There are so many charming towns to visit in the mountains of West Virginia. After 44 years of living there, I finally explored the state’s Eastern Panhandle. To say I was blown away is an understatement. Four to five hours from Charleston, 75 minutes from Washington, D.C., and an hour from Baltimore, this is one area you will want to take advantage of.
I don’t recommend seeing each town on a separate trip, but instead, one trip to five exciting places that are all very different in flavor. I prefer to drive from Charleston, where my family lives, but you could fly into D.C. or Baltimore and rent a car.
Here are the five towns you need to visit on a day trip through the West Virginia mountains.
1. Harpers Ferry
Harpers Ferry is in the lower Shenandoah Valley in Jefferson County, West Virginia. It is a tiny town (population: 285) that swells to bursting year round as tourists stop here to learn about a staggering event that “ignited the Civil War.”
Harpers Ferry National Historical Park
People flock to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, and Lower Town is the heart of it. You can take the shuttle bus from the visitor center or try to land one of the few parking spots in Lower Town itself. Plan to spend 3–4 hours exploring on foot, and more if you wish to hike a bit on the Appalachian Trail or 22 miles of additional trails. In the historical park, I loved the Lewis and Clark Museum, White Hall Tavern, St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, and Cannonball Deli for ice cream treats.
The park sits at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, with spectacular views and different photo ops on land and on the pedestrian bridge. You will probably see tubers floating down the river and plenty of kayakers and boaters.
John Brown’s Fort
John Brown’s Raid occurred at Harpers Ferry, so to me, John Brown’s Fort was the do-not-miss point of interest. Brown was a well-known abolitionist willing to die to end slavery. Though it was part of Virginia at the time, Harpers Ferry was where he was hanged for leading enslaved people in an attempted revolt.
There are several restaurants and shops in Lower Town, including the Rabbit Hole (a gastropub). Braised short rib routine and loaded pork barbecue fries caught my attention. However, I was also intrigued by Rabbit Hole’s CBD-infused cinnamon bun.
True Treats Historic Candy
True Treats Historic Candy is also in Harpers Ferry. It offers centuries of candy, from ancient candies to present-day sweets. It’s run by candy historian Susan Benjamin, who boasts that it is the world’s only historic candy store.
Pro Tip: Pop into the Bookshop for Harpers Ferry souvenirs, posters, books, and NPS Passport cancelation stamps.
Did you know that Shepherdstown is also West Virginia’s oldest town? The Mountain State’s first settlement began before the Revolutionary War. It really got on the map when James Rumsey invented the steamboat here in 1787. Today, Shepherdstown is a college town, and Shepherd University recently celebrated its 150th anniversary.
Editor’s Note: As our own Jeanine Consoli writes, some say Shepherdstown is the most haunted town in the U.S.
I like to eat at sophisticated restaurants and shop in Shepherdstown. Pop in the boutiques on both sides of German Street before grabbing dinner at the prestigious Press Room
At Press Room, the oysters are delicious, being so close to the coast. The house pâté pleases me to no end. Pasta carbonara and grilled sea scallops are excellent entrées, but save room for the desserts that Press Room is famous for, like lavender creme or panna cotta with fig vincotto. Reservations are recommended.
When it comes to shopping, Four Seasons Books and the On the Wings of Dreams gift shop are musts. Another popular place for is O’Hurley’s General Store, a treasure trove of “stuff” with an operational blacksmith shop.
Pro Tip: If you like some exercise, consider renting a bicycle from Shepherdstown Pedal & Paddle to cover more ground and enjoy the fresh mountain air.
Overnight in Shepherdstown at the Bavarian Inn. As the name implies, you’ll feel like you stumbled into Germany at this gorgeous place. The Bavarian Inn has choices of rooms and chalets overlooking the Potomac River, a wonderful restaurant, and Bavarian Brothers Brewery, which I have yet to try. The restaurant menu has classic dishes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as some German specialty items like Sauerbraten (my mouth is salivating!) and Jaegerschnitzel.
Splurge on a suite at the Bavarian Inn, with antique furnishings, lovely linens, Jacuzzi tubs, and a gas fireplace.
Pro Tip: Any Nora Roberts (or J.D. Robb) fans? The home of the beloved best-selling author is 15 minutes away, in Boonsboro, Maryland. If you can, add a few hours to explore this delightful little town. Turn The Page Bookstore is owned by Roberts’ husband, Bruce Wilder, and has an incredible collection of her books.
3. Charles Town
I always wanted to visit Charles Town to try my luck at the thoroughbred horse track. I finally got to do just that this fall. While Charles Town is a typical city with everything you need or want, I was there for the gambling options.
Hollywood Casino At Charles Town Races
Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races offers live horse racing, 1,900 slot machines, table games, live poker, and sports betting. You can find hours of entertainment at this top-notch facility. Surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains, Hollywood Casino also offers a luxury hotel to rest your weary head. A free shuttle is included to the racetrack and casino.
Hollywood Casino features four restaurants, one being the high-end Final Cut Steakhouse. The menu features diver scallops, lobster, oysters, sea bass, juicy steaks, and more than 400 bottles of wine to choose from. You can also enjoy great entertainment at the casino, with 2023 performances including Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band, The Mavericks, Tesla, and Wheel of Fortune LIVE!.
4. Berkeley Springs
Berkeley Springs is one of the jewels of West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle. This funky little mountain town, established in 1776, was the country’s first spa town.
Berkeley Springs Spas
Berkely Springs is known as the place George Washington “took in the waters,” and the warm, healing mineral waters are still available at Berkeley Springs State Park and other indoor venues with contemporary spas and historic Roman baths.
Berkeley Springs’ centuries-old mineral waters flow at a constant 74 degrees, produce 1000+ gallons per minute, and have sulfates, nitrates, and carbonates. Due to laws written as the town was established in 1776, anyone can drink the water and fill jugs at the public tap. Visitors can experience wading in the ancient pools in Berkeley Springs State Park, one of the nation’s smallest parks.
Cacapon State Park
Yet another incredible year-round state park is tucked away in the mountainous parts of Berkeley Springs. Cacapon State Park offers a lake for swimming, fishing, and paddle boating, hiking trails, a golf course, and horseback riding.
Berkeley Springs Restaurants
The town has an arsenal of restaurants; you will find something for any taste here. Friday through Sunday, the Canary Grill has tantalizing salads, sandwiches, and pulled pork potato skins. Charlotte’s Cafe is a locals’ favorite, with gourmet French toast and scramble bowls for breakfast, soup, salad, and sandwiches for lunch.
Beehive Cafe is another unique eatery in Berkeley Springs, with a menu made entirely of plant-based foods. Cacapon Mountain Brewing (open Thursday through Sunday) is another big draw that is family and pet friendly, with outdoor seating.
There are two lodging standouts in Berkeley Springs. First is the well-known Country Inn, which conveniently sits beside the state park and within walking distance of many attractions. Its popular WV Dining Room serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner (I swear by the Asian Pork Dumplings). The quaint Rustic Morgan Tavern is great for date night or enjoying a cocktail, wine, or beer. Country Inn’s property has English gardens, a gift shop, a spa, and modern amenities.
White Pines Estate
The second is White Pines Estate, which I recently learned about. After reading every word on their website, I am sure this extraordinary property would have made my upcoming 100 Things to Do in West Virginia Before You Die book had I known about it before my deadline.
What piqued my curiosity about the 65-acre White Pines Estate is the stunning mountain setting, home-cooked breakfast, afternoon snacks, onsite library with a telescope, and Ellen’s Tea Room. Visiting tea rooms is one of my favorite things ever, and the King’s Tea from Ellen’s is on my next visit to West Virginia’s radar.
Berkely Springs Antique Mall
Shout out to the Berkeley Springs Antique Mall, a place I could get lost in for hours and hours browsing the cool and unique merchandise that is so well displayed and labeled. Though I have only shopped for antiques in Berkeley Springs, I know there are also numerous art galleries, studios, and classes.
I was unfamiliar with Martinsburg until a quick visit this fall. I was there to check out the well-stocked antique shops: Queen Street Gallery and Creek Side Antiques. If you are an antique collector, you will have a ball here.
Other Martinsburg points of interest are:
- De Fluri’s Fine Chocolate (heavenly sea-salt caramels)
- Wonderment Puppet Theater (bring the grandkids)
- Belle Boyd House, an 1853 home of a female Confederate spy, built in the Greek Revival style
FYI: Just In Time Seafood is the perfect place to purchase premium fresh-caught shrimp and crab. My friend Angie always makes it a point to pick some up to take home.
For more on the destinations in this article (and beyond), read: