10. Petersburg, WV are two quaint little motels near one another right off the main road as you drive out of the town. Fort Hill Motel and Homestead Inn Motel. These motels are ideally located, and appear well-cared for. Forthillmotel.com Homestead Inn can be reached by phone at 304-257-1049. Below are photos taken at Fort Hill Motel.
The town of Petersburg has a Dairy Queen, McDonalds, and several choices for pizza. I highly recommend Anthony’s Pizza. There is also a small grocery store. A popular place to eat in Petersburg is the made-to-order food at Sheetz gas station. It is great! They have a huge selection of various foods and options to choose from.