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Move over Salem stans. I’ve got a new spooky season destination for you: West Virginia! West Virginia is one of the best off-the-beaten-path places for October travel thanks to its fall foliage and its X-Files worthy creep factor. This West Virginia weekend getaway will take you on a 3-day road trip through the center of the wild and wonderful state. Buckle up for fall colors without the crowds, a haunted asylum, and the center of the search for extraterrestrial life.
Hands down, the best time to visit West Virginia is in the fall! You should specifically time your trip for mid-October to get peak fall foliage with way fewer crowds than you would see up in New England. Temperatures this time of year are mild in the mid-50s to mid-60s. I didn’t even need a jacket! A nice warm sweater and a scarf were plenty for this mostly-indoors West Virginia weekend getaway.
This is one of those places where a road trip is your best bet. If you don’t live within driving distance, fly into Washington DC at Dulles International Airport (IAD) and rent a car. If you can, drive down to Charlottesville for your first night and start this West Virginia itinerary the next day.
From Charlottesville, you’ll drive out 64-W to Lewisburg, West Virginia. Just keep an eye out for an oddball turn to remain on 64. If you drive straight through, you’ll actually merge into I-81 to Roanoke.
Roads through West Virginia are uncrowded, but you definitely want to download Google Maps for offline use! They don’t say West Virginia’s state flower is a satellite dish for no reason. This particular West Virginia itinerary also takes you through the largest radio quiet zone in the country, so be prepared for spotty service. Download your maps. Download your favorite road trip friendly playlist.
For transportation, you’ll budget for a tank or two of gas and, if needed, a rental car.
Your best bet for West Virginia accommodations is hotels — make sure you select hotels that include a free breakfast. Hotels range $100-200 per night.
For food, budget at least $15-20 per meal. If you want a more upscale dinner for a splurge night, my three-course dinner plus two glasses of wine in Lewisburg ran about $100 per person.
Most of my recommended West Virginia attractions on this itinerary are free. The three tours you’ll need to pay for are at Lost World Caverns in Lewisburg, which charges $12 for a self-guided tour; the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston, which charges $30 for a 90-minute historical tour; and the Green Bank Observatory, which charges $10 for a guided tour.
For a solo trip, I would budget about $500 for a long weekend. I was traveling with my partner and we spent less than $750 total.
For a 3-day fall trip in West Virginia, I recommend planning 4 outfits.
1. Something sporty for hikes
2. A casual dress for dinner out
3. A lightweight sweater and jeans
4. A medium weight sweater to wear with your jeans
Warm knits and a scarf were plenty to stay warm in mid-October with temperatures in the mid-50s to mid-60s Fahrenheit. For shoes, I had a pair of Allbirds sneakers and a pair of Rothy’s flats for dinner.
Drive out to Lewisburg, which is just over the Virginia-West Virginia border, and break for lunch.
Once you’re fueled up, head north up highway 219 for some nearby day hikes!
Beartown State Park holds paths through unique rock formations.
A little further north, Cranberry Glades Botanical Area is a remnant of an Ice Age glacier that somehow floated all the way down here. It created a “natural refrigerator” for a bunch of flora and fauna (including cranberry plants) that normally only exist in colder regions.
Honestly, both of these are barely even hikes. They’re super easy outdoor walks with little to no elevation change. The paths are even constructed boardwalks. Both are about half a mile long. You don’t need hiking boots or any trail gear. Cranberry Glades is fully accessible and Beartown has lots of stairs but also some separate accessible trails.
If you have time and don’t mind more driving, right next to the Cranberry Glades is an amazing scenic highway (route 150) perfect for leaf peeping. It will dump out onto 219 and you can head south to Lewisburg.
On your way back to Lewisburg, stop off at Droop Mountain for a great view and one of the most Instagrammable spots in West Virginia. (Fair warning: this site also attracts a lot of Civil War fanatics.)
Get settled in your hotel and head out for dinner.
We ate at The Livery Tavern. A+ for ambience and the food was pretty good, albeit overpriced for its quality. I will say that their dessert was excellent and veggie sides were very good. We had a calamari appetizer that was maybe a little chewy, but not bad. The main letdowns were the meat dishes — a fatty duck preparation and an over-seasoned steak. A West Virginia road trip isn’t a trip driven by food and if you want to treat yourself to something upscale, this is the pick.
My hotel pick for Lewisburg, West Virginia is the Home2 Suites by Hilton. It’s very close to 64 and is right next to the attraction I recommend visiting on your first morning in West Virginia, Lost World Caverns. Their breakfast isn’t much to write home about, but it is included in the room price. The real selling point is how nice the rooms are. Home2 Suites are designed for long-term stays, so they’re really spacious and comfortable with kitchenettes in the room.
For hotel reward points, Home2 Suites are part of the Hilton Honors program which is free to join, really convenient for amassing points, and gives you 7,000 hotels in over 122 countries that will accept those points for booking. If you have a Hilton credit card, it automatically grants you elite status which means every fifth consecutive night is free.
After breakfast at the hotel, head up the street to Lost World Caverns.
Well marked formations in this cave make it an interesting and fun rainy day activity near Lewisburg. You’ll take a 45-minute self-guided tour through its stalactites and stalagmites. No need to book in advance.
Then it’s time to hit the road! The drive to Weston is particularly winding so download the directions and pay close attention.
If you’d like to grab lunch when you arrive in Weston, go to Buns. A local tipped us off that it was the only decent place for lunch in town. It’s a local burger/sandwich joint, nothing crazy but our chicken wraps were pretty good. (And of course way better than fast food!)
Weston’s big claim to fame is the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum which treated (and frankly sometimes tormented) mental patients for over 130 years and is now obviously haunted AF.
Before you head their way, however, there’s an even more off-the-beaten-path hidden gem for you to check out.
The Museum of American Glass may not be something you’d expect to find in West Virginia, but the state’s robust silica sand deposits gave it a looooong history of glassblowing.
We’re not just talking about decorative pieces either! Think about the glass needed for windows, lightbulbs, or the phone or computer you’re reading this post on.
The museum is free and self-guided. You might even be a little underwhelmed when you first walk in. Take the time to really comb through the cases. You’ll learn so much and see a lot of beautiful examples of different glass techniques.
From the glass museum, you’ll want to get to the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum by 4:00 pm for their last set of daytime tours. (Unless you’re feeling extra brave and want to do an overnight ghost hunt!)
You can take a paranormal tour or an historical one. Some tours book in advance but many are first come, first served. I recommend the four-floor history tour which is 90 minutes long. Our guide was the daughter of a nurse who worked at the asylum in the 1980s, which added a really valuable personal touch to the stories she shared.
It certainly has its macabre bits, but this ultimately is an historical site. It’s one of the few Kirkbride asylums still standing, founded by a pioneer in mental health care (or at least as much of a pioneer as one could be in the 1860s). While a lot of its history is wretched by modern standards, the tours and the self-guided museums TALA has onsite really showcase the role this building had in the overall evolution of health care.
The building closes at 6:00 pm which gives you plenty of time to check into your hotel and head to dinner.
We ate at Don Patron, which is a local Mexican franchise with a few locations around central West Virginia. The quality was fine and servings were massive. It was also super convenient to our hotel.
My top recommended hotel for Weston, West Virginia is the Holiday Inn Express, which is just a couple minutes outside Weston’s downtown area.
Rooms are basic. The real selling point here is the included breakfast, which I think is the best hotel breakfast I’ve ever had. They offered a lot of good hot breakfast options in addition to the usual continental spread. And it’s a good thing too! Because Weston has literally nothing open on Sunday mornings.
For hotel reward points, Holiday Inn Express is part of IHG One Rewards. The hotel collection is small and the points aren’t always a great value, but IHG’s co-branded credit cards all offer your fourth consecutive night free which is a better free stay perk than a lot of other programs.
Start your morning with breakfast at the hotel and download directions to Green Bank. You’ll start by heading east to Elkins and then spend most of your time on route 250.
Green Bank Observatory is a radio astronomy station, meaning they use radio waves to analyze objects in outer space that we would not be able to see with the types of telescopes you’re probably used to seeing.
Instead Green Bank’s main telescope looks like a giant satellite dish — with a 100-meter diameter, it is the largest fully steerable radio telescope in the world.
The telescopes at this observatory have been used to discover black holes, interstellar molecules, and the radio source at the very center of the Milky Way.
It’s also the birthplace of the Search for Extraterrestrial Life (SETI). Even though SETI projects are all privately funded (aka no government money here), they still regularly take place using Green Bank’s equipment.
There are guided bus tours that go right up to the base of the Green Bank Telescope — just make sure you turn your phone completely off and be conscientious of the areas where no photos or videos are allowed. It really does interfere with their equipment. No need to book your tour in advance.
You can still get great pictures from a designated viewing platform and even if you don’t take a guided tour, there is a really quality museum that is free to enter.
Green Bank Observatory also has a cafe onsite which makes it a good lunch option before you head home! Simple sandwiches, nothing fancy, but a good value.
And that brings your West Virginia weekend getaway to a close!
If you’d like to fill up more time on that third day, you can hike Seneca Rocks between Elkins and Green Bank. It’s one of the best day hikes in West Virginia. Another option would be to take the Cass Scenic Railroad which is minutes away from the Green Bank Observatory. You will need to book tickets for the Cass Scenic Railroad at least a month or more in advance.
If you have more than 3 days to spend in West Virginia, some of the state’s bigger attractions include New River Gorge National Park, which is west from Lewisburg, and Harpers Ferry, which is snuggled right up next to Washington DC.
If you want to get deeper into the paranormal side of West Virginia’s history, add on visits to the haunted West Virginia Penitentiary in Moundsville near the northern border to Pennsylvania or Point Pleasant for the Mothman museum, explaining one of the state’s biggest urban legends.
Spend some time in Washington DC! I have a great itinerary for 5 days in Washington DC.
Or, from Green Bank, you can drive out 250 east through Staunton, Virginia to Charlottesville. This is my home base, so there is plenty of Charlottesville content here including a self-guided mural walk and a list of free things to do in Charlottesville.
If this wasn’t enough road tripping for you, I have an excellent 2 week road trip through Virginia all planned out.
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