Are you looking for an authentic, one of a kind vacation? One where it quite literally is a breath of fresh air coupled with disconnecting from technology and reconnecting with family and loved ones? Well my friends, West Virginia is the place for you! John Denver’s famous lyric “Almost Heaven, West Virginia” must be mentioned, quite frankly because he was spot on. From the seemingly endless Appalachian mountain views to the locals that welcome you like an old friend, there is an undeniable charm that you can’t find anywhere else.
We visited the Mountain State in October during prime leaf peeping (yes- that is actually a real term). Take a ride on winding country roads to uncrowded landmarks and peaceful national parks. We quite often had the parks to ourselves, which left quite an impression on our little ones (they loved the stillness and calm). There are also 1,500 miles of hiking trails, 35 state parks, 9 forests and 5 rail trails with more than 360 miles to explore. Needless to say, this is a nature lovers dream!
Whether you are a history buff or adrenalin seeker – there is something for everyone. Get your blood pumping whitewater rafting, mountain biking, or rock climbing. West Virginia is also the only state to be born out of the Civil War and features historic museums, exhibits and battlefields.
We were based in Randolph County, in the heart of West Virginia. Elkins is a small, walkable town that felt like returning home after a day of adventure. I loved the sense of community as you walk past locally owned businesses and receive a smile and wave. It was the square in the center of town that quickly was our “spot”. We spent hours here as our children’s imaginations went wild and I am quite sure everyone could hear their giggles and laughter.
I have compiled a list of the three A’s: Accommodations, Adventures, and Appetite! If you have any questions about West Virginia or our trip please shoot me an email!
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Elkins. This centrally located hotel is an easy walk to all things in town. We were right across from the train station, restaurants, shops, and museums.
The staff at this hotel went above and beyond. We needed an extra towel, and it was up to the room within seconds of hanging up the phone. They took hospitality to a new level, and I wanted to make sure that was recognized!
We had a standard double queen room with a refrigerator, and enjoyed the complimentary breakfast.
Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad – There is something about a train ride that makes you feel like you have stepped back in time, don’t you think? I adore railroads, from the history to the steady rhythm of the tracks, it just feels cozy. Our family took a beautiful scenic ride on a vintage diesel-powered locomotive, the New Tygart Flyer. It is a 46 mile journey through the mountains with an “S” curve tunnel so tight you will hold your breath. The destination is the High Falls of Cheat, which is a stunning waterfall over 100 feet wide in the Monongahela National Forest. They give you roughly 30 minutes to explore (plenty of time) and we had a blast taking photos and watching the multi-color leaves fall peacefully over the water. Without the train it would be a 7 mile hike, so do yourself a favor and take the relaxing scenic route!
A cold-cut lunch is provided in the ticket price, and it was a perfect addition to our afternoon. There were toppings and sides galore, lemonade that my kids are still talking about, and soft cookies that hit the spot. The gentleman that runs the lunch is hilarious and makes you feel like family. We really enjoyed our time here – the staff was so kind and offered to take family photos for us (score!).
Gandy Dancer Theatre – I don’t think you can claim you have visited Elkins without a trip to the Gandy Dancer Theatre! We went to the Tribute to Musical Legends show which was incredible. The performers have really honed their craft, both with performing and entertaining. I love how they encourage the audience to engage with them (even while performing, now that is skill). The music was spot on, and you get so into it that you find yourself dancing and singing at the top of your lungs. Our kids played air guitar, took photos with Johnny Cash, and had a wholesome family fun night. Dinner is served before the performance, more on that below in “Appetite” section of the post. *Tip* If you have a child with sensitivity to loud noises, I would bring a pair of noise canceling headphones. It is very much like a concert, so it was loud!
Beverly Heritage Center – West Virginia is rich in history, making it an amazing destination not only for travelers, but homeschoolers as well. The Beverly Heritage Center combines four historic buildings to tell the story of the Battle of Rich Mountain and the First Campaign of the American Civil War, the role of the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike, and daily life in 19th Century. Our kids got a kick out of sitting in the judge seat and interactive maps.
Kumbrabow State Forest – If you are on unpaved roads, have no fear – you are going in the right direction! Kumbrabow State Forest is a true gem. Typically when visiting mountainous trails during peak fall season, there are crowds that can sour the experience. I am here to tell you (maybe quietly so the secret doesn’t get out) that we felt like we had all 9,474 acres to ourselves. You will lose your cell service and find tranquility as you journey through the winding mountain roads. We stopped at Mill Creek Falls and enjoyed the beautiful waterfall, a very short walk from the parking lot.
Gaudineer Scenic Area – This stop was my favorite in West Virginia. Before our visit it was described to me as an enchanted forest…. and it was absolutely that. This is a perfect spot for families, nature lovers, and everyone in between. The hike is an easy .5 miles to the scenic overlook (it was cloudy when we went, but that only amplified the charm for me). The trail is lined with thousands of red spruce trees and the ground is covered in bright green moss. Mushrooms are hidden between the trees, and the silence is unlike anywhere I have visited. This felt like a true fairy garden, and our girls played here for hours (we had to force them back into the car). This place will forever be etched into my memory, and I cannot wait to visit again!
Big Timber Brewing Company – We love to visit local breweries, and Big Timber did not disappoint. I loved their mug wall for regulars, and the beer was cold and delicious. The vibe here was very much a local scene, but they welcome visitors with open arms! This was about .6 miles from our hotel, it was an easy walk.
Hütte Restaurant – Hütte is located in a small Swiss-German village in the mountains of West Virginia, Helvetia. Helvetia was settled by a group of Swiss and German immigrants who came via Brooklyn, NY, in 1869. This is a very small town with a unique European flare. The food is delicious, please please please get the cheese plate (drool…). There was a local dog that was laying in the middle of the road when we arrived, only in a small town!
Gandy Dancer Theatre – So I talked up the performance… but what about the food? Our dinner consisted of chicken cordon bleu, hamburger steak with gravy, baked potato, green beans, coleslaw, dinner roll, cake and beverage. Needless to say, no one was hungry the rest of the night! Our kids had a separate menu – hamburger, chicken nuggets, and Mac and cheese. You can’t beat dinner and a show, and I highly recommend Gandy Dancer Theater!
Vintage Restaurant and Wine Bar – We walked to Vintage from our hotel, and enjoyed the stroll through town. We were seated right away, and Elkins’ high school was having their homecoming dance that night, so we got to see some beautifully dressed locals on our evening out! The food was delicious, and they have a large wine menu. They have a wood fire brick oven, and though we did not order a pizza, we could smell them being cooked (yum!). They also have a fireplace which instantly makes me happy!
Tip Top Coffee Shop – Tip Top is the definition of a local coffee shop that keeps you coming back. I am not a coffee drinker (gasp!) but they also had a variety of tea which warmed me up before our train ride. I love how Elkins rallies behind local businesses and could feel that throughout the whole town.
Delmonte Market – What do you need? Souvenirs? They got it! Coffee? They got it! Christmas decor? They got it! Ice Cream? They got it! Need I go on? We explored this lovely unique shopping destination that offers products created by artisans and companies from around West Virginia. I had an amazing chai tea latte and cookie while my kids and husband ate ice cream and shopped for our souvenir Christmas ornament! I had to control myself, as this market has some of the cutest local products. *Tip* Go before the train gets back, we happened to be there after the train pulled up and the line got very long!
Until next time…