Never heard of Mountaineer Country, West Virginia before? Well, allow me to introduce you! Home to stunning state parks, flowing rivers, and the largest university in the state, Mountaineer Country is one of America’s most prized hidden gems.
Now, let’s discuss the elephant in the room. While there are beautiful states all across America (and plenty of them), West Virginia truly rises above the rest. One of the most scenic states in the nation, “The Mountain State” is most recently home to the nation’s newest National Park. In fact, it’s also home to the greatest density of whitewater in the U.S. Countless lakes, streams, and rivers also make for world-class fishing, boating, and kayaking opportunities. With an additional 35 state parks, nine state forests, five rail trails, and more than 1,500 miles of hiking trails, it’s as close to heaven on Earth as any outdoor enthusiast can get.
In partnership with the West Virginia Department of Tourism and Visit Mountaineer Country CVB, I recently enjoyed a road trip from Western Kentucky to the greater Morgantown, West Virginia area. This region is also known as — you guessed it — “Mountaineer Country.”
Made up of seven counties including Barbour, Doddridge, Harrison, Marion, Monongalia, Preston, and Taylor, Mountaineer Country, West Virginia is known for its wide-open landscapes and unlimited outdoor recreation. It’s the perfect blend of adventure and leisure for one-of-a-kind experience!
Continue reading below for a specially-curated itinerary, and learn how to spend an exciting and 72 Hours in Mountaineer Country, West Virginia!
Day 1: Mountaineer Country, West Virginia
Just off Interstate 64, the city of Louisville, Kentucky is the first stop. The second checkpoint is Charleston, West Virginia a few hours later. The final destination is Morgantown, West Virginia. Home to West Virginia University, Morgantown is brimming with collegiate spirit, gorgeous mountain terrain, and plenty of unique cultural dining options.
Morgantown itself is a collision of college town and mountain town vibes. The streets downtown are just brimming with local retail stores, historic hotels, college bars, and beautiful riverside parks.
Stop 1: Breakfast at Terra Cafe
Terra Cafe, a relaxed riverside eatery, is a local Morgantown favorite. With an impressive menu of scratch-made sandwiches, salads, smoothies, and craft beer, it is the perfect spot to fuel up for a busy day of adventuring.
Hannah and Susan from Visit Mountaineer Country join to have good conversation and a healthy breakfast. The Terra’s ’Santa Fe Egg Wraps’, fresh fruit, cold espresso drinks, and a smoothie do the trick. College students begin to trickle in as the morning progresses — many with laptops and notepads to study.
After the meal is over, it’s off on a day of exploring! On the way out the door, a beautiful pastry display with lemon marshmallow tarts are enticing. (Confession: I grab two for the road!)
Stop 2: Shopping in Downtown Morgantown
After a 10 minute drive from Terra Cafe back to downtown Morgantown, it’s time for the next activity: shopping!
Morgantown has a collection of unique global products and local items made right in West Virginia. One of these shops is River Fair Trade, located at 316 High Street. A socially conscious eco-company, River Fair Trade sells fair trade goods from around the world and handmade products from West Virginia. After shopping around, a Cause Bracelet from India, and a Zodiac soy candle from Prosperity Candle out of Myanmar end up in my bag.
A short walk around the corner is the second shop stop: Hoot and Howl. The picturesque storefront shop sells beautiful artisan, American made vintage goods including clothing, jewelry, beauty products, and unique spices. I decide on a bottle of Palo Santo scented essential oil and a couple new crystals to add to my collection.
I pop across the street to another popular spot: Blue Moose Cafe. It’s a well-known coffeehouse and bagel shop known for its artistic, cultural vibe. At first, it’s difficult to decide what flavor shot to put in my mocha frappe, but ultimately, raspberry is the go-to. A fresh asiago bagel with sun-dried tomato cream cheese is put into a to-go bag as we head off to our next destination!
Stop 3: Fly Fishing with McFly Outdoors
The Star City Rail Trail Dock is the location of the next activity. The plan is to meet up with the outdoor professionals from McFly Outdoors for a day out on the water. First thing’s first, however: savoring the bagels and coffee from Blue Moose Cafe for a quick snack.
After a quick recharge, McFly Outdoors guide RJ Kerwood arrives down by the docks of the Monongahela River to begin a fly fishing lesson! Being my very first time trying my hand at the sport, RJ patience and knowledge was welcoming. Following a few on-land practice runs, it was time to hit the water!
On board a River Raptor boat, we swiftly made our way towards the Opekiska Lock and Dam. Apparently, this is where the biggest fish like to hang out!
At RJ’s direction, I spent an hour practicing the cast and enjoying a beautiful sunny day on the Mon River. We even caught a bass fish which we returned back into the wild.
After fly fishing, RJ broke out the brand new kayaks and took me out on the water for a 20 minute session. The waters were calm and easy, and there was a light breeze making it the perfect outdoor activity. The beautiful trees lining the river made for a beautiful backdrop.
Pro Tip: You can book your own fly fishing or kayaking session with McFly Outdoors! They offer a full range of private or group tours for fishing, hiking, kayaking, and sightseeing.
Stop 4: Dinner at Sargasso
A day out in the heat and sun certainly works up an appetite. After freshening up at the beautiful Morgantown Marriott at Waterfront Place, a beautiful dinner at the Italian restaurant, Sargasso, is up next. An award-winning restaurant serving world-fusion cuisine, Sargasso offers impressive dishes and a vast wine collection.
Simple chic vibes surround diners as they are led to their tables and provided with an iPad to make wine and cocktail selections. I start with a cold glass of French Tiamo prosecco to enjoy with the fresh bread basket and olive oil.
For appetizers, the ‘Burrata Toast’ with fresh mozzarella burrata and tomato salsa; and the ‘Lightly Breaded Calamari’ with chili lime glaze are solid choices.
For main courses, my dad and I split the The Sargasso Salad. I chose the Stuffed Pepper Soup and Seared Atlantic Salmon with green beans and new potatoes. My dad chose a 6-ounce Filet Mignon with mashed potatoes and asparagus.
It’s impossible to choose just one dessert, so we got one slice of Espresso Cheesecake, and a slice of the Buttermilk Pie.
Pro Tip: Sargasso is a popular place, so be sure to make reservations in advance of your meal!
Stop 5: Country Roads BBQ Clash
After a fancy dinner, it was time for some classic country fun at the Country Roads BBQ Clash! It’s held in Morgantown, West Virginia July 16 through 18th at the 90,000 square ft. Mylan Park.
This inaugural family-friendly festival celebrates the very best of barbecue, smoked meats, and mouthwatering sides from across The Mountain State. From BBQ ribs to lemon shake ups to fried pickle spears, pitmasters from near and far gather to win big cash prizes for their delicious creations. After ordering a basket of fried chips with a side of ranch from Peter Pepper’s Pickles, it was time to head to the concert grounds. The band? Nineties sensation the Gin Blossoms band!
Famous for their songs “Follow You Down,” and “Found Out About You,” it’s a great way to enjoy the outdoors with a cold beer and delicious southern food. To learn more about the annual Country Roads BBQ Clash or upcoming events at Mylan Park, visit their website for info.
Double Queen Riverview room at the Morgantown Marriott Waterfront Place. The brand new 207 suite style room hotel features a full service Starbucks, a signature restaurant (Bourbon Prime), a state of the art fitness center, and 50,000 square feet of meeting and event space.
Day 2: Mountaineer Country, West Virginia
After a relaxing night at Morgantown Marriott at Waterfront Place, it’s time to start a new day! The destination: 40 minutes south of Morgantown in the charming town of Grafton, West Virginia.
The town of Grafton sits at the epicenter of the former Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. With a population of 5,164 people, it’s most famous for having the longest observance of Memorial Day in the U.S. While small, there are still many gems hidden throughout this true mountain town.
Stop 1: Espresso Yourself
Breakfast was at the adorable cafe, Espresso Yourself. a locally owned coffee house, the spot sells ice cream, homemade baked goods, and fresh roasted coffee. Inside, nostalgic memorabilia line the walls in all directions. This includes a baby grand piano, vintage records from the 50’s, and classic comic books to name a few.
The barista flashes a warm smile before taking my order: a plate of homemade biscuits and gravy and a chocolate chip mocha frappe. To enjoy a picnic at my next location, I take a homemade lunch to go (chicken salad sandwich on croissant, bbq chips, and cookies) and head off to the lake!
Stop 2: Tygart Lake State Park
No summer vacation to Mountaineer Country, West Virginia is complete without a visit to Tygart Lake State Park. Just four miles south of Grafton, it’s the perfect summertime oasis. Tygart Lake State Park, known for its 10 mile-long, 1,750 acre lake, is a popular destination for all.
If the lake itself isn’t reason enough to visit, the inflatable obstacle course managed by Tygart Adventures certainly is. Featuring twenty-five giant inflatables and a sandy beach area, the adventure lake is a great way to spend a day on the water!
We enjoy the homemade meal from Espresso Yourself, and decide to take full advantage of the inflatables on the warm turquoise lake waters.
Pro Tip: All guests are required to sign a health form as well as a liability waiver prior to enjoying the inflatables. Everyone must wear a life jacket while on the lake regardless of swimming ability. The Tygart Adventures season runs from late May to early September. Tickets are $12 for a half day pass and $16 for full day pass.
Stop 3: Dinner at Mountain State Brewing Company
After a full day of sliding, climbing and swimming, we head 40 minutes back to Morgantown to check into The Cranberry Hotel.
The dinner location was another local Mountaineer Country, West Virginia favorite serving up some of the best pizza in the state: Mountain State Brewing Company. With locations in Morgantown, Bridgeport, and Deep Creek Lake, Maryland, Mountain State Brewing Company distributes their own ale for a truly unique experience.
I only drink ciders or lighter ales, so I immediately went for a cold tap pour of the Cold Trail — a light, easy drinking American blonde ale. For appetizers, my dad and I split The Sampler Platter with ‘Garlicky Hummus,’ ‘Red Pepper Hummus,’ ‘Cowboy Caviar.” We also ordered the ‘Hot Spinach Dip,’ and a fresh Mountain State Garden Salad with fresh veggies and house made ranch dressing.
For mains, ‘The Herb,’ a thin crust wood-fired pizza, was delicious. It’s packed full of a garlic spread sauce, ricotta, mozzarella cheese, special herb blend, and balsamic drizzle.
Pro Tip: Ask your server which beers pair best with what pies. Don’t pass up a side of their house made ranch to dip your pizza in! Meals here are best enjoyed on the outdoor patio that overlooks the Mon River.
The Cranberry Hotel. Two Queen Beds with Mini-Fridge, Microwave, Sofa bed. Featuring Contemporary rustic décor paired with distinctive mountain hospitality, The 80-room Cranberry Hotel is the perfect choice for lodging after a day outdoors. Hot breakfast is served each morning, and coffee and tea are available 24/7. The property also features a fitness center and meeting and banquet facilities.
Day 3: Mountaineer Country, West Virginia
Rounding out my visit to Mountaineer Country, I enjoyed a slower morning with a coffee in the beautiful lobby of The Cranberry Hotel.
My last day’s itinerary was full of leisure activities, but still exciting nonetheless. I set off across the hotel’s parking lot to enjoy my first meal of the day: brunch.
Stop 1: Tropics Restaurant + Bar
A slice of ‘Aloha’ in The Mountain State, Tropics Restaurant and Bar is a truly unique dining experience! Owned and operated by a couple from Honolulu, Tropics serves an eclectic blend of Polynesian/Asian cuisine. This includes Piña Coladas, Mai Tai’s, Ahi Tuna Poke, Kalua Pig & Cabbage, and so much more!
Walking through the tropical courtyard, palm trees and exotic flowers are everywhere! The sounds of ukuleles and laughter fill the air. I’m led to my table, located in the center of what feels like a lush tropical jungle.
It’s brunch, so I order a refreshing Mango Screwdriver to start, and the mango purée is a perfect way to start a Sunday.
The ‘Mochiko Fried Rice’ over fried chicken marinated in soy, ginger, and garlic is as authentic as it gets. The ‘Meat Lovers’ Omelette’ with bacon, ham, sausage, and cheddar cheese is perfect for those who enjoy a more traditional breakfast. It comes with home potatoes and sourdough bread as sides.
It’s impossible to eat at a Hawaiian restaurant and not order fried Spam if it’s on the menu, so be sure to get a slice or two of Hawaii’s favorite snack, too.
Pro Tip: Brunch runs from 10am to 1pm on Sundays, and mimosas are only $1 while Bloody Mary’s are $3. If you’re in the mood for something sweet, ask for a slice of classic Hawaiian Hula Pie. It’s a heaping portion of coffee ice cream on an Oreo crust, topped with frozen whipped cream. Make reservations in advance.
Stop 2: Hovatters Wildlife Zoo
The final destination on our Mountaineer Country, West Virginia adventure is is Kingwood, West Virginia, just 45 minutes away. Out here, there’s little WiFi, and the turns in the road are sharp. However, there’s one place that brings thousands of visitors on these roads from near and far every year: Hovatter’s Wildlife Zoo. Also known as the West Virginia Zoo, Hovatter’s is home to more than 30 different species of animals — mostly retired or rescued from show business.
Allowing the animals to live on open land, Hovatter’s is open seasonally from April to November. The park also features a mini roller coaster, food trucks, and a gift shop. Popular zoo species include Chimpanzees, Grizzly Bear, Orange and White Tigers.
Guests of Hovatter’s are allowed to feed select animals safely based on each of their special diets. I ordered one cup of carrots and two cups of popcorn for $3 and made my way through the park.
It’s important to only feed the animals the snacks the zoo’s staff tell you they can eat. For example, carrots are the only food a giraffe’s stomach can handle. Staff members stand nearby to ensure guests obey the signs on each habitat.
Walking further into the park, there’s a lion’s den, a bear’s house, and the wolf enclosure. The chimpanzee enclosure was next (they love popcorn!) and finally, the alligator enclosure. The wolves began a synchronized song, almost performing for onlookers, and a white peacock showed off for visitors nearby.
Pro Tip: Purchase one of each snack before entering the park so you can enjoy feeding different animals.
Frequently Asked Questions: Visiting Mountaineer Country, West Virginia
What is Mountaineer Country known for?
Mountaineer Country is known for many things, but most notably, it’s home to the West Virginia University Mountaineers. The areas largest city, Morgantow, is the beating heart of the university, is full of eclectic shops, bustling cafes, and pristine parks. It’s close proximity to the equally as quaint towns such as Fairmont, Clarksburg and Bridgeport, offer even more attractions, shopping, dining, and outdoor adventure. It’s also within short driving distance to hiking and biking trails, boating, and fishing at Audra State Park, Tygart Lake State Park, and Little Beaver State Park to name a few.
Which state park is in Mountaineer Country?
Perhaps the most well-known state park in Mountaineer Country, West Virginia is Audra State Park. Perfect for families and solo explorers alike, Audra is open year-round, and offers a unique boardwalk trail that hangs over the Middle Fork River directly below a cave. It offers both amenities and adventure, with opportunities to rock climb, leaf peep in the fall, hike, and search for unique wildlife.
Is West Virginia a good place to live?
West Virginia is becoming an increasingly great place to live. With a low cost of living and an “everyone knows everyone” feel, it’s a great state to live in especially if you are a lover of the outdoors. The state experiences all four seasons, and has some of the most insane displays of natural beauty that John Denver was more than right to sing about. As with any destination, if you’re wondering if West Virginia is the right state for you, definitely research the pros and cons.
Conclusion: Why Visit Mountaineer Country, West Virginia?
Reflecting on our long weekend in The Mountain State — and Mountaineer Country in particular, I can’t help but think of all of its natural beauty. After all, it’s home to some of the best outdoor recreation in the world. It’s no surprise that Morgantown was named ‘The Best Small Town’ in West Virginia. It’s rolling hills, iconic mountain views, and winding country roads make it an adventure lover’s paradise.
You can blaze your own trail in the wild wilderness, make a splash at a river or lake, or watch the sunrise from your favorite mountain top. If your wandering soul yearns to explore outside of Mountaineer Country, West Virginia there’s plenty to explore there, too. In fact, its an hour’s drive from Pittsburgh. Furthermore, it’s only an hour drive from Baltimore, and less than 5 hours from Philadelphia. Here, rich Appalachian culture and one-of-a-kind historic sites await.
Vibrant orange and yellow sunset reflect in the rearview mirror we blast “Country Roads, Take Me Home” by John Denver with the windows down. In my mind, I finally understand that West Virginia truly is unique, and as they say, “Almost Heaven.”
This article was created in a paid partnership with Visit Mountaineer Country CVB and the West Virginia Department of Tourism.