A circle tour of the Eastern Panhandle 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.
But it’s a little bit of a lost art, the road trip. It’s definitely not the shortest GPS route from point A to point B. The best routes offer scenery punctuated by surprising points of interest that reveal the local history and culture along the way—and they don’t double back on themselves.
So for inspiration, WV Living turned to a brochure of “circle tours” the state Industrial and Publicity Commission promoted in the 1950s, the heyday of road tripping. We were delighted to find that most of the roads and lots of the attractions are still available to vehicle vacationers today.
So we present to you these 1950s two-lane tours updated for 2020. Any of them, at 200 to 370 miles, can make a long, pretty one-day drive with limited stops, a full weekend, or a relaxed, adventure-filled three or four days. All of them will deepen your pride in West Virginia.
Fundamental to the art of road tripping is planning the big things in advance, but surrendering to little things in the moment. So choose a route, pack your car snacks, hit the filling station, and go and a 1950s-style adventure!
A circle tour of the Eastern Panhandle crosses broad valleys once covered in apple and peach orchards and passes through towns rich in colonial history.
At Berkeley Springs, mineral baths were frequented by colonial notables. Dip your toes in the stone “bathtub” said to have been used by George Washington. Pamper yourself with a spa experience, then stroll the historic downtown and take in the galleries and a show at the vintage Star Theatre.
A side trip south on U.S. 522 is Cacapon Resort State Park—horseshoes and shuffleboard, wobble clay shooting, a lake with a sand beach, all with Civilian Conservation Corps charm. Or check out the just-renovated 1965 Coolfont Resort.
A 25-mile drive southeast on State 9 takes you to Martinsburg. Get a flavor of the region’s orchard past with a visit to Orr’s Farm Market, where you can pick your own fruits May through September.
It’s just 10 miles farther on State 45 to Shepherdstown, contender, with Romney, for West Virginia’s oldest town. Shepherd University is here. A monument at Rumsey Park commemorates the 1787 trial of the steamboat invented by James Rumsey, and most of the well-preserved downtown served as a Confederate hospital after the Battle of Antietam. Reserve ahead at Shepherdstown Pedal & Paddle to enjoy the views from the trail or river.
Ten miles south on State 28 is Harpers Ferry, home to John Brown’s notorious raid and now the site of a national historical park. Stroll the historic downtown and take the short hike to Jefferson’s Rock, with a view Thomas Jefferson described as “one of the most stupendous scenes in nature.”
Nearby Charles Town was a Washington family retreat. Several family homes are in private hands today but brother Charles’ Happy Retreat hosts occasional concerts. Charles Town Race Track offered some of the area’s best thoroughbred racing in the 1950s, and you can enjoy racing today at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races.
Follow Washington Street, then Summit Point Road, then VA 761 to U.S. 50 west of Winchester, Virginia, picking up scenic State 259 south 12 miles later to Wardensville. Stop here for a delicious home-cooked meal and road provisions at Lost River Trading Post or Star Mercantile.
For a recreational side trip, continue another 25 miles on State 259 to reach Mathias and Lost River State Park, where you can swim in the CCC-built pool, saddle up at Hidden Trail Stables, and see the 1804 cabin built by Revolutionary War Major General “Lighthorse Harry” Lee. Or follow U.S. 48 west out of Wardensville to Moorefield—detour five miles south on U.S. 220 for West-Whitehill Winery—then take U.S. 220 north to Junction and U.S. 50 east to Romney. Koolwink Motel here is a satisfying vintage overnight.