Did you know that West Virginia is a very big state? I pride myself on generally being very geographically savvy so when I was invited to take an overnight trip to the all-inclusive family resort, Capon Springs, I thought I’d turn it into a family getaway to West Virginia.
So I reached out to my contacts for Pocahontas County, WV and asked if they’d be interested in hosting us for an additional night in West Virginia.
I proudly sat back and congratulated myself on planning a fun multi-day itinerary in neighboring West Virginia.
I figured we’d drive to Capon Springs (just over two hours from our home), spend the night, and then hop on down to Pocahontas County for another night before heading home.
It turns out that Pocahontas County is a good three hours south of Capon Springs right in the heart of West Virginia. As I drove the family through extremely scenic views and unspoiled beauty, they continually asked How much further? How far are we going? Where is this place?
Staying in Pocahontas County, WV
We finally arrived in Marlinton, WV right around dinner time. We checked into Locust Hill, known as an Inn, Cabin, and Pub. It’s like a bed & breakfast with a restaurant on the main floor, which was perfect because we were ready for dinner and ready to get out of the car.
We actually got lost along the way because there’s something you need to know. This area is situated in the National Radio Quiet Zone, for reasons I’ll explain shortly. That means that you have no cell service, no data service, no satellite service. When we got lost, we couldn’t use our phones to map out where we were. We couldn’t use the navigation system in the car. We couldn’t even make a phone call to ask for directions. So we sat in a little bit of a panic on the side of a dark country road until we let our instincts kick in.
Just a short way down the road, we did find the private entrance to Locust Hill and we were thrilled to settle in to the Almost Heaven suite on the third floor. Then we headed downstairs to the pub on the first floor to have dinner since we weren’t too keen to get out and explore that night.
The next morning, we met a few guests that were ready to get out and explore nearby bike trails. We enjoyed the small breakfast buffet and headed out to cram as much into one day as we could.
First Stop: Cass Scenic Railroad State Park
Here’s something you might not know. There are three scenic railroads in West Virginia. And there are train enthusiasts that plan vacations around scenic railroads (I know because I met one of these groups on our trip!).
In Pocahontas County, we secured tickets for the Cass Scenic Whittaker trip in Cass Scenic Railroad State Park because who doesn’t like a train ride? For reasons I can’t remember, we arrived late and ended up not getting tickets in the same car. So after two full days with the family, I took one for the team and opted to spend some ALONE time in a separate car so they could sit together.
The Cass Scenic Railroad was built in 1901 to haul lumber to the nearby mill in Cass. The locomotives are the same as those used during that time and many of the passenger cars are old logging flat cars that have been refurbished.
For this 90 minute trip, the locomotive both pushed and pulled the cars up the mountain to Whittaker Station at the top. I took photos of the fall foliage and enjoyed the peaceful journey while chatting with foreign graduate students on a day trip from Virginia Tech.
At the top of the mountain, I reunited with the family as we sipped on hot chocolate from the concession stand. They give you plenty of time to explore and learn more about the re-creation of a logging camp there before heading back down the mountain.
What You Need to Know
- If you miss the time on your train ticket, you WILL be left behind! (We saw this happen to someone).
- It’s much cooler on the top of the mountain than it is lower down. That’s why I look vaguely like a homeless person. I threw on as many layers as I could.
- Bring your wallet so you can grab a few snack at Whittaker Station.
- Bring your camera – there are plenty of scenic views.
- Stop into the Last Run Restaurant and Company Store before you leave or when you get back. You can grab a quick meal or the very least enjoy some retro candy from the general store.
Next Stop: Green Bank Observatory
Just up the road from the Cass Scenic Railroad is something I was kind of nerding out over. It’s the home of the Green Bank Observatory.
I consider myself a bit of an amateur astonomer so anything related to the world beyond ours gets me pretty excited. But don’t go to Green Bank expecting to see amazing views of the night sky. The astronomers and scientists at Green Bank are actually listening to space.
Green Bank houses multiple radio telescopes, which consist of a radio receiver and an antenna system that is used to detect radio-frequency radiation emitted by extraterrestrial sources. If that doesn’t sound terribly interesting, just remember that that’s how we’ve been able to get a photographic glimpse of a real live black hole in recent days.
All visitors will head to the Green Bank Science Center where you can take a guided tour of the Green Bank Observatory site. We opted for the Site Tour so we could learn as much as we could about these massive structures.
The most popular, Site Tour, features science demonstrations and a short film about the world-class Green Bank Telescope (GBT). This tour continues with a bus excursion through our gates into the electronics-restricted Zone I for an up-close look at our telescopes- from the pioneering instruments of the 1950s to the world’s largest fully-steerable telescope, the GBT.
After the tour, we spent time walking through the interactive room called “Catching the Wave Exhibit Hall.” At first glance, it seems like a wannabe science museum crammed into one room but my son and I spent over an hour playing with the exhibits and saying, “Oh cool – come check this out!”
My favorite exhibit demonstrated thermal imaging where we were able to scientifically confirm that my nose and fingertips are always cold and my son is literally always hot.
And when you’re done, don’t forget to check out the Galaxy Gift Shop where I made several purchases, included the latest in nerd fashion.
What You Need to Know
- THIS IS A DEAD ZONE! Remember when I said your cell phone won’t work? This is why. Even the smallest devices can cause radio interference and affect data collection.
- You can’t take any electronic devices on the tour to see the GBT. If you have an electronic device (phones, cameras, etc.), you will have to power it completely off. And if you are wearing a device that can’t be turned off (like a FitBit), you’ll have to place it in a Faraday cage until the tour is over.
- You can’t take good pictures of the GBT! Well, actually you can if you have a really good lens. Because you can’t take any photographic equipment on the tour. You have to take pictures with your mind!
- They actually monitor surroundings areas for radio interference. They once tracked down some radio noise and found it was a nearby resident with a leaky microwave!
Is West Virginia Almost Heaven?
It is almost heaven. I think it’s one of this country’s biggest secrets. It has breathtaking views around every corner.
By spending time surrounded by beautiful scenery and driving through a radio free zone, you are literally forced to unplug, look around, and simply enjoy each other’s company.
On this trip, we had planned to make it to Cranberry Glades Botanical Area and the Falls of Hills Creek, which are both supposed to provide a gorgeous nature walk but the longer than expected travel time forced us to cut the trip short. But it gave us enough of a taste to know we’d love to go back!