By: Audrey Knapp
With summer in full-swing here in the Panhandle, many people face the difficult task of brainstorming weekend activities that won’t break the budget. Thankfully, we live in an area that offers numerous opportunities for fantastic day trips. You don’t have to head to the Laurel Highlands or the Adirondacks to enjoy a scenic drive; we have everything we need right here in our own back yard.
These five scenic drives, while providing captivating mountain views, journey along country backroads, ridgetop drives, and beside cool waterways. As you make your way through secluded hollows and rolling farmland you may see deer, birds of prey, and wildflowers growing in bunches alongside the road. Pack up your cooler, fi shing poles, swimsuits, and folding chairs as necessary before you head out.
Note: GPS and data service is spotty at best along the majority of these routes, so print your own route maps ahead of time.
Now, come along with me and explore the Wild and Wonderful right here in the Eastern Panhandle.
The Charles Town Loop Driving Time / Miles: 1 Hour 15 Minutes / 46 Miles
Take this trip: for a simple ride with impressive views of North Mountain Pitstop: Taylor’s Farm Market (Saturday 9am-5pm; 178 Pilgrim St; www.taylorfarmsmarket.com) Picnic: Poor House Farm Park (www.mbcparks-rec.org/parks-facilities/poor-house-farm-park)
Route Directions: Head west out of town on WV-51 – right on WV-11 – left on WV-51 – left on Pilgrim St for pit stop – left on WV-51 – right on WV-45 – left on Poor House Rd – right into Poor House Farm Park for picnic – right on Poor House Rd – right on Tuscarora Pike – south on I-81 – take Exit 12 – left from ramp onto Apple Harvest Dr – becomes WV-9, follow to Charles Town.
Leave town on WV-51 and you’ll be guided by the old stone walls which stand in silent testament to the complex and intriguing history of our area. On occasion this rising road will yield dramatic views of North Mountain.
Stop at Taylor’s Farm Market for an ample selection of goods including local honey, strawberries, pies, and wine. Head back out to WV-51, but be careful taking this left–traffic here is heavy.
Past Inwood you’ll find the curves deliver exciting centrifugal force as the road weaves its way through the woods. After driving through historic Gerrardstown that blue, razor’s-edge ridgeline we know as North Mountain will come fully into view. Take it easy as you ascend the mountainside and look east – the views of the verdant valley are breathtaking.
The descent on WV-45 is a chance to relax before Poor House Rd rolls you through the forest. When you emerge you’ll fi nd yourself parallel to the mountain, its formidable ridgeline stretching north ahead of you and ever-rising into the quiet blue sky.
Upon reaching Poor House Farm Park, you’ll see Henry Arena where you can watch horse shows on most weekends. Visit the playground, fish the ponds, walk the trails, picnic in the shade, and snap pictures around the park.
Afterward, take Poor House Rd to Tuscarora Pike. This serpentine asphalt roadway winds past historic farms and leads you to I-81 where you’ll head south. Turn left off Exit 12 and WV-9 will take you back to Charles Town.
The Berkeley Springs Loop Driving Time / Miles: 2 Hours / 53 Miles
Take this trip: if you’re especially adventurous.
Route Directions: East out of town on WV-9 – right on Spohr’s Rd – left on Mountain Run Rd – left on Highland Ridge Rd – left on Posey Hollow Rd – right on Packing Shed Rd – right on Winchester Grade Rd – left on Virginia Line Rd – right on Morton Grove Rd – left on Timber Ridge Rd – right on Fish Hatchery Rd – right on Rte 522 – left into Cacapon Resort State Park for picnic – left on Rte 522 to Berkeley Springs.
Roll out on WV-9 East – steep grades and tight curves start this adventure off just right. Be ready to turn soon after seeing Hillbilly Heaven – Spohr’s Rd sneaks up on you.
Three miles of this narrow, bumpy road lie ahead but fear not, my friends; the marvelous mountain views are worth it. Tree branches weave together overhead and guide your travels, welcoming you into the wild valley. Near the end the road will climb and you’ll find yourself flanked by mountains: Sleepy Creek Mountain rises to the east and Cacapon Mountain looms in the west.
On Mountain Run Rd you’ll cross a lovely one lane bridge spanning Sleepy Creek. You can pull off to the shoulder after crossing to take some stunning shots of the sunlight as it filters through the trees and dances on the deceptively tranquil surface of the cool creek.
Farther on you’ll see tall Eastern White Pines mixed with the usual hardwoods; their branches sway easily in the gentle breeze, gesturing for you to continue.
Highland Ridge Rd provides striking views of the two blue giants. You’ll pass Troubador Restaurant and Lounge, owned by Jim McCoy and his wife Bertha. Early in his music career Jim was the first bandleader for Patsy Cline and in 2009 he won the “Spirit” Award from the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame (www.troubadourlounge.com.)
Winchester Grade Rd grants enchanting mountain views as you pass the Morgan County Observatory (visit www.nitesky.org for more information and “Star Party” dates.) Timber Ridge Rd provides the last vast views of the mountains before you descend.
From Rte 522 you’ll turn into Cacapon Resort State Park for your picnic. First, head up to the Mountain Overlook to top off the scenic tour before enjoying a picturesque picnic at the lake.
Turn north on Rte 522, riding parallel to Cacapon Mountain as you head back home to Berkeley Springs.
The Shepherdstown Loop Driving Time / Miles: 1 Hour 15 Minutes / 44 Miles
Take this trip: for an easy drive with mountain views and hiking opportunities.
Pit Stop: Black Dog Coffee Company (Saturday 7am-6pm, Sunday 8am- 3pm; www.blackdogcoffee.net)
Picnic: Shannondale Springs Wildlife Management Area / SWMA (www.wvdnr.gov/hunting/D2WMAareas.shtm)
Route Directions: South out of town on WV-480 – left on Ridge Rd – right on Luther Jones Rd – left on Charles Town Rd – left to Black Dog Coffee Company – right on Charles Town Rd – left on Luther Jones Rd – left onto ramp for WV-9 East – exit to follow WV-9 toward Leesburg – right on Charles Town Rd – left on Mission Rd – right on River Rd, picnic at SWMA – left on Mission Rd – right on Charles Town – right on WV-9 East – left into Keys Gap for scenic stop – right on WV-9 West – right on WV-9 West toward Martinsburg – right on Flowing Springs Rd – left on 230 to Shepherdstown.
Drive south out of town on WV-480 past historic properties, red honeysuckle blossoms, and the tall trees which line the roadway. Savor the grand views of North Mountain to the west and the Blue Ridge to the east.
Stop in at Black Dog Coffee Company for caffeine and snacks before jumping on WV-9 East. Despite this highway not being a winding country road, it provides remarkable views as you approach the Blue Ridge. The view to your right as you cross the Shenandoah river is awe-inspiring – you can watch the peaks of the Blue Ridge ramble and stretch into the horizon.
After turning onto Charles Town Rd, you’ll see a sign for a public access point off of Hostler Rd and Walling Dr. Continue on past this toward Mission Rd in order access the main area of the SWMA.
Mission Rd is bound by dense forest which further thickens on River Rd where you’ll be surprised by the thick canopy overhead as you drive to the boat launch. SWMA offers 1,361 acres of undulating terrain for the bold and adventurous. Here you can hike, fi sh, and eat a peaceful picnic while admiring the unbridled beauty of the Shenandoah River.
Head out the way you came, but turn right on WV-9, then left into Keys Gap. Enjoy views of the Panhandle and beyond from this cool, shaded area and if you still have energy, explore this Appalachian Trail access point.
Roll down the steep grade of WV-9 to cross the Shenandoah River once more and look right to see the Blue Ridge extending northeast. Exit toward Martinsburg, then take Flowing Springs Rd where you’ll immediately find a vantage point from which to marvel at the Blue Ridge jutting up into the clear summer sky.
The ride is carefree from here, meandering past fi eld and forest as you head north to meet WV-230. Follow WV-230 north into the heart of Shepherdstown.
The Martinsburg Loop Driving Time / Miles: 1 Hour 15 Minutes / 40 Miles
Take this trip: if you like exploring simple country routes with mountain views.
Pit Stop: Orr’s Farm Market (Saturday 8am-6pm/Sunday 10am- 4pm; www.orrsfarmmarket.com)
Picnic: Back Creek Access point off WV-9 (http://www.wvdnr.gov/fishing/public_access.asp) Route Directions: West out of town on W. King St – left on Nollville Rd – right on Orr Dr for pit stop – right on Nollville Rd – right at fork onto WV- 45 – right on Back Creek Valley Rd – right on WV-9/Hedgesville Rd – right onto access drive before bridge for picnic – right on WV-9/Hedgesville Rd to Martinsburg.
Sharp curves, steep hills, and a narrow road mark your way out of town on WV-45, but as you ride up Nollville Rd you’ll find some of the finest views of North Mountain.
Stop in at Orr’s Farm Market along the way. With a selection including fresh fruit, honey, jam, candy, and baked goods, they’re sure to have everything you need for the perfect creek-side picnic.
After you leave Orr’s, you’ll drive comfortably until you begin to ascend the steep blue beast.
Continue straight at the four-way stop and be ready for the steep, winding grade where your eyes will savor the first distant views of Third Hill Mountain. At the bottom you’ll find the tiny town of Glengary and turn right onto Back Creek Valley Rd. Chase this road through the valley for crisp mountain scenery to the east and west. Keep an eye north and you’ll spot the distant blue peak of Bullskin Mountain in Maryland.
Turn onto Hedgesville Rd and look for a gravel drive off the right shoulder – this is the Back Creek Access Point. Walk the little trail beneath the trees to reach the shoreline. Set up some chairs, break open the cooler, and swim or fi sh the day away in this shady, relaxing spot.
Later, take a right on WV-9/ Hedgesville Rd. Ride this faithful route, full of twists, turns and hills, back home to Martinsburg.
The Harpers Ferry Loop Driving Time / Miles: 54 Minutes / 30 Miles
Take this trip: for a simple drive with diverse scenery
Pit Stop: Shepherdstown Sweet Shop Bakery (Saturday 8am-6pm, Sunday 8am-4pm; www.wvbakery. com)
Picnic: James Rumsey Monument Park (www.jamesrumsey.org/therumsey-monument)
Route Directions: West out of town on WV-340 – right on WV-230 – right on Engle Switch Rd – left on Bakerton Rd – left on Knott Rd – right on Engle Molers Rd – right on WV-230 – right on S Princess St – left on W German St – park for pit stop – east on W German St – left on N Mills St – right on Rumsey Monument Rd for picnic – left on N Mills St – right on E German St – left on S Princess St – left on WV- 230 – left on WV-340, take it home to Harper’s Ferry.
The roads will feel familiar on your way out of town, but after Elks Run you’ll turn onto Engle Switch Rd. The dips and rolls of this road will remind you of a wild little roller coaster – you get airtime riding over the crests and your stomach drops in the troughs.
Bakerton Rd affords you exciting peek-a-boo views of the Blue Ridge and the Potomac River. The road sinks down and tunnels through a thicket of trees so dense that it turns day to dusk.
Without warning you’ll emerge from the forest into the daylight again as you approach Knott Rd. From here you make a quick right onto Engle Molers Rd and head for Shepherdstown past the vast, lonely open fields.
In town, stop by the Shepherdstown Sweet Shop Bakery for an excellent variety of delectable sandwiches, pastries, cheesecake, and other treats.
Head over to the James Rumsey Monument Park for your picnic. Toss a ball around, admire the monument, walk the trail, and revel in the spectacular views over the Potomac River.
Afterward, take WV-230 south to WV-340, and ride the latter home to Harpers Ferry.