Pocahontas County in West Virginia: For Natural Beauty and Rich History

West Virginia Highway

My family's favorite fall getaway is Pocahontas County, tucked in the rugged mountains of east-central West Virginia. It's packed with beautiful scenery, historic attractions and virtually unlimited recreational opportunities. There's something for everyone!

For instance, I love old country general stores, and there are several to browse through here. The Hillsboro Country Store in Hillsboro, on U.S. Highway 219, is our favorite, and no visit here is complete until we've savored one of their hand-dipped ice cream cones. While eating your cone, shop for herbs and spices, homemade jellies, comb honey, books and handmade furniture.

Hillsboro is also the birthplace of Pulitzer- and Nobel Prize-winning author Pearl Buck. You can tour the home where she was born, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

If you like trains, you'll thoroughly enjoy the Cass Scenic Railroad near Cass. The railroad takes you through the mountains in open-air cars powered by a rare Shay steam locomotive. Then there's the Durbin Rocket, which departs from Durbin on U.S. Highway 250 for a 90-minute trip through breathtaking mountain scenery.

But our favorite train excursion is the Cheat Mountain Salamander, which departs from Cheat Bridge, 6 miles west of Durbin. This self-propelled trolley car stops at interesting stops such as the ghost town of Spruce and the High Falls of Cheat as it winds its way along the Shavers Fork River.

Scanning the Skies

For the science-minded, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory on State Highway 28 in Green Bank is a fascinating place. It's home to one of the world's largest radio telescopes, the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope.

For Civil War buffs, the county was the site of several noteworthy battles, including Droop Mountain, where Union troops drove the Confederates from the summit in 1863. The site is now Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park, located about 5 miles southwest of Hillsboro along Highway 219. The park includes a log cabin museum, cemetery, earthworks and a tower overlooking the Greenbrier River Valley.

South of Droop Mountain is Beartown State Park, filled with unusual rock formations. A boardwalk leads you through giant sandstone boulders scattered around the mountainside.

If you're looking for scenic drives, head for the Highland Scenic Highway, a 43-mile parkway that follows State Highway 39/55 and State Highway 150 from Richwood to U.S. Highway 219, 7 miles north of Marlinton. This byway through the Monongahela National Forest is off limits to commercial trucks. More than 60% of this roadway is above 4,000 feet in elevation, so the vistas are dazzling (it's closed from early December to March).

Numerous Attractions

There isn't enough room to list everything this wonderful area has to offer, things like the Greenbrier River Trail, a 75-mile bike path... the Monongahela National Forest's Cranberry Glades Botanical Area along Route 39/55, which showcases plants usually found in Arctic regions... and the Snowshoe Mountain Resort near Cass, a year-round playground.

For overnight accommodations, we like the Marlinton Motor Inn on Route 219 in Marlinton--clean, spacious and centrally located (1-800-354-0821 or www.marlintonmotorinn.com). We also recommend the nearby Frontier Restaurant for great food at reasonable prices. Their breakfasts are the best!

But wherever you stay, plan on visiting more than once. One trip won't give you enough time to see everything this entertaining place has to offer.

Before You Visit

For more information about Pocahontas County, call the Visitor Center in Marlinton at 1-800-336-7009 or log on to www.pocahontascountywv.com.

To learn more about the Cass Scenic Railroad, you can call 1-304-456-4300 or consult www.cassrailroad.com.

The Durbin and Greenbrier Valley Railroad operates the Durbin Rocket and the Cheat Mountain Salamander ($18 for adults and $10 for children ages 4-11). The two trains generally run from early May through early November. For details, phone 1-877-686-7245 or browse at www.mountainrail.com.

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory offers free tours daily, from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day; weekends only in September and October. To learn more, call 1-304-456-2150 or check out www.gb.nrao.edu.

To find out more about Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park or Beartown State Park (open daily April through October ), call 1-304-653-4254 or refer to www.droopmountainbattlefield.com or www.beartownstatepark.com.

The Pearl Buck Birthplace is open May 1 through November. For details, call 1-304-653-4430 or log on to myweb.wvnet.edu/~omb00996.

For more information about the Highland Scenic Highway, call the Marlinton Ranger District office at 1-304-799-4334 or visit www.fs.fed.us/r9/mnf/sp/highland_hwy.html.

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