Adventures galore right next door in Preston County.
If you’ve never thought of neighboring Preston County as an exploration destination, this read will change your mind. Preston County—just Preston, to natives—has a rich history and stunning beauty, with lots of shops and restaurants that showcase the local culture. Here are two full-day getaways to try—or combine them into a near-home vacation weekend.
History Day Trip
Drive east out of Morgantown along West Virginia Route 7, designated a state Scenic Byway in part for its dramatic views of the Deckers Creek gorge. About a half-hour out, stop for coffee and a made-from-scratch pastry at Miller’s Eats and Sweets or a little farther on at Modern Homestead—but beware, Modern Homestead is coupled with a plant nursery, and you might leave with a car full of annuals, perennials, trees, and shrubs.
From Reedsville, take WV Route 92 south a short hop into Arthurdale for your first historic stop. Tour the Arthurdale Heritage Center, then step back in time to Eleanor Roosevelt’s first New Deal homesteading community as you visit the original forge and see original weavings and other artifacts.
Backtrack to Reedsville and turn right at the four-way stop by Modern Homestead to head to the county seat of Kingwood, where you can stop at the 19th century James Clark McGrew house. Visit during tour hours—during public events, the third Sunday of each month during the summer, or by appointment—and learn about our state’s history through the lens of this banker, merchant, West Virginia founding father, and U.S. Congressman.
That’s a lot of history on an empty stomach. Refuel for your next Preston history lesson in Terra Alta, at a hometown restaurant with its own unique heritage. At Shorthorns Restaurant and Saloon, you can sit down for a wood-fired pizza, sandwich, steak, or salad while also getting a taste of bygone times. The building that houses this restaurant was the state’s first Model T Ford garage. The decor, including Ford Service signs and historical photos, serves as a reminder of Henry Ford’s frequent visits to town and of the 600 Ford cars the company displayed and sold here.
After lunch, head down the hill via Crane Avenue / WV Route 51 to Rowlesburg for another look at the past. Visit the World War II museum in the Szilagyi Center. Or to continue the Civil War theme begun at the McGrew House, call ahead to schedule a visit with the Rowlesburg Area Historical Society to Cannon HIll, where you can learn about the Battle of Rowlesburg. Be sure to check out the old Rowlesburg train depot and caboose just up the street.
If you’re ready for dinner before you head home, drive scenic WV Route 72 along the Cheat River toward Kingwood. Stop at Rosemary’s Thyme by the Cheat for authentic Mexican cuisine, or, in Kingwood, at Monroe’s or the Civil War–era Preston County Inn.
Nature Day Trip
Head out early—don’t forget your water bottle! From Morgantown, take US Route 119 south and take a left on Gladesville Road. Turn right on WV Route 92 to head south, then left on US Route 50. In about 10 miles, you’ll see Cool Springs Park on your right—in all, about an hour’s drive from Morgantown through broad green pastures and wooded valleys. If you haven’t eaten, grab breakfast here—nothing says “Preston County” like buckwheat pancakes and sausages. Browse the shelves of collectibles and preserves and the bins of in-season fruits and vegetables, then enjoy a stroll among the antique farming equipment in the park.
For more intensive hiking options, continue another dozen miles up the road to the trails at Cathedral State Park. This park is said to hold the state’s largest old growth forest and its only stand of virgin hemlock. These majestic trees reach up to 90 feet tall and 16 feet in circumference, and some are as much as 500 years old. The park is also host to more than 170 species of flowers, ferns, and trees. If you have children along for the hike, you’ll appreciate the small playground. Eat your packed lunch at the picnic tables or pavilion under the boughs, or try Melanie’s Family Restaurant, right across the street, for lunch and a slice of pie.
From Cathedral State Park and Melanie’s, continue east on US Route 50 then north toward and beyond Oakland, Maryland, to reach another Preston County hidden treasure: Cranesville Swamp Preserve. This unique set of five trails and a boardwalk is home to more than 50 rare plants and animals typical of areas much farther north. GPS correction: Be sure to go left on Lake Ford Road to drive around the south and up the west side of the preserve in order to reach the parking area.
Cranesville swamp was formed 15,000 years ago during the last Ice Age. The combination of natural elements and mountains has created an unusual “frost pocket,” with regular low temperatures and high moisture. Insect-eating plants, peat more than three feet deep, and cranberries and other damp-loving plants thrive here. A wide variety of birds love the bog and surrounding red spruce, hemlock, and other evergreen woods. To fully enjoy the trails, consider wearing mud-proof boots.
If it’s not too late in the day, detox after your hikes with a relaxing 45-minute session at the Himalayan Salt Spa in Bruceton Mills—call ahead to reserve. Then retox with dinner and a beer at Preston County’s oldest brewery—Screech Owl Brewing and Spent Grain Cafe.
Make a Weekend of It
Guest houses and campgrounds across the county are ready to welcome you. Here are a few of our favorites.
Modern Homestead – Reedsville, mymodernhomestead.com
Alpine Lake Resort – Terra Alta, alpinelake.com
Maple Leaf Motel – Bruceton Mills, mapleleafmotel-brucetonmills.com
River House Lodge – Rowlesburg, @riverhouselodge
Written by Aldona Bird