The Division of Tourism released its fall foliage map a couple of weeks ago.
It’s a handsome graphic that gives you a rough idea of where the leaves are prettiest before the temperature dives, the cold rains start and the green hills of West Virginia give way to the desolation of winter.
If the state put out pictures of West Virginia in the grey months, the only tourists we’d get would be bands of hobbits in search of volcanoes to chuck jewelry into.
Nevertheless, during this time of the year, there are many places to see the fall season in all its splendor. If I had the budget, I’d love to get back to about half the counties I visited over the summer. This includes some, like Logan and Mingo, that I’d never considered as scenic destinations, but are probably breathtaking during leaf peeper season.
They have a lot of trees out that way.
Locally, I have my preferences.
My best drive during the fall foliage season is U.S. 60 from Charleston to Hawks Nest State Park. It’s a nice, leisurely drive along an interesting road with ample overlooks. There’s even a couple of waterfalls where you can stop and snap a picture.
Cathedral Falls may be a little dry at the moment, but we may be getting rain this week, so who knows what the weekend will look like?
Just as importantly, along this route there are a couple of road-trip friendly places for food that is absolutely no good for you.
My top picks are still Dairy Winkle in Campbells Creek for the fries and hot dogs (I should maybe expand what I get there), and Burger Carte in Smithers.
My great regret of the summer still remains that I missed out on Burger Carte’s Mountain Mama burger while I was off traveling. Maybe they’ll bring it back during ramp season.
The route to the park also takes you past the Mystery Hole, one of the last, great roadside attractions in the state and maybe the country. The place is a slice of old school P.T. Barnum baloney, but it’s a meal you don’t get very often.
The Mystery Hole was closed for a while earlier this year, but is currently open for visits Friday, Saturday and Sunday through October, according to its website.
The drive to Hawks Nest only takes around an hour (minus stops for hot dogs, ice cream, a picture of a waterfall and a bumper sticker at the Mystery Hole), which makes it an easy Saturday or Sunday afternoon drive that gets you home in time for dinner and Netflix.
If you feel up to it, you can drive another half hour or so to Babcock State Park and tack on a visit to the grist mill, or head to Fayetteville and the New River Gorge Bridge.
That’s not a bad trip either. It just takes a little longer.