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Potomac Highlands

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The Potomac Highlands region is in eastern West Virginia. Like the name of the region suggests the two dominant features are the Potomac River and the Appalachian Mountains providing hiking and rafting opportunities throughout the region. Scenery and history abound and they aren't hard to find. Two of America's Scenic Byways traverse the region leading travelers into the wilderness or to important locations in George Washington's life. The beauty of the surroundings inspires artists and pockets of creativity can be found throughout the region. However, the Potomac Highlands isn't just winding rivers and tree topped peaks. This region has its share of small towns, main streets, and family owned businesses you can't find anywhere else.

Regions[edit]

While this region isn't officially subdivided on this website, it is important to note that there is a drastic geographic change from east to west. The eastern counties in the panhandle are known for rolling/jagged hills that give them a strong agricultural feel while the western counties lay claim to some of the tallest mountains in the eastern United States. Highlighting this contrast, both the highest point in the state (Spruce Knob - 4,863 ft) and the lowest point in the state (Potomac River at Virginia border - 240 ft) can be found in the Potomac Highlands. There is a drastic change in population between east and west too. The eastern two counties of Jefferson and Berkeley are home to more people (approx. 168,400) than the other 9 counties combined (approx. 128,400). Given this change, the type of activities, restaurants, etc. will be different in the eastern counties compared to the rest of the region.

Cities[edit]

  • Charles Town - founded by George Washington's brother now with a nearby casino/racetrack
  • Davis - the highest incorporated town in the state of West Virginia has an elevation of 3,200 feet
  • Elkins - the 3rd largest city in the region, a hub for bluegrass and gospel music, Davis & Elkins College
  • Harpers Ferry - a popular destination for Civil War buffs, hiking, and rafting
  • Helvetia - very small community maintaining a strong Swiss heritage
  • (Keyser) - the 4th largest city in the region, home to Potomac State College and a small main street
  • Marlinton - small town on the Greenbrier River, Gateway to the Highland Scenic Highway
  • Martinsburg - largest city in this region and 9th largest in the state
  • Moorefield - small agricultural town in the middle of the mountains
  • Romney - the oldest town in West Virginia
  • (Wardensville) - first town if you enter on US-48

Other destinations[edit]

  • Appalachian Trail - The Appalachian Trail may not have a very extensive part of the trail in West Virginia (only 4 miles), but this section is relatively easy for novices (only a difficulty rating of 2-3 out of 10) and easy accessable from Harpers Ferry. Also the Appalachian Trail headquarters is only a quarter mile away from the trail in Harpers Ferry.

Understand[edit]

The Potomac Highlands of West Virginia is a large region comprised of 11 counties. This region is filled with hills and mountains that provide remarkable beauty, but at the same time make travel by land difficult. Counties that may seem close on a map can be much more distant as far as travel time, and some areas in West Virginia are more closely related and connected to nearby cities in neighboring states. Mountains that run north/south that have been barriers during the Civil War are still barriers today and they continue to limit east/west travel options. For example, the Appalachian Mountains and I-81 (this region's only interstate highway) make it easier to travel between Martinsburg, WV and Hagerstown, MD rather than Berkely Springs, WV. However, this lack of interstate highways provides for more relaxed, scenic travel along smaller highways and county roads. It is worth noting that a trip from Harper's Ferry on the eastern tip of the region to Marlington in the southwest of the region may take 4 hours by car almost extensively through the state of Virginia. Trying to make the trip between these two towns while staying within WV will take you an extra hour.

One of the best ways to experience the Potomac Highlands is to leave the main roads behind and travel along the more local roads. They provide spectacular off the beaten path views or winding roads clinging to pristine creeks and rivers. While some roads are more spectacular than others, each winding Potomac Highlands road has its moments.

Climate[edit]

Talk[edit]

Get in[edit]

The Potomac Highlands region has no airports with commercial flights and has no cities served by long distance bus service. The best ways to enter the region are by car or train. If you are traveling from far away, the closest airports would be Dulles International Airport west of Washington, D.C. about an hour drive from Harpers Ferry or the Morgantown Municipal Airport in Morgantown, WV about 2 hours from Elkins. If you are flying in and you would like to get in by rail, the Ronald Reagan National Airport also in Washington, DC has an adjacent Metro station where you can then use the Yellow Line and then the Red Line to connect with Amtrak in Washington, D.C.'s Union Station.

By car[edit]

Getting in to the eastern panhandle's largest city Martinsburg can be accomplished easily by traveling on interstate I-81. To travel to any of the smaller towns in the eastern section of this region you will have to leave the interstate highways.

Getting in to the western section of this region can be a little more difficult and requires leaving the familiar interstate highways.

  • From I-81 in Virginia you can then travel west on either US Route 50 towards Romney, VA SR 55/US Route 48 towards Moorefield, US Route 33 towards Seneca Rocks, or VA SR 39/WV SR 39 to Marlinton.
  • From I-68 you can travel south from Maryland on US 220 to Keyser.
  • From I-79 you can travel east on US 33 towards Elkins.

For the most unique entrance to this region, exit I-68 in Cumberland Maryland onto MD SR 51. Drive east on SR 51 for approximately 15 miles to Oldtown, MD. Turn south onto Green Springs Rd. toward Green Springs, WV and cross the Oldtown Historic Toll Bridge. It is one of a few private toll bridges left in the country. You will cross the North Branch Potomac river on an all wooden bridge that is not far above the water below. Cars/Trucks/Vans $1.50 per crossing, Motorcycles $0.50 per crossing, Tractor-Trailer/Buses - $6 and pedestrians and bicycle are FREE. For more information you can call the Oldtown Toll Bridge at (301) 478-5500 [10]

By train[edit]

Amtrak [11] offers one routes that travels through the Potomac Highlands.
The Maryland Rail Commuter [12] ferries passengers between Martinsburg and Washington, D.C. on weekdays.

Get around[edit]

The best way to get around the Potomac Highlands is to drive. Cites and landmarks worth seeing in this region are spread out making travel by car ideal. If you are traveling in the region, consider driving along the two Scenic Byways. The Washington Heritage Trail [13] crosses the three eastern counties of Jefferson, Berkeley, and Morgan and the Highland Scenic Highway is in the southwest part of this region in Pocahontas County near Marlinton.



Public Transportation[edit]

There are some forms of public transportation (see below), but they don't provide frequent service typical of major public transportation systems. The public transportation maps, schedules, and bus stop signage are not meant for people foreign to this region. Neither is the service, since it generally travels to shopping plazas, local hospitals, or major employers. In case it is helpful or necessary, here are the regional public transportation providers.

  • Country Roads Transit [14] - Located in Randolph and Upshur counties, but mainly provides public transportation to Elkins. Travel between other Potomac Highlands locations does not occur frequently.
  • Eastern Panhandle Transit Authority[15] - Know as Pan Tran for short, this is a bus service that only operates in the two eastern-most counties in this region, Jefferson and Berkeley. Pan Tran provides service between Harpers Ferry, Charles Town, Martinsburg, and Sheperdstown.
  • Potomac Valley Transit Authority [16] - This bus service is much more extensive than Pan Tran or Country Roads Transit with a total of 10 different bus lines between different towns. Yet the system is still probably inadequate for the use of visitors, since the quantity of service is normally only about 1 to 4 times a day. The PVTA serves the counties of Mineral, Hampshire, Hardy, Grant, and Pendelton with service that extends to Cumberland, MD and Harrisonburg, VA.

See[edit][add listing]

Civil War History[edit]

  • Harper's Ferry National Historic Park, 171 Shoreline Drive Harpers Ferry, WV (The main parking is located on US 340 in West Virginia approximately 20 miles west of Frederick, MD. Shuttle buses can carry visitors from the parking to the center of historic Harpers Ferry.), 304 535-6029 (fax: 304 535-6244), [1]. Open year round except Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Years Day from 9 am to 5 pm. This is a large historical park with trails and a museum located in the numerous buildings with information on a wide range of topics but a focus on the American Civil War, African-American History, Industry, Transportation, and Nature. See John Browns Fort, Jefferson Rock, ruins of the US Armory, pulp/cotton/flour mills, and the Harper House finished in 1782. Hikes range from very easy around the Virginius Island and Murphy-Chambers Farm, to difficult treks up to Maryland Heights (4.5 miles round trip) or Loundon Heights (7.5 miles round trip) with great views of Harpers Ferry and the rivers from above. $5 per person or $10 per vehicle (Entrance passes are valid for 3 consecutive days).  edit
  • Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park


Natural Wonders[edit]

  • Blackwater Falls State Park
  • Seneca Rocks
  • Lost River State Park [17]
  • Smoke Hole Caverns [18]


Buildings/Structures[edit]

  • Berkeley Springs State Park, 2 S Washington Street Berkeley Springs, WV, 304 258-2711 (fax: 304 535-6244), [2]. from 10 am to 6 pm (Museum is open March to December, the pool is open to the public Memorial Day to Labor Day noon to 5 pm. Considered "America's First Spa" this small state park in the center of Berkely Springs is known for mineral waters flowing at a constant 74.3 degrees Farenheit. Frequented by George Washington since his days as a land surveyor, the park has history dating back to before the Revolutionary War. The Berkely Springs Spa offers a Roman Bath, a whilpool bath, massages, and a sauna. A pool filled with natural spring water is in front of the bath houses and a museum is located on the 2nd floor of the Roman Bath House.[3] Free for museum and pool, but cost may apply to spa treatments.  edit
  • Berkeley Springs Castle [19]
  • Locust Creek Covered Bridge near Hillsboro, WV. It is located just off Pocahontas County Road 31 and not far from the Greenbrier River. It used to carry cars but now functions only as a pedestrian bridge.
  • Martinsburg Roundhouse
  • National Radio Astronomy Observatory and Green Bank Science Center, 155 Observatory Road Green Bank, WV, 304 456-2150, [4]. Open Thur.-Mon. Closed Tue. and Wed., Science Center is open 10 am to 6 pm, Telescope Tours 11 am, 1 pm, & 3 pm. The Green Bank Observatory uses multiple telescopes but is known for owning the largest steerable telescope in the world and conducting research on radio astronomy. Admission to the Green Bank Science Center is Free. Public telescope tours are $6 for adults, $5 for seniors, and free for kids 10 and under. Closed for portions near Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and Easter Day.  edit

National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, WV

Do[edit][add listing]

Celebrate Fasnacht in Helvetia, WV. This is a holiday with Swiss roots celebrated before Ash Wednesday (Mardi Gras's Fat Tuesday) that culminates with the burning of Old Man Winter. Participants create intricate paper mache masks for a parade through town and a masked ball.

Entertainment[edit]

The Purple Fiddle in Thomas, WV

Contemporary American Theater Festival at Shepard University and the Shepherdstown Film Society both in Shepherdstown, WV

Pocahontas County Opera House in Marlinton, WV

American Mountain Theater in Elkins, WV

The Old Opera House in Charles Town, WV

Apollo Theatre in Martinsburg, WV

Hollywood Casino and Racetrack in Charles Town, WV [20]- Watch exciting horse races, play slots or table games, or just stop in for the restaurants and entertainment. Liver horse racing takes place year round (almost every week) on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays and on some Wednesdays with typical start times of 7:00 PM. Charles Town Race Track hosts three major events each year; the Charles Town Classic (Late April)[21], the Race for the Ribbon, and the West Virginia Breeders' Classic (Fall)[22].

Sports[edit]

Summit Point Motorsports Park [23] Racing track complex with spectator events and driver training/practice from beginners to professionals on 3 different road course circuits. Located about 20 minutes southwest of Charles Town in Summit Point, WV.

Tuscarora Trail [24] This is a long distance hiking trail that crosses the West Virginia Potomac Highlands Region in two different locations. The Tuscarora was originally created in the 1960's as an alternate route for the Appalachian Trail. Separated into sections on the trail website, Sections 11-13 cross West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle in Morgan and Berkeley counties for approximately 32 miles. The majority of sections 11-13 lies within the Sleepy Creek Wildlife Management Area. Sections 16-18 straddle the border of WV and VA on Great North Mountain for approximately 14 miles in Hampshire and Hardy counties east of Capon Springs before spending around 8 miles completely in Hardy County south of Wardensville. Sections 16-18 travel through the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest.

Greenbrier River Trail [25] A 78 mile long state park for hiking and biking. The trail begins in the north in Cass and extends into the New River and Greenbrier Valley Region of West Virginia, ending in Caldwell. The trail follows the old path of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway and includes two former railroad tunnels. Sharp's Tunnel, immediately followed by a crossing of the Greenbrier River, is in the north near Seneca State Forest.

Scenic Railways[edit]

  • Potomac Eagle [26] departs from Wappocomo Station just north of Romney, WV and travel 3 HR round trip along the South Branch Potomac River.
  • New Tygart Flyer [27] departs from Elkins, WV (Approx. 4 HR round trip)
  • Cheat Mountain Salamander departs from Elkins, WV for a 9 HR round trip or departing from the Cheat Bridge Station for a 3 HR round trip.
  • Durbin Rocket departs from Durbin, WV for a 2 HR round trip on a rare steam locomotive.

Eat[edit][add listing]

Drink[edit][add listing]

Coffee[edit]

  • Black Dog Coffee [28]
  • Fairfax Coffee House [29]
  • Trailhead Coffee Shop [30]

Wine, Beer, and Spirits[edit]

  • Potomac Highlands Winery[32] made in Keyser, WV
  • Lost River Brewing Company [34] in Wardensville, WV.
  • Mountain State Brewing [35] has the largest full-scale micro-brewery in the state of West Virginia in the small town of Thomas. You can also find their beers on tap at a long list of restaurants in the in Potomac Highlands in towns like Davis, Elkins, Harpers Ferry, and Sheperdstown.

Sleep[edit][add listing]

This is not a full list of lodging in the entire region but it does provide a good idea of where hotels can be found and what type of hotels you can find in the different towns. The towns are listed from east to west beginning with Harper's Ferry. The two locations with the highest concentration and diversity of options are the eastern two counties of Jefferson and Berkely (Harpers Ferry, Charles Town, and Martinsburg) and the ski resort area of Canaan Valley near Davis and Thomas.

Harper's Ferry[edit]

  • Clarion Inn, 4328 William L Wilson Fwy, (304) 535-6302 (fax: (304) 535 6313), [5]. checkin: 3:00 PM; checkout: 11:00 AM. Location on US-340 with view of Schoolhouse Ridge battlefield. Only two minutes drive to Harper's Ferry National Historic Park Visitor's Center. The hotel has an indoor heated pool. from $95.  edit
  • Quality Inn, 25 Union St. Bolivar, WV, (304) 535-6391 (fax: (304) 535 6395), [6]. checkin: 3:00 PM; checkout: 11:00 AM. Convenient location on US-340 in Bolivar. It is the closest hotel to Harper's Ferry. From this location some restaurants (like Mena's Pizzeria) are only a 10 minute walk away. You can also walk to the Appalachian trail in 3 minutes or to the center of Harper's Ferry in 25 minutes. from $90.  edit
  • The Jackson Rose B&B, 1167 W. Washington St. Harper's Ferry, WV, (304) 535-1528, [7]. checkin: 3:00 PM; checkout: 11:00 AM. An 18th century residence that was the temporary headquarters for Stonewall Jackson during the Civil War. Quiet location in walking distance to a few restaurants, antique shopping, post office, and the Appalachian Trail headquarters. Only a 20 minute walk down the hill to the center of Harper's Ferry. $140-$160.  edit

Shepherdstown[edit]

  • Bavarian Inn, 164 Shepherd Grade Road Shepherdstown, WV, (304) 876-2551, [8]. German inspired hotel with high ratings, suites, river views, and restaurant service high quality German and American food. The European influence is not out of place with German Street righ in the center of Shepherdstown. The property includes an infinity pool and tennis courts. Location is perfect for accessing Shepherdstown Univesity or the C&O Canal just across the Potomac. $140-$160.  edit
  • Thomas Shepherd Inn, 300 West German Street Shepherdstown, WV, (304) 876-3715 (), [9]. checkin: between 3:00 and 6:00 pm; checkout: 11:00 am. Bed & Breakfast with over 150 years of history only a block away from a plethora of dining, shopping, art, and the Sheperdstown Library. Portions of Shedherdstown University are less than a 5 minute walk away. $100-$120.  edit

Charles Town[edit]

  • The Carriage Inn
  • Hampton Inn & Suites
  • Holiday Inn Express

Martinsburg and I-81 Corridor[edit]

Berkeley Springs[edit]

  • Best Western Berkeley Springs
  • The Country Inn at Berkeley Springs

Romney[edit]

Keyser[edit]

Davis/Thomas/Canaan Valley[edit]

Snowshoe[edit]

Marlington[edit]

Stay safe[edit]

Be careful while driving on mountain roads. The weather can be unpredictable and can change very quickly. The current weather may be fine in the valley, but the weather in higher elevations can be much different. Rain, snow, fog, and high winds can catch you off guard when you reach the top of a local mountain in the Potomac Highlands, and windy roads can combine with treacherous weather to create difficult driving. Additionally, high winds and just a small snowfall may create large snowdrifts.

Be careful when hiking during hunting season.

Get out[edit]

  • Mountains and Lakes Country in West Virginia - known for the West Virginia University and the Mountaineers in Morgantown and this region also features the majority of the covered bridges in West Virginia.
  • Northern Virginia combines capital attractions like the Arlington National Cemetery, some of the nations most diverse restaurants, and Loudoun County's wine country.
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