Early October marks the official return of fall in Mountaineer Country. Whether you’re pairing the deep reds and yellows of autumn with a nice glass of burgundy or a steaming cup of cocoa, the Appalachians are calling you back to West Virginia.
Just across the Maryland border, driving east on I-69 into Preston Country, West Virginia, you’ll catch the mountain ridges that scallop the skyline. A side trip to Coopers Rock for an afternoon of leg-stretching hikes and rock climbing among the maples, oaks and birches will bring on an appetite. The best cure is buckwheat cakes and sausage at Little Sandy’s Truck Stop. The buckwheat cakes are a local tradition — generously served with hog sausage and fried potatoes. Here the waitresses still call you ”honey” when they stop by your table to fill up your coffee mug.
Nearby Chestnut Ridge Park boasts the Virgin Hemlock Trail that includes a walk through some of the area’s largest trees along Little Laurel Run.
Your choice of accommodations ranges from the Mountain Creek Cabins, complete with outdoor hot tub, to the newly opened boutique, The Cranberry, Ascend Hotel Collection, just a 10-minute drive from West Virginia University in downtown Morgantown.
If the family wants the mountain resort experience, travel south from I-68 on Route 26 (Bruceton Mills) to Terra Alta. Your route will take you through Albright, where class V and VI whitewater rafting rules. Once you hit Kingwood, take Route 7 east to the breathtaking Alpine Lake Resort. The hotel is well-positioned for views of the property’s 18-hole golf course and surrounding forests. The majestic deep blue lake is kid-friendly with kayak/canoe rentals, fishing and a beach area. Occasionally property owners will rent their home out to vacationers to share a sample of the mountain lifestyle.
Make sure you escape to veteran-owned and family-operated High Ground Brewing. They serve New England style IPAs in their relaxing taproom or you can fill up your growler and head to the outdoor dining area with a basket of wings.
If the kids need some animal entertainment, head to Hovatter’s Wildlife Zoo in Kingwood, home to more than 30 different species of native and exotic animals from all over the world. The resident giraffes are more than willing to eat out of your hands! Leopard, grizzly bear, African lions, tigers and camels will impress all ages!
Another lakeside retreat — and the full plumage of fall — awaits just south of Morgantown on Route 119. Tygart Lake State Park in Grafton rests at the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains. Its10-mile long, 1,750-acre lake offers boating, water skiing, scuba diving, swimming, kayaking, canoeing and fishing. While the lodge is handy, the 11 cabins (six overlooking the park’s stunning blue lake) are available mid-April through Dec. 31.
Espresso Yourself Coffee House on Main Street in Grafton is a haven for breakfast lovers (Saturday morning is sausage gravy and biscuits), but most visitors will fall in love with the homemade desserts.
If it’s a mountain getaway with some clubbing thrown in, reserve Dorsey’s Knob Lodge on the outskirts of downtown Morgantown. The lodge is available for rent and accommodates up to sixteen people with its spectacular seven bedrooms and five full bathrooms, a full kitchen, dining/conference room and living area with fireplace.
Several lodging properties are conveniently located in the downtown area, including The Scholar Hotel, a cozy boutique with an intimate Lobby Café and bar.
Morgantown has all the vibe and diversity of a college town: small, independent shop owners have shelves laden with one-of-a-kind souvenirs, home goods and fashion accessories. The city center is packed with upscale dining rooms that coexist with neighborhood bistros, family-owned eateries, spirited pubs and tastes from around the world. Stick to your favorites or explore a new dish with all of the delicious options available within walking distance.
Tin 202’s owners have restored an original Morgantown structure, right up to the intricate tin ceiling. The majestic bar occupies nearly half of the comfortable dining room, best to call early for reservations so you won’t miss out on the seared pork belly with peanut apple relish.
Mountaineer Country is dog-friendly! Your four-legged friends are welcome to dine with you outdoors at these rail-trail eateries: River Birch Café, Terra Cafe, Mountain State Brewing Company, Tropics, Table 9 and Oliverio’s Ristorante. Residence Inn by Marriott in Morgantown and Heldreth Motel in Kingwood accept canine guests with their owners.
Mountaineer Country is centrally located in the mid-Atlantic, just 2-1/2 hours from the metro D.C. market or a short flight on Southern Airways from Baltimore Washington International (BWI) or Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) to Morgantown Municipal Airport (MGW). Daily flights from Dulles International Airport (IAD) and Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) arrive in North Central West Virginia Airport (CKB).
For help planning your mountain getaway, contact the Visit Mountaineer Country Convention & Visitors Bureau at 800-458-7373 or go to visitmountaineercountry.com.