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MARLINTON, W.Va. – Deep in the heart of Almost Heaven, situated on the banks of the Greenbrier River lies Watoga State Park, a hidden gem in the Mountain State.
Watoga is West Virginia’s largest state park with more than 10,000 acres of land offering countless activities both inside and outside of the park. Inside the park you could hike the Ann Bailey trail leading to the lookout tower, grab your fishing pole and head to Watoga Lake, or grab a paddle and make use of the canoes and kayaks. If you’re looking for even more adventure look no further then the unique destinations just outside of the park.
Although there are many choices, you could do some retail therapy at one of the local shops unique to Marlinton, take a train ride at Cass Scenic Railroad, or visit the 750 acres of rich land at the Cranberry Glades Botanical Area.
Our trip began one crisp Friday morning in early October, with our fifth-wheel camper hitched to the truck ready to embark on the three-hour journey. We made our way over mountains, down winding country roads, through the last bit of civilization in Richwood, and into the depths of the Monongahela National Forest, before reaching our destination in southern Pocahontas County.
Our close friends, who we’ve been camping with for several years, are the ones who invited us to camp with them at Watoga. There were four different families who camped together this particular weekend making thirteen of us all together. Since one of the families had previously been to the area, they decided to show us around to some of the main attractions.
When we first arrived at Watoga on Friday, I immediately fell in love with the world around me. The water always seems to call my name, so I grabbed my camera and headed off to the river.
Once I reached the water, I was surprised to find that the raging Greenbrier was in reality a trickle of water barely able to flow down the riverbed. October was the height of a major drought occurring in our state, causing the low water levels.
In the picture below I was standing in the middle of the river, and under normal circumstances that particular area would have been completely underwater.
Friday was a day for us to catch up with one another. We ended up staying at the park, sitting at one of the campsites, catching up with each other’s lives since the last time we had been together.
We walked our dogs, explored the campground, played card games and ate a delicious potluck dinner. We did briefly leave the campground for a quick run to Jack Horner’s Corner for some ice cream (it’s our weakness). This store has it all, it’s a souvenir shop, grocery store, arcade, restaurant and even a place to rent movies. We finished our relaxing day around the campfire enjoying each other’s company.
The following day was full of adventure. We jumped in the trucks and headed toward Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park. Driving up to this lookout tower is like taking a step back in time.
The wooden structure offers a spectacular 360º view of the surrounding area. When you reach the top, you can see the land below for miles.
Although this nature center is not very large, it is filled with ample fun activities and an immense amount of information on a variety of topics related to West Virginia. To the left of the entrance, you enter into a room filled with facts on the local wildlife; it feels as if you’ve stepped into a dense West Virginia forest. There were live snakes, native to West Virginia, as well as an animal exhibit with animals ranging from a rainbow trout to a black bear.
The other room offers a variety of books that are in some way related to West Virginia, such as coal mining, war history, biographies, animals, and even bugs. Near the middle of the room sits a large 3-D model that mimics the landscape of the local area. One of my favorite parts of the nature center was the outdoor garden that at its peek season beautifully showcases plants that grow in the mountain state.
After leaving the nature center, we turned onto the Highland Scenic Highway. The views from the different overlooks were breathtaking, offering a unique view of the area and highlighting the colorful fall foliage.
The scenic highway led us into Marlinton, a small town roughly 14 miles outside of Watoga. At first glance Marlinton may appear to be just another small town, but the charm should not be overlooked. We started with a quick bite at the Dairy Queen and then headed to the Mason Jar Trading Post.
This locally-owned shop offers home décor, candles, antiques and more. Then we crossed the street to an old train station that has been transformed into an art gallery. The gallery showcases a wide variety of artists who I believe are native to West Virginia. We then headed back to camp to end our Saturday listening to the Mountaineer football game and eating an amazing dinner around the campfire.
Sundays during camping season never get easier. Unfortunately, it was time for us to pack up and head our separate ways. We prolonged the process as long as possible, knowing that none of us were ready to say goodbye. By noon we were all hooked up to our campers and were headed back down the winding country roads.
I’m grateful for our time at Watoga and the memories that we made, and I can’t wait to head back next fall for even more adventures. If you ever find yourself in the area or in need of a road trip, don’t forget this little piece of Almost Heaven.