Explore WV, Part 1: Pearl S. Buck birthplace, Cranberry Glades, and the Falls of Hill Creek

Pocahontas County has the largest concentration of public lands in WV.  Over 62% –totaling 349,000 acres–is either state or federal property, including five state parks and two state forests.

800 miles of hiking and biking trails can be found in Pocahontas County. 

Although there are approximately 9,000 residents in Pocahontas County, more than a million tourists visit the county each year. 

Eight WV rivers’ headwaters are located in Pocahontas County–All facts courtesy of WV of Tourism Research.

The Falls at Hills Creek in Pocahontas County, WV

We wanted to celebrate our 31st wedding anniversary with an excursion. However, there was (and is) no escaping the new reality of COVID-19–although, at the time of planning, cases appeared to be on the decline. Still, questions had to be asked.  Is it safe to take a vacation?  What risks are we taking?  If we do decide to try one, where do we go and for how long?  

Populated areas were immediately ruled out.  Additionally, we felt we should travel only a few hours away in case we needed to make a quick return trip home.  We kicked around several locations within our three state region in which COVID cases were low.  Then, I read the book, The Unquiet Grave by Sharyn McCrumb about the Greenbrier County ghost, and I knew where to visit. 

The book that inspired our trip.

Returning to Lewisburg, WV, designated one of the country’s coolest small towns, was the perfect fit for my husband, John, and I.  It is only 2 ½ to 3 hours away from the Tri-state area, it is a friendly town, close to out-of-doors/nature attractions, and home to several of our favorite eateries.  We could spend most of our time, weather permitting, bonding with the beautiful WV landscape, but still come back to town in time for dinner. (Again, at the time of trip planning, WV had very few COVID cases, and numbers nationally were on the decline. Little did we know . . .)

Originally, John had hoped that we could find a cabin along the Greenbrier River and its namesake trail, but all of the small cabins within our pocket-friendly budget appeared to be booked through most of the summer.  Instead, John happened upon a charming bungalow on Airbnb called, “Stone’s Throw Retreat” located, well, a stone’s throw from downtown Lewisburg.  It was super clean, comfortable, and well-appointed for our day-trippin’ needs.  Plus, the host, David, was attentive, communicative, and most helpful.

Nestled on a hillside, the bungalow was the perfect leaping off point for this trip. Located just off US Rt 60, and only two or so blocks from US Rt 219, aka, The Seneca Trail, “Stone’s Throw Retreat” allowed us to quickly escape town and head out to the less populous, and-oh-so-scenic, WV mountain side.  On a personal note, I did chew through an entire pack of gum during our trip to stave off car/motion sickness from the kiss-your-bottom curves winding up and down the mountains, but it was well-worth it–even if John bemoaned driving slower than he preferred to help assuage my heaving stomach, swimming head, and popping ears!

On this trip, we explored both Greenbrier County, and its next-door neighbor, Pocahontas County.  Both of these scenic counties offer plenty of options for out-of-doors explorations.  However, unlike other trips, we made very few plans regarding which sites we planned to explore!  In fact, with the exception of two locations, most of the locations we traversed were spur-of-the-moment decisions based upon what we saw along The Seneca Trail.

On our first full day in Lewisburg, we decided to explore parts of Pocahontas County, with the ultimate goal of hiking the Falls of Hills Creek Scenic Area.  This was a suggested spot by Jamie Surgeon, an employee of Del Sol, the restaurant in which we dined the evening of our arrival.  (Del Sol has a strict mask and disinfectant policy with large areas of empty tables in order to distance diners, and of course, offer take out options as well.)  What a great suggestion this turned out to be!  While in Pocahontas County, we spontaneously made the choice to visit two more places that were in route.

Our first spontaneous stop of the day was at the Pearl S. Buck birthplace in Hillsboro, WV.  This picturesque country home is located alongside The Seneca Trail. Unfortunately, due to COVID19, the museum and home were closed.  However, it was still wonderful to stand there and honor the memory of a noteworthy female author who began her life in WV and won both a Pulitzer Prize and a Nobel Peace Prize. Additionally, the road alongside her homestead was lined with beautiful wildflowers in all of their blossom glory seemingly bowing their heads in the breeze in homage to Buck’s memory.

 Next, we made the impromptu decision to visit Cranberry Glades Botanical Area.  This protected area of bogs is the largest in WV.  Bogs, which are unique and ancient acidic wetlands, are typically found in northern regions of the US or, more commonly, in Canada.  Many of the plants, located in these four bogs, are said to be descendents of seeds from nearly 10,000 years ago, and a few of the bog plants are even carnivorous!  The half-mile boardwalk, constructed for visitors to view this unique landscape without harming it, was under construction for repairs/maintenance at the time of our visit, so we were only able to see part of the bogs.  Nonetheless, the sounds, pure air, and scenery were peaceful, serene, and certainly worth visiting!

Last stop of this day was the intended, Falls of Hills Creek, and we were certainly glad we saved it for last.  For one reason, it is stunning–not just in the vivid greens and varying luscious shades of chocolate, but also in the surround sound of rushing water, the caress of a breeze brushing skin, and the comforting scents of earth!!  However, the second reason for making it the last stop of the day, was that while it was a delightful descending hike into the bottom of a breathtaking gorge with its cascading falls, it’s uphill all the way back!  Trekking downhill, the temperature dropped, the deeper into the vegetation and ravine we plunged; unfortunately, that was not the case on the way up!

The Falls of Hills Creek Scenic Area is located on 114 acres and contains three waterfalls–each more spectacular than the previous–with the last falls offering up the greatest torrent of white water tumbling off rock.  In fact, the lowest falls has a height of 63 feet making it the second tallest waterfall in WV.  Whereas, the first falls are 25 feet in height, and the second falls are nearly double in size at a height of 45 feet.  Who needs a calming app when you can simply hike in WV to see, smell, and listen to such tranquil sounds?  Seriously, this lovely place was well worth the hike!   (Thank you, Jamie, for the recommendation!)

Next week, I’ll share a few other magical places worth visiting–even if just for a day excursion–along The Seneca Trail!  You most certainly do not have to stay in home like we did, WV is full of places to camp and/or take day-trips.  Get away from the blaring news, headlines, and the never-ending barrage of negative social media, and instead, reconnect with nature and its Ultimate Creator.  Your heart will smile and your spirit will feel revived.

From our home to yours, John and I wish you safe and healthy travels!

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