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  • Historic architecture and scenic views in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
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    Harpers Ferry: History along Two Rivers

  • Taking a walk through Berkeley Springs, West Virginia
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    Berkeley Springs: Dip into Mineral Springs

  • The Greenbrier resort near Lewisburg, West Virginia
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    Lewisburg: Legacy of Luxury and Culture

  • The Blennerhassett Mansion in Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park in Parkersburg, West Virginia
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    Parkersburg: Intriguing History and Local Lore

  • Browsing a boutique in Wheeling, West Virginia
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    Wheeling: Appalachian Mountain Culture & History

On a road trip in West Virginia’s Canaan Valley
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Touring West Virginia’s Historic Sites and Natural Wonders

By Zaida Rios

  • Route distance:
    1,070 km
  • Suggested Time:
    1-2 weeks

Just a few hours outside of Washington, D.C., there’s more history and culture to uncover in West Virginia.

Take a journey through these small towns, each offering abundant scenic beauty, outdoor adventure and a trove of history. Going off the beaten path means you’ll hike on the Appalachian Trail, soak in mineral springs, tour elegant historic homes and even explore prehistoric sites. Fly into Dulles International Airport (IAD) in Virginia, rent a car and travel to Harpers Ferry in just under an hour.

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Historic architecture and scenic views in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
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Harpers Ferry: History along Two Rivers

Start your trip with a visit to scenic Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, situated at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. Harpers Ferry is a prominent stop along the U.S. Civil Rights Trail, which highlights towns and cities with historical significance to the civil rights movement. Walk through the park and explore five sites key to the U.S. Civil War and the abolition of slavery. Venture into The Lockwood House, which served as a hospital for Union soldiers. Wander around John Brown’s Fort, the site of an abolitionist uprising that served as a catalyst for the Civil War. Harpers Ferry is also a sublime location for hiking, canoeing, kayaking and even zip lining. Break out your hiking boots because you don’t want to miss hiking part of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. Drop by the Appalachian Trail Visitor Center in the town of Harpers Ferry and pick up a trail map. A three-meter, three-dimensional map will garner a sense of the immensity of this prolific hiking trail stretching from Georgia all the way to Maine. Almost 5 kilometers of the trail lie within Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. Try the Overlook Trail within the Maryland Heights Trail for a stunning view of Harpers Ferry and the river. Also, visit Jefferson Rock (named after U.S. President Thomas Jefferson) between the Lower Town and Camp Hill areas of the park. When it’s time to eat, settle in for a historic culinary experience at The Canal House Café within walking distance of the Harpers Ferry historic area. This historic stone house dating back to the 1700s offers a modern farm-to-plate menu including house favorites like the sought-after Canal burger, a grass-fed Angus sirloin burger.

77 km
1 hour by car
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Taking a walk through Berkeley Springs, West Virginia
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Berkeley Springs: Dip into Mineral Springs

An hour northwest on the historic Washington Heritage Trail scenic byway leads you to historic Berkeley Springs. Dip into what’s known as America’s First Spa at Berkeley Springs State Park. Rejuvenate and take advantage of the tranquil warm waters and spa amenities. Of course, you’re welcome to enjoy other historic spas peppered throughout this charming small town that’s been attracting visitors since the 18th century. There’s one-of-a-kind shopping too. In the heart of downtown, discover Frog Valley Artisans, a hub for local artisanal wares with a touch of local Appalachian Mountain inspiration. Hand-crafted treasures range from earthen pottery in varying hues to distinctive metal sculptures to jewel-colored stained glass. In many cases, you’ll get to meet the artist and learn the stories behind the pieces they create. Before you skirt out of town, venture back a few decades at the Star Movie Theatre. It’s a vintage theater complete with a neon retro marquee open on weekends – an entertaining way to sample local culture. On your way to Lewisburg, break up the drive with a stop in the small mountain town of Wardensville to see the Cranny Crow overlook at Lost River State Park or wander historic buildings housing art galleries, antique stores and more.

370 km
4.5 hours by car
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The Greenbrier resort near Lewisburg, West Virginia
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Lewisburg: Legacy of Luxury and Culture

Almost four hours southbound, Lewisburg is a quaint small town along the Greenbrier River that’s firmly tied to its roots. Make your first stop the Greenbrier River Trail, featured in the top 50 Millennium Legacy Trails in the USA. Once a railroad line, it now functions as a 125-kilometer trail along the peaceful Greenbrier River. Plan a stop or stay at The Greenbrier, a luxury resort nestled in the Allegheny Mountains known for its championship golf courses, posh spa amenities and diverse dining options. The prodigious resort is also the site of a once top-secret bunker used during the Cold War. Today, you can tour the actual bunker, which is carved into the mountainside hidden under one of the resort’s wings. If you prefer a boutique hotel, the General Lewis Inn in downtown Lewisburg offers high-end amenities in its upscale suites, as well as elegant cuisine at the Jefferson Dining Room. Next up is a special treat: There are only four Carnegie Halls in the USA that have been continuously used as performing arts venues, and Lewisburg is home to one of them. Order tickets ahead of time and watch a musical performance, or at least visit the hall’s three galleries and permanent art exhibit entitled, Arts from the Ashes, chronicling the history of Carnegie Hall. Carnegie Hall is also the home of the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame. Before you continue your road trip, fortify yourself at foodie favorite, the Stardust Café. The Best Ever BLT lives up to its promise while the Trust Me salad will make you glad you did.

304 km
2.83 hours by car
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The Blennerhassett Mansion in Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park in Parkersburg, West Virginia
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Parkersburg: Intriguing History and Local Lore

If you’re looking to delve further into history, Parkersburg, just under three hours northwest of Lewisburg, is your kind of place. From prehistoric relics to more recent sites, this town is worth a closer look. As you walk the halls of Henderson Hall Plantation, you’ll be transported to another time. This well-preserved, 29-room Victorian mansion, which includes vast grounds and a family cemetery, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. On the grounds, you’ll also discover the Adena Indian Mounds, prehistoric burial grounds estimated to be over 2,000 years old. Next, make time to visit Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park, a tiny island on the Ohio River that can be accessed by riverboat. Inside the park, discover the Blennerhassett Mansion, a Palladian mansion that is the starting point for ultra-cool, local ghost tours. Tours are centered around the likes of the Banshee of Marrtown, a shrouded ghost on horseback known as the harbinger of death, and the eerie Mothman, a paranormal legend of a giant winged creature with red glowing eyes said to lurk in the area. The local lore is all in good fun, so don’t be too rattled as you head to the mountains in Wheeling less than a couple hours northeast.

170 km
1.75 hours by car
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Browsing a boutique in Wheeling, West Virginia
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Wheeling: Appalachian Mountain Culture & History

Set in the foothills of the mountainous backcountry of the Appalachian Mountains, Wheeling is a historic town that also offers something for all ages. Established in 1853, the Centre Market still houses a diverse variety of local shops and vendors. Peruse the market for antiques, clothing and vintage jewelry. Plus, you can dine on traditional pub fare or homestyle pizza. With two different market houses, there’s also a section for international cuisine. At the West Virginia Independence Hall, a Renaissance Revival-style National Historic Landmark, properly examine the birthplace of the state of West Virginia. A self-guided tour here will yield painstakingly restored interiors, as well as the details on how West Virginia’s statehood shaped the Civil War. Finally, kids and kids at heart won’t want to miss the Kruger Street Toy and Train Museum. Walk down memory lane and check out retro toys and vintage trains that delight. It’s a fun and colorful last stop before driving to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to fly home out of Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT).

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