West Virgina Road Trip: Potomac Highlands

from The Most Scenic Drives in America | 217

10. Watoga State Park
Both the oldest and largest of West Virginia’s state parks, 10,100-acre Watoga takes its name from the Cherokee word watauga, meaning “river of islands”—a reference to the wide, sandy Greenbrier River, which forms the park’s western border. For a delightful view of the river and the park’s rugged jumble of ridges, hollows, and thick second-growth forest, try Arrowhead Trail, a steep but rewarding one-mile trek climbing from the Riverside Campground area to the old log lookout tower. Or drive the park road up to the T. M. Cheek Memorial, one of the highest spots in the park, for a sunset picnic.

Tiny Hillsboro, a mile farther south on Rte. 219, might seem like an ordinary West Virginia mountain town, but literary pilgrims know it as something far more significant—the birthplace of Pearl S. Buck, author of The Good Earth and the first American woman to win both the Nobel and Pulitzer prizes. Buck spent most of her childhood in China with her missionary parents but fondly remembered her grandparents’ spacious West Virginia farmhouse as her “gateway to America.” You will find it open from May through October; the house represents an intriguing mix of Oriental and Occidental, with furnishings that range from handcrafted walnut pieces crafted by Buck’s own grandfather to a small collection of Oriental memorabilia.

11. Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park
In no state did the Civil War create such sharp divisions of loyalty as it did in West Virginia. While 30,000 men from the hills took up arms for the Union cause, some 7,500 others traveled south to don Confederate gray. So when the Battle of Droop Mountain took place on November 6, 1863, the fighting—quite literally—pitted brother against brother.

The clash would also signal an end to the conflict on West Virginia soil; Union forces outflanked Confederate troops on the peak and sent them heading south for good. Some 7,000 men fought that day, and a few of the 400 who lost their lives are buried here. Three and a half miles of trails lead from the Battlefield Museum and cemetery through the 287-acre grounds to majestic ridgetop views of the Greenbrier Valley to the north.

12. Beartown State Park
A few miles southwest of Hillsboro, a spur road leads to Beartown State Park, a 107-acre preserve on the eastern slope of Droop Mountain. Erosion has gnawed away at the ancient sandstone that forms the mountain’s crest, leaving behind massive boulders, deep crevices, towering cliffs, and sandstone corridors—a giant three-dimensional maze so thick with vegetation that you’ll feel as if you’ve stumbled upon a natural greenhouse. In the cool, damp recesses, pockets of ice sometimes linger until late summer.

13. Lewisburg
Following in the footsteps of retreating Confederate forces, the drive descends the back of Droop Mountain, making a long glide down to Lewisburg, 1,000 feet lower in elevation and some 24 miles to the south. A 236-acre parcel of the town has been designated a National Historic District; it’s easily explored on foot with the aid of a map from the visitor center at Carnegie Hall, which also serves as the town’s cultural hub. Other stops on the tour include the Old Stone Church (the oldest continuously operated church west of the Alleghenies), the Museum of the Greenbrier Historical Society, the Greenbrier County Courthouse, and the Confederate Cemetery. A wander among historic tombstones will lead you to the common grave of 95 unidentified soldiers, casualties of the Battle of Lewisburg.

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