On the Road Again: West Virginia

Last weekend was a three-day weekend due to the Columbus Day holiday, and it was also my birthday. Long weekends for me usually mean a chance to bug out of town, especially when I can’t take any time off. So now that our car has been repaired and I trust it more than 15 miles in any direction, we decided to spend the weekend in Berkeley Springs. Berkeley Springs is a little town in West Virginia about two hours from DC, and it was a great break from the city and our daily grind.

During our time there, we went to the Apple Butter Festival, hiked in the forest, visited an 1830s-era canal tunnel, and tried out the local food scene as I marked the beginning of a new year.

On the way to Berkeley Springs, we stopped at Starbucks to get my free birthday coffee. Kind of cheesy but a fun excuse to try a fall favorite. I also had to laugh at what my West coast friends would say about the fact that in one morning we were in three different states – Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia – without hardly trying.

Upon arriving in Berkeley Springs we had lunch at a local brewery across the street from our resort in the woods. The food was tasty and it featured live music right in the middle of the afternoon.

We stayed at a resort called the Coolfont, which recently reopened after being closed for some years following its heyday starting in the 1960s.

It was actually the first weekend the Coolfont was reopened, so the restaurant and spa were still closed. I was a little annoyed because V had called to inquire whether the restaurant would be available and they said they would have a festival menu, but that did not end up happening and no explanation was offered. There were lots of other places to eat in town though, about 10 minutes away, so we blew it off.

We did get to use the pool and hot tub, as well as have our own hot tub in our room. We had decided to go despite the fact that the place was not fully functioning because it seemed peaceful, was beloved by both locals and DC folks, and had previously had an excellent reputation. The place was essentially empty so everywhere we went – swimming, walking the grounds, continental breakfast, etc. – we were essentially alone.

The Coolfont Resort… home of the wooden eagle, stuffed bear, and high-ceilinged lodges with cozy fireplaces

There was a certain quality to the air in Berkeley Springs. We saw the changing of the leaves, and heard the chorus of daytime crickets and cicadas that is omnipresent in this part of the country.

The place we went for my birthday dinner was also outstanding, located in a historic house more than 100 years old. I would probably return just to eat there again.

From steak to cake – happy birthday to me at the Lot 12 Public House!

We tried to enjoy nature to the max during this trip! This was made easier by having little to no internet or call service in most of the town.

We walked on the highway a short distance, until V smartly found a turnoff to a quiet wooded area with tons of trails and no cars!

Walking through the woods we saw squirrels, chipmunks, butterflies, both red (male) and brown (female) cardinals, and even caught a glimpse of a woodpecker whose handiwork had been eerily echoing through the forest. During the rest of the weekend we additionally saw a giant gopher, geese, turtles, deer, and a wide variety of birds.

Our second afternoon in town, we went to Berkeley Springs’ 46th Annual Apple Butter Festival.

All the best food, drinks, and local products in this artsy, eccentric little town were on full display, and we brought a couple little things home to enjoy later.

On the way out of town the third day, we visited Prospect Peak. The overlook is located just a few miles from the Coolfont, but 1,000 miles above the Potomac River which meanders below to eventually meet the Chesapeake Bay. You can see Maryland, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania all from one vantage point.

Prospect Peak

While we were at Prospect Peak, V met a motorcyclist who suggested we drive a half hour towards Maryland to see a tunnel from the 1800s called Paw Paw.

Luckily we caught enough of a signal at Prospect Peak to read a little about Paw Paw Tunnel, and set our Google Map to navigate us there. It ended up being so fortuitous that we decided to go because we got some exercise, saw an interesting new place, and it led us to a better way home than if we had returned the way we’d come.

On the way to Paw Paw Tunnel via the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal Towpath

The tunnel is located just across the West Virginia state line in Maryland and is part of the C&O Canal National Historical Park. Interestingly enough, the 10-mile portion of the C&O trail between Georgetown, DC and Bethesda, MD where V and I used to walk regularly several years ago is located about 150 miles southeast of the tunnel. But it’s the same trail!

The tunnel was constructed between 1836 and 1850 and cost over half a million dollars. The canal company was trying to compete with the railroad company to get goods through Sorrel Ridge.

The canal company laid six million bricks to try and do so, and even though the project took longer than expected and went over budget, the tunnel remains today a real testament to the workers’ determination and skill.

The tunnel is deceivingly long – precisely 3,118 feet. The proverbial light at the end of the tunnel took longer to arrive than I expected on the first trip through.

You can barely see the light at the end of the tunnel

It’s about a mile and a quarter to walk through roundtrip. We used phone flashlight apps because once you walk a few minutes in it becomes nearly pitch black. Plus the sandy footpath was a little uneven, and in some portions there were drips or puddles.

We didn’t have time to really hike the two mile outside trail and check out the surroundings in Paw Paw Bend, but based on what I saw I would recommend it. Instead we just returned back through the tunnel and headed for home, feeling glad we’d made the effort.

All in all it was a terrific little weekend away, and I do recommend visiting Berkeley Springs, WV if you find yourself in DC or northern VA for a period of time.

Country roads, take me home

Besides the Coolfont there are AirBNB and mountain cabin rentals, and the surrounding area boasts hiking and outdoor activities in the Green Ridge State Forest, Capacon Resort State Park, and Sleepy Creek. I have a feeling we will be back someday!

Sarah W Gaer

Author, Speaker, Thought Leader

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