If you’re looking for an interesting getaway within a day’s driving distance from Washington, D.C., consider Randolph and Pendleton counties in eastern West Virginia. Dramatic mountain scenery, railroad excursions, Branson-style theaters, traditional music, Civil War history, festivals, and exciting outdoor recreational opportunities are among the possibilities.
In Randolph County, Elkins — a 200-mile drive from Washington — is a good base of operations. A self-guided walking tour through the historic district reveals many turn-of-the-20th-century buildings.
The train depot is a downtown landmark where you can hop aboard one of the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad’s steam-powered excursion trains into the picuresque countryside.
Themed excursions, such as wine, dinner, murder mysteries, music, Sunday specials, and seasonal outings especially appealing to children, keep things lively.
Motorcyclists love West Virginia mountain roads so much the Randolph County tourism folks put out a trail guide especially for them. “Come, Ride Our Curves” highlights the best routes, venture trails, attractions, and amenities. The brochure supplements the county visitors’ guide, which includes special events.
You don’t have to travel to Branson, Mo., to get rollicking entertainment. Professional musicians and singers — most of whom are related through blood or marriage — ooze high-spirited talent and folksy charm at the American Mountain Theater in Elkins. Various shows are offered through the year, including a “History of American Music Show” and a “Christmas Spectacular.” The music ranges from country to rock to gospel to patriotic, mixing in hilarious comic impersonations.
The theater owns the nearby Isaac Jackson Hotel and 1863 Grill and offers various package deals. The grill’s cinnamon rolls are a special treat. The Graceland Inn, housed in a restored Victorian mansion, is another accommodation option.
If a dinner theater is your style, Elkins also has the Gandy Dancer Theatre and Conference Center. Performers showcase a variety of musical styles from the 1950s to the present, along with family-friendly comic impersonations.
The visual arts are represented through changing art exhibitions at the Randolph County Community Arts Center. A highlight of the year is an Open Studio tour, Aug. 19–21. The Stirrup Gallery at Davis & Elkins College has artifacts dating from the Stone Age to the early 20th century, including a noted collection of 300 powder horns.
The college’s Augusta Heritage Center, which is on West Virginia’s Mountain Music Trail, hosts a variety of performances and folk life programs. Starting this month is a Pickin’ in the Park series on Wednesday night in Elkins City Park featuring acoustic bluegrass music.
The center also hosts a summer concert series, July 12–Aug. 11; the Augusta Festival, Aug. 12–14; and the Old-Time Fiddlers’ Reunion, Oct. 21–23.
A highlight of the year in Elkins is the Mountain State Forest Festival, Oct. 2–9, which draws thousands for concerts, art shows, parades, and competitions.
Civil War enthusiasts will want to explore Rich Mountain near Beverly, where a July 11, 1861, Union victory established Union control of western Virginia, leading to the region breaking away from Virginia and forming West Virginia in 1863.
Dolly Sods, which is partly in Randolph County, is a rocky, high-altitude wilderness area that offers challenging hikes and expansive views.
Fun in the outdoors
Pendleton County is a great place to find pristine wilderness, rural farmland, and rugged mountain terrain. The county has the highest and lowest points in the state — Spruce Knob Mountain, whose highest summit is 4,863 feet, and Seneca Caverns.
The Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks Recreation Area in the North Fork area is one of the best-known attractions in West Virginia. The sheer rock faces of Seneca Rocks lure climbers. Germany Valley offers particularly spectacular views.
Walking and driving tours, hiking, mountain biking, climbing, hunting, and fishing are among favorite activities.
Two of the more popular events are Spring Fest on the first full weekend of May, which features a trout rodeo and box car derby, and Treasure Mountain Festival, the third weekend in September, which draws as many as 30,000 people to the town of Franklin, the county seat, for parades, concerts, and arts and crafts.
Randolph Co. Tourism: randolphcountywv.com
Pendleton Co. Tourism: visitpendleton.net