The Road Less Traveled… Scenic Drives in Nature’s Mountain Playground

Michael Moore

It’s been said, “The journey, not the destination matters.”  And while it’s probably not the best idea to apply this sage advice to every aspect of life, it certainly rings true for travel.  Few would argue against the fact we live in an age of immediate gratification.  Whether it’s faster internet, smarter phones or pre-planned meals delivered to our front door, we have become, for better or worse, a society that wants what we want – right now.  And unfortunately, this desire for the end product over everything else can find its way into our travel plans.  Long gone are the days of Sunday drives just for the sake of getting out and seeing what lies around the next bend in the road.  Instead, we use GPS for the quickest route to our destination, giving little thought to what might be seen along the way.  In effect, we are forsaking the journey for the destination.  The good news is there are miles of scenic routes still out there waiting to be discovered and enjoyed by those willing to slow down and try giving the journey the spotlight for a change.  And one of the best places to find scenic byways, overlooks and just plain, old-fashioned good drives is Nature’s Mountain Playground, Pocahontas County, West Virginia.  At over 940 square miles, Pocahontas County features more scenic byways than any other county in West Virginia and offers plenty of picturesque roads to explore.  Whether cruising along the bottom land of rolling pastures or riding the ridges with mountain-top views of valleys below, Nature’s Mountain Playground provides plenty of open road with beautiful scenery to be enjoyed.  So if slowing down, taking in the scenery and enjoying the road less traveled sounds good to you, why not journey to and through Pocahontas County?  Here’s a few scenic drive ideas for the sake of the journey itself.             

The Highland Scenic Highway

If you’re looking for a great drive that will totally immerse you in the journey alone, you can’t beat The Highland Scenic Highway.  Stretching forty-three miles from Richwood to U.S. Route 219, just north of Marlinton, The Highland Scenic Highway weaves along the Allegheny Highlands climbing from an elevation of 2,325 feet to a height of more than 4,500 feet, making this beautiful scenic drive the highest average elevated highway east of the Mississippi.  Route 150, a twenty-three mile long parkway of the Scenic Highway, features four scenic overlooks of deep valleys and surrounding mountains – each well worth the stop.  And with nothing but natural beauty in every direction, this is one road trip that’s all about the journey.  

Route 219

Running north and south through a large portion of Nature’s Mountain Playground, Route 219 is a vital link to many of the popular destination spots in Pocahontas County.  From Snowshoe Mountain Resort, the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace and Beartown State Park, Route 219 is traveled by thousands of visitors every year.  And while this important thoroughfare certainly gets travelers where they want to go, there is plenty to see along the way.  For instance, leaving Marlinton heading south, travelers coming into Hillsboro will pass by acres of tree-dotted fields with an impressive view of rugged mountains in the background.  The northbound traveler leaving Marlinton, will climb their way up, out of the valley the town has called home since 1749 to traverse their way through and over scenic mountain passes.  Dropping down into Slatyfork, you’ll find a charming view of pastureland, flowing streams and peeks of the Elk River.  Continuing north on Route 219, and turning right onto Route 66, will bring you into the town of Cass.  And while visitors and train buffs make the drive every year to catch the train and ride the old railway, how many enjoy this secluded route and drive through the old, restored company town just for the pleasure of the trip?

Route 92

Stretching north from Minnehaha Springs, through Frost and into Dunmore, Route 92 is a modest excursion through rolling farmland with beautiful wide-open expanses.  Be sure to keep your eyes open for many of the charming old barns that can be found either right along the road or sitting far off in a field of grazing cattle.  The fun of Route 92 is it offers a quick and simple daytrip.  If you’re new to the idea of a journey for the sake of the journey alone, Route 92 would be a great place to start.  Who knows?  You may discover a side of travel you would have never considered before. 

Watoga State Park 

Watoga State Park has been a key destination spot in Nature’s Mountain Playground for decades.  Many guests of the park have a long and valued history of annual family reunions spent in their favorite cabin of the thirty-four offered.  Another feature offered by the park is, you guessed it, scenic drives.  Entering Watoga State Park off Route 21 at the North entrance, you’ll make your way uphill along a winding two-lane road that demands slow going and instantly places you in a beautiful, wooded setting.  As you make your way into the park, paralleling the 11-acre lake, you’re enveloped by a green canopy above (or a blaze orange and gold canopy if you’re traveling in the fall) drawing you further and further in.  When you reach Watoga Lake, a right turn will lead you further through the park.  The drive is a slow, relaxing journey, following an appealing stream and passing many of the park cabins along the way.  If you time your trip right and roll the car windows down, the smell from the grills of those family reunions adds an extra something special to the experience and may have you looking for dinner earlier than you planned.        

“The journey, not the destination matters” – there’s something to it.  Some would argue we spend too much of our lives acquiring things and not experiences.  In the name of a vacation, many make a mad dash from destination A to B to C, all for the sake of just being able to say, “Been there, done that.”  And while there’s nothing wrong with having places one wants to visit, maybe we’re overlooking something.  Perhaps we really should stop and smell the roses along the way – even if it’s only once in a while.  Sometimes a trip with no destination in mind is okay.  After the year we’ve been through, wanting to get back out there is understandable.  We all probably feel as if we’ve lost a year and somehow need to race to make it up.  So go ahead and make those travel plans.  We hope they include Pocahontas County, West Virginia.  If so, and once you’ve arrived in Nature’s Mountain Playground, take a day or two and make some scenic drives just for the sake of the journey alone.