CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – If you were given the opportunity to travel across America, but you didn’t know where you’d end up. Would you do it?
That is exactly what happened over the past weekend when 33 people boarded a bus Saturday morning at Washington D.C.’s Union Station for a weekend trip.
Passengers were given instructions to show up at the station with layered clothing, hiking boots and a “sense of adventure.” None of the passengers knew where they were going and most didn’t know anyone that they were travelling with.
As the bus made its way out of the city, the passengers tried to guess where they were heading, all to no avail. Three hours later, after rolling through the Appalachian Mountains, the bus stopped in none other than West Virginia.
“We were looking for a unique way to get people excited about fall in West Virginia,” said Chelsea Ruby, the director of the state’s tourism office. “Our fall foliage is second to none, and our mountain towns are marvelous hosts, but a lot of travelers still don’t think of us as a fall destination. This event lets us cut through the noise of everyday advertising and get our message out: Come see West Virginia this fall!”
The passengers started their weekend by dining on a forest path overlooking Blackwater Falls. The forest-to-table lunch featured three courses paired with local hard apple cider from Hawk Knob.
After lunch, travelers chose between a horseback ride through the mountains and a challenging hike with rewarding views. The hikers took on Seneca Rocks, a spectacular formation in the Monongahela National Forest that rises nearly 900 feet from the valley floor to form one of the eastern United States’ premier rock-climbing destinations.
The next stop on the mystery trip was dinner and nightlife in the twin towns of Davis and Thomas. The towns were able to offer the tourists cozy cafes, lively breweries, quirky shops and artisan galleries in a small town setting.
Sirianni’s Pizza in Davis serves thin-crust pies with brews from Stumptown Ales, located just up the block. Hellbender Burritos across the street offers massive burritos, including a huge list of vegetarian options. Both were packed Saturday evening.
“One of my favorite things about the trip was getting to meet a lot of great locals,” said Destination Unknown participant Albert Ting. “My impressions of West Virginia have certainly changed. There’s so much this state has to offer in terms of food, culture and exploring nature. If there’s anything on your bucket list for vacation, West Virginia will definitely deliver.”
The night ended in Thomas at the Purple Fiddle, a general store turned café and concert venue, where Americana mainstay Driftwood stopped by for a sold-out show.
Day two began with sunrise yoga followed by breakfast at the resort. Then the group boarded the bus for a via ferrata.
The term via ferrata is a climbing route with fixed anchors on the side of a cliff, usually found in Europe. West Virginia’s NROCKS Outdoor Adventures is home to one the few in the United States and features a suspension bridge that allows climbers to cross between two the fins of Tuscarora quartzite that create the iconic rock formation.
The bus made one final stop before returning to Washington in Wardensville, just inside the border with Virginia. While there, they visited The Lost River Trading Post and Wardensville Garden Market before heading back to the city.
The trip was advertised in the greater D.C. area as a “fall weekend getaway to a mystery destination.” Nearly 500 people applied to the Destination Unknown trip but only 33 were chosen. Once the trip was well underway, the advertisements in D.C. switched out and revealed photos of West Virginia in the fall.
The goal of the campaign was to build intrigue and curiosity that would reveal West Virginia as a go-to fall destination and help potential visitors see how beautiful, fun and accessible the destination is, especially for travelers in the D.C. area.
“I’ve always been a drive-through kind of girl, never stopped and stayed, so this has been a great experience,” Destination Unknown participant Kristen Smith said. “To stop, stay and see the beauty you don’t get on the highway has been a new adventure for me. I can’t wait to go home and tell friends and family that this is where we need to go next.”