A circle tour of Tygart-Blackwater and Mountain Splendorland.
With air travel sketchy, budgets tight, and gas cheap, it’s obvious—the 2020 vacation season was made for a return to the road trip. What we all need now is a strong dose of roadside Americana and car pastimes like Twenty Questions.
This circle tour has caverns, a waterfall, historic spots, and plenty of recreation.
Start at the former rail hub of Grafton. The grand B&O station still bustled in the 1950s and is being revitalized today. Visit the International Mother’s Day Shrine at 111 East Main Street. Grab some takeout at Gourmet Express or Leonard’s Grill, then cross the river at the light near the depot and follow the signs to Tygart Lake State Park for a picnic. Back in town, follow U.S. 119 to U.S. 250 south to Philippi and its 1852 covered bridge. It was in the 1950s and remains the only covered bridge that still carries a national highway. If the Barbour County Historical Museum is open, don’t miss your chance to see the Philippi mummies.
Taking U.S. 250 to State 92 south gets you to Elkins, gateway to the Monongahela National Forest. Drive the gracious Davis & Elkins College campus and visit downtown for food and shopping.
Four miles east of Elkins on U.S. 33, the motorist with high clearance may take a parallel scenic route with a left turn to Old Route 33 and Stuart Memorial Drive. Enjoy 360-degree views from Bickle Knob before rejoining the highway.
U.S. 33 passes over five major mountains on the way to Seneca Rocks. You’ll see the 1,000-foot rock towers jutting dramatically into the sky as you approach. Hike to the top and back, and don’t miss Harper’s 1902 Old Country Store—it hasn’t changed since the ’50s.
Find a good old-fashioned cave tour along either of two routes to Petersburg. The 20-mile route, State 55 east, takes you past Smoke Hole Caverns, where the cave’s gentle slope is easy for kids and seniors. Or take the 50-mile route—U.S. 33 east—and, after four miles, turn left on Germany Limestone Road for a slightly more strenuous Seneca Caverns tour that rewards the effort. Then continue on U.S. 33 to Franklin and head northeast to Petersburg on U.S. 220 through the pastoral South Branch valley. In Upper Tract, stop at Swilled Dog for West Virginia–made hard cider.
The route continues from Petersburg on U.S. 220 north through Moorefield and to Junction through the farmlands of the lower South Branch valley. Head west on U.S. 50, a scenic two-lane highway that’s changed little since the ’50s. At Redhouse, Maryland, a side trip south on U.S. 219 gets you to Blackwater Falls State Park, where you can see the much-photographed waterfall and camping, cabins, and a lodge.
Continuing westward on U.S. 50, the route soon enters Cathedral State Park, home to one of the largest stands of old-growth forest in the east. Some trees here are 6 feet in diameter and may be 500 years old. To complete the throwback feel of your tour, don’t miss Cool Springs Park on U.S. 50 at Rowlesburg for old-timey roadside souvenirs or a slice of homemade pie. Continue west 20 miles more to return to your starting point.