West Virginia: Almost Heaven
While there are beautiful states all across America, one in particular rises above the rest: West Virginia.
Considered one of the most scenic states in the nation, West Virginia is home to the nation’s newest National Park and some of the world’s most desired outdoor recreation. In fact, “The Mountain State” is home to the greatest density of whitewater in the U.S. Countless lakes, streams, and rivers also make for world-class fishing, boating, and kayaking opportunities.
With an additional 35 state parks, nine state forests, five rail trails, and more than 1,500 miles of hiking trails, it’s as close to heaven on Earth as any outdoor enthusiast can get.
In partnership with the West Virginia Department of Tourism and Visit Mountaineer Country CVB, I recently enjoyed a road trip from Western Kentucky to the greater Morgantown, West Virginia area known as Mountaineer Country.
Composed of seven counties including Barbour, Doddridge, Harrison, Marion, Monongalia, Preston, and Taylor, Mountaineer Country is known for its wide-open landscapes and unlimited outdoor recreation — perfect for one-of-a-kind adventures! It was the perfect blend of adventure and leisure.
Read my detailed itinerary below to learn how to spend 72 Hours in Mountaineer Country, West Virginia!
Itinerary: Day 1
Setting off up Interstate 64, heading Northeast first through the city of Louisville, Kentucky followed by Charleston, West Virginia a few hours later. The destination? Morgantown, West Virginia.
Home to West Virginia University, Morgantown is brimming with collegiate spirit, gorgeous mountain terrain, local art, craft beer, and plenty of unique cultural dining options.
I arrive and drive through downtown Morgantown on my way to my first location. A mix of college town and mountain town vibes collide as I pass local retail stores, historic hotels, college bars, and beautiful riverside parks.
Stop 1: Breakfast at Terra Cafe
I arrive at Terra Cafe, a relaxed riverside eatery that is a local Morgantown favorite. With an impressive menu of scratch-made sandwiches, salads, smoothies, and craft beer, it is the perfect spot to fuel up for a busy day of adventuring.
I greet Hannah and Susan from Visit Mountaineer Country, before sitting down over a good conversation and a healthy breakfast of Terra’s ’Santa Fe Egg Wraps’, fresh fruit, cold espresso drinks, and smoothies. I notice college students start to trickle in as the morning progresses — many with laptops and notepads to study.
We finish up our meal as I am prepared for the day ahead. On the way out the door, I can’t help but notice the beautiful pastry display and grab two lemon marshmallow tarts for the road (they are made from scratch)!
Stop 2: Shopping in Downtown Morgantown
After a 10 minute drive from Terra Cafe back to downtown Morgantown, I easily find a place to park for my next activity: shopping!
Morgantown has a collection of unique global products and local items made right in West Virginia. One of these shops is River Fair Trade, located at 316 High Street. A socially conscious eco-company, River Fair Trade sells fair trade goods from around the world and handmade products from West Virginia. After shopping around, I purchased a Cause Bracelet from India, and a Zodiac soy candle from Prosperity Candle out of Myanmar.
A short walk around the corner is my second shop stop: Hoot and Howl. The picturesque storefront shop sells beautiful artisan, American made vintage goods including clothing, jewelry, beauty products, and unique spices. I ultimately chose a bottle of Palo Santo scented essential oil and a couple new crystals to add to my collection.
I pop across the street to another popular spot, but this time for some grub. Blue Moose Cafe is a well-known coffeehouse and bagel shop known for its artistic, cultural vibe. I have a hard time deciding what flavour shot to put in my mocha frappe, but ultimately decide on raspberry. I pair it with a fresh asiago bagel with sun-dried tomato cream cheese, and pack it up to-go to head to my next destination!
Stop 3: Fly Fishing with McFly Outdoors
Heading back to my breakfast location, I parked in Terra Cafe’s parking lot and walked down past the park to the Star City Rail Trail Dock. The plan is to meet up with the outdoor professionals from McFly Outdoors for a day out on the water, but first, I decide to enjoy my bagels and coffee from Blue Moose Cafe for a quick snack.
After a quick recharge, McFly Outdoors guide RJ Kerwood met us down by the docks of the Monongahela River (known to locals as the Mon River), to begin the next activity: fly fishing!
Being my very first time trying my hand at the sport, RJ was extremely patient and knowledgeable. Following a few on-land practice runs with the cast technique and fly, it was time to hit the water! We climbed into a River Raptor boat and swiftly made our way towards the Opekiska Lock and Dam (apparently, this is where the biggest fish like to hang out!)
At RJ’s direction, I spent an hour practicing the cast and enjoying a beautiful sunny day on the Mon River — and we even caught a bass fish which we happily returned back into the wild.
After fly fishing, RJ broke out the brand new kayaks and took me out on the water for a 20 minute session. The waters were calm and easy, and there was a light breeze making it the perfect outdoor activity. The beautiful trees lining the river made for a beautiful backdrop.
Pro Tip: In addition to a large retail selection of popular outdoor gear, you can book your own fly fishing or kayaking session with McFly Outdoors! Choose from a full range of private or group tours for fishing, hiking, kayaking, and sightseeing here.
Stop 4: Dinner at Sargasso
Spending a day out in the heat and sun certainly works up an appetite. After freshening up at the beautiful Morgantown Marriott at Waterfront Place, we drove a short two minutes down the road to Sargasso. An award-winning restaurant serving world-fusion cuisine, Sargasso offers impressive dishes and a vast wine collection.
Simple chic vibes surround diners as they are led to their tables and provided with an iPad to make wine and cocktail selections. I chose a simple chilled glass of French Tiamo prosecco to enjoy with the fresh bread basket and olive oil.
For appetizers, I chose:
- the ‘Burrata Toast’ with fresh mozzarella burrata, salsa verde, and tomato salsa; and
- The ‘Lightly Breaded Calamari’ with chili lime glaze.
**My favorite was the Burrata Toast! The flavours were so fresh, and the salsa verde was a nice added kick of mild spice**
For main courses, I chose:
- The Sargasso Salad;
- A cup of Stuffed Pepper Soup;
- 6-ounce Filet Mignon with mashed potatoes and asparagus; and
- Seared Atlantic Salmon with green beans and new potatoes
**My favorite was the Stuffed Pepper soup! This hearty soup was a delicious alternative to veggie soup, with flavorful peppers, beef, and rice**
For dessert, I chose:
- Espresso Cheesecake; and
- Buttermilk Pie.
**My favorite was the Espresso Cheesecake! It was slightly sweet and creamy with the perfect hint of coffee!
Pro Tip: To make a reservation at Sargasso during your next trip to Morgantown, visit their website here.
Stop 5: Country Roads BBQ Clash
After a fancy dinner, it was time for some classic country fun at the Country Roads BBQ Clash!
Hosted in Morgantown, West Virginia July 16 through 18th at the 90,000 sq ft Mylan Park venue, this inaugural family-friendly festival celebrates the very best of barbecue, smoked meats, and mouthwatering sides from across The Mountain State.
From BBQ ribs to lemon shake ups to fried pickle spears, pitmasters from near and far gather to win big cash prizes for their delicious creations.
After sampling pickles (and ordering a basket of fried chips with a side of ranch) from Peter Pepper’s Pickles, I made my way to the concert grounds to take in some tunes courtesy of the Gin Blossoms band!
To learn more about the Country Roads BBQ Clash and upcoming events at Mylan Park, visit their website here.
Lodging: Double Queen Riverview room at the Morgantown Marriott Waterfront Place. The brand new 207 suite style room hotel features a full service Starbucks, a signature restaurant (Bourbon Prime), a state of the art fitness center, and 50,000 square feet of meeting and event space.
Drive Time: 3 hours of total drive time between locations.
Itinerary: Day 2
Feeling well rested after a relaxing night at Morgantown Marriott at Waterfront Place, I woke up early to start my day 40 minutes south of Morgantown in the charming town of Grafton, West Virginia.
Through winding country roads and farm land, the town of Grafton sits at the epicenter of the former Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. With a population of 5,164 people, it’s most famous for having the longest observance of Memorial Day in the U.S.
While small, there are still many gems hidden throughout this true mountain town.
Stop 1: Espresso Yourself
A drive down Grafton’s main street led me to Espresso Yourself, a locally owned coffee house selling ice cream, homemade baked goods, and fresh roasted coffee.
Inside, I discovered nostalgic memorabilia lining the walls in all directions: a baby grand piano, vintage records from the 50’s, and classic comic books to name a few.
I was greeted with a warm welcome and a smile before ordering a plate full of homemade biscuits and gravy and a chocolate chip mocha frappe.
To enjoy a picnic at my next location, I bagged up a homemade chicken salad sandwich on croissant, bbq chips, and two from-scratch cookies (the chocolate chip red velvet was a solid choice!)
Stop 2: Tygart Lake State Park
Just four miles south of Grafton sits the perfect summertime oasis. Tygart Lake State Park, known for its 10 mile-long, 1,750 acre lake, is a popular destination for out-of-staters and locals alike.
If the lake itself isn’t reason enough to visit, the inflatable obstacle course managed by Tygart Adventures certainly is.
After enjoying my beachside picnic from Espresso Yourself, I took full advantage of the inflatables in between floating and relaxing in the warm turquoise lake waters.
Pro Tip: All guests are required to sign a health form as well as a liability waiver prior to enjoying the inflatables. Everyone must wear a life jacket while on the lake regardless of swimming ability. The Tygart Adventures season runs from late May to early September, and tickets are $12 for a half day pass and $16 for full day pass.
Stop 3: Dinner at Mountain State Brewing Company
After a full day of sliding, climbing and swimming, I drove the 40 minutes back to Morgantown to check into The Cranberry Hotel to freshen up before dinner.
The dinner location was another local Morgantown favorite serving up some of the best pizza in the state: Mountain State Brewing Company.
With restaurants and brewpubs in Morgantown, Bridgeport, and Deep Creek Lake, Maryland, Mountain State Brewing Company brews, cans, and distributes their own ale for a truly unique experience.
I only drink lighter ales, so I immediately went for a cold tap pour of the Cold Trail — a light, easy drinking American blonde ale.
For appetizers, I chose:
- The Sampler Platter with ‘Garlicky Hummus,’ ‘Red Pepper Hummus,’ ‘Cowboy Caviar,’ and ‘Hot Spinach Dip’ with tortilla chips and warm pita bread; and
- A fresh Mountain State Garden Salad with green peppers, cucumbers, red onion, croutons, and house made ranch dressing.
For a main dish, I chose:
- ‘The Herb’ thin crust wood-fired pizza with a garlic spread sauce, ricotta, mozzarella cheese, special herb blend, and balsamic drizzle.
Pro Tip: Ask your server which beers pair best with what pies. Don’t pass up a side of their house made ranch to dip your pizza in! Meals here are best enjoyed on the outdoor patio that overlooks the Mon River.
Lodging: The Cranberry Hotel; Two Queen Beds with Mini-Fridge, Microwave, Sofa bed. Featuring Contemporary rustic décor paired with distinctive mountain hospitality, The 80-room Cranberry Hotel is the perfect choice for lodging after a day outdoors. Hot breakfast is served each morning, and coffee and tea are available 24/7. The property also features a fitness center and meeting and banquet facilities.
Drive Time: 2 hours total between locations.
Itinerary: Day 3
Rounding out my visit to Mountaineer Country, I enjoyed a slower morning with a coffee in the beautiful lobby of The Cranberry Hotel.
My last day’s itinerary was full of leisure activities, but still exciting nonetheless. I set off across the hotel’s parking lot to enjoy my first meal of the day: brunch.
Stop 1: Tropics Restaurant + Bar
A slice of ‘Aloha’ in The Mountain State, Tropics Restaurant and Bar is a truly unique dining experience!
Owned and operated by a couple from Honolulu, Tropics serves an eclectic blend of Polynesian/Asian cuisine that includes Piña Coladas, Mai Tai’s, Ahi Tuna Poke, Kalua Pig & Cabbage, and so much more!
Walking through the exterior courtyard of the restaurant, where palm trees and exotic flowers abound, the sounds of ukuleles and laughter fill the air. I’m led to my table, located in the center of what feels like a lush tropical jungle.
It’s brunch, so I order a refreshing Mango Screwdriver to start, and the mango purée is a perfect way to start a Sunday.
For main courses, I decide on:
- The ‘Mochiko Fried Rice’ with Hawaiian rice served over fried chicken marinated in soy, ginger, and garlic; and
- A ‘Meat Lovers’ Omelette’ with bacon, ham, sausage, and cheddar cheese. It comes with home potatoes and sourdough bread as sides.
It’s impossible to eat at a Hawaiian restaurant and not order fried Spam if it’s on the menu, so I got a side of one of Hawaii’s favorite snacks, too.
Pro Tip: Brunch runs from 10am to 1pm on Sundays, and mimosas are only $1 while Bloody Mary’s are $3. If you’re in the mood for something sweet, ask for a slice of classic Hawaiian Hula Pie. It’s a heaping portion of coffee ice cream on an Oreo crust, topped with frozen whipped cream. Make reservations here.
Stop 2: Hovatters Wildlife Zoo
For my final destination of my visit to Mountaineer Country, I hopped into the car for a quick 45 minute journey to Kingwood, West Virginia.
Out here, there’s little WiFi, and the turns in the road are sharp. However, there’s one place that brings thousands of visitors on these roads from near and far every year: Hovatter’s Wildlife Zoo.
Also known as the West Virginia Zoo, Hovatter’s is home to more than 30 different species of animals — mostly retired or rescued from show business.
Allowing the animals to live in habitats on open land, Hovatter’s is open seasonally from April to November, and also features a mini roller coaster, food trucks, and a gift shop.
Zoo species include Chimpanzees, Grizzly Bear, Orange and White Tigers, Spotted and Black Leopard, Ring Tailed Lemur, Baboons, and Giraffes, among others.
Guests of Hovatter’s are allowed to feed select animals safely based on each of their special diets. I ordered one cup of carrots and two cups of popcorn for $3 and made my way through the park.
Starting with the giraffes, I fed them the only snack their sensitive stomachs could handle: carrots. Staff members stood nearby to ensure those feeding the animals obeyed the clearly marked signs on each habitat.
I made my way through the park, walking past the lion’s den, the bear’s house, the wolves, the chimpanzee enclosure (they love popcorn!) and finally, the alligator enclosure. The wolves began a synchronized song, almost performing for onlookers, as a white peacock showed off for visitors nearby.
It was as if they knew my time in Mountaineer Country had come to an end, and they were giving me the best send off they could.
Pro Tip: Purchase one of each snack before entering the park so you can enjoy feeding different animals.
Why Visit Mountaineer Country?
I made the walk back through Hovatter’s to the car to begin the 8 hour journey back to Kentucky, and couldn’t help but reflect on my long weekend in The Mountain State — and Mountaineer Country in particular.
Full of natural beauty, mountain hospitality, and some of the best outdoor recreation in the world, it’s no surprise that Morgantown was named ‘The Best Small Town’ in West Virginia by Southern Living Magazine.
It’s rolling hills, iconic mountain views, and winding country roads make it an adventure lover’s paradise with something for visitors of all ages to enjoy. Here, you can blaze your own trail in the wild wilderness, make a splash at one of the region’s many rivers and lakes, or watch the sunrise from your favorite mountain top.
And if your wandering soul yearns to explore outside of Mountaineer Country, there’s plenty for you there, too. Just an hour’s drive from Pittsburgh, a 3.5 hour drive from Baltimore, and less than 5 hours from Philadelphia, rich Appalachian culture and one-of-a-kind historic sites await.
As I drive away, colors of a vibrant orange and yellow sunset reflect in my rearview mirror as I blast “Country Roads, Take Me Home” by John Denver. I smile as I conclude that West Virginia truly is unique, and as they say, “Almost Heaven.”
To plan your own Mountaineer Country adventure, visit https://www.visitmountaineercountry.com/planner/.
To learn more about West Virginia’s tourism, outdoor attractions, and planning your next visit, go to www.wvtourism.com.
This article was created in a paid partnership with Visit Mountaineer Country CVB and the West Virginia Department of Tourism.