New driving tour takes in the rural mountain scenery
The journey to Bath County, Va., from the Washington, D.C., area is a little more than 200 miles and starts on busy I-66 and then I-81 in Virginia. But, after a few hours, the roads clear and you trade interstates for less congested highways and byways, arriving at Warm Springs.
The warm springs that bubble up around the County of Bath, as it’s formally known, are a big draw for people looking to soak away aches, pains, and stress. According to local legend, a Native American brave first found the springs while traveling across the mountains. He bathed in the warm waters and was revitalized.
Bath County covers an area of more than 500 square miles, with winding two-lane roads that meander through small towns, hug rivers, and slice through gorges. With only about 4,500 residents, road congestion is not a problem. In fact, according to Celine Pritt, who promotes the county, there are no stoplights anywhere in Bath.
Pritt is a lifelong resident who does not hide her enthusiasm for the area.
“It’s very beautiful here,” she said. “People come for the water and the hot spring experience.”
But for Pritt, the dark skies at night are among her favorite things about Bath County. There’s no light pollution to obscure the stars.
You can hike, fish, or visit artisans and festivals, but a good way to see the countryside and to get a sense of place is to just drive.
My wife and I recently took a tour previewing the county’s soon-to-be-published Hit the Road guide for Bath and its neighboring counties. The guide will include mini-tours that can each be done in few hours. Each trip is illustrated with a map and accompanying text with information on places to stop and things to do. You can do a tour as a day trip, or you can stay at hotels and inns ranging from the stately 250-year-old Omni Homestead Resort to more modest bed-and-breakfasts.
We began our tour at Warm Springs, in the center of the county. Warm Springs’ attractions include the rustic Jefferson Springs, with its spa that was developed in the mid-1700s. Thomas Jefferson soaked his 75-year-old body in the waters in 1818.
In nearby Hot Springs, the Homestead Resort majestically rises over the quaint village and offers its own soaking waters.
We headed north on U.S. Route 220, a scenic highway dotted with farms and fishing spots. Eventually, we left Bath County and entered Highland County to stop in Monterey.
The mountain scenery makes the area a popular destination for motorcycle tours. A motorcyclist from North Carolina was stopped in the town for gas and told us, “About 12 of us come to the area every year from places up and down the East Coast.”
On our way back to Warm Springs we drove through the spectacular Williamsville Gorge, which was carved by the Bullpasture River.
Just before returning to Warm Springs on Virginia Route 39, we stopped and parked at the Dan Ingalls Overlook on Warm Springs Mountain for a panoramic view of the Allegheny Mountains.
There are not only small towns on the circuit, but larger cities such as Covington, with its Humpback Covered Bridge, and Lexington, the home of the Virginia Military Institute, Washington and Lee University, and the Stonewall Jackson House.
Whether it’s an escape from the congestion of the city and suburbs, or a desire to soak away your stress in some mineral springs, Bath County is a feast for the senses.
Bath Co. Tourism: discoverbath.com