Our weekend trip to the Monongahela National Forest area of West Virginia was a bit more planned than our first minivan camper trip.
We knew we were going to go somewhere about a week before we left and we started watching the weather forecast to see what area would be not only the warmest, but also have the most sunshine as it was mid-April and we were still experiencing more cold, cloudy days than warm sunny ones in Indiana.
The other thing on our agenda was to go somewhere where the flowers were blooming. It was spring already and I was anxious to see the first blooms of the season. Since I wasn’t seeing them in Indiana yet, I was bound and determined to go somewhere I could.
A Weekend Trip To West Virginia: Monongahela National Forest & Blackwater Falls
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We decided we would leave Friday after Jack got off work and return Monday morning.
We got off to a late start due to Jack working a longer day than he thought he would and then a minor issue with one of our rental units. Finally, at close to 7:00 p.m. we hit the road.
By the time we left, we had decided our destination would be the Monongahela National Forest area of West Virginia as it was the closest place near us where it wasn’t going to be either snowing or raining all weekend. The National Forest is just under an eight hour drive from our home.
We drove about halfway there Friday night and then pulled into a rest area in Ohio to catch a few hours sleep. We prefer sleeping in rest areas that are well lit, have at least a few truck drivers sleeping there and have well maintained restrooms that are open all night. This one had all three.
Saturday morning we got up reasonably early, as we usually do when we minivan camp, and drove to the Big Spring Gap trailhead in the Otter Creek Wildlife Management area.
We didn’t hike the whole trail since you had to cross a river and we were not prepared for that. We did, however, enjoy listening to the rushing water and feeling the sunshine on our faces.
And I got my wish of viewing the first blooms of the spring season. The last plant made me laugh. To me, it looked like someone with hair covering their face with just a big nose sticking out from between the strands.
After we got back to our very dusty minivan we decided to try one more hike that a local we met on the trail suggested–Turkey Run Trail. We were not able to complete it either due to muddy conditions and overgrowth blocking the path. However, we did get to see more spring blooms and other pretty views from the trail as well as breathe in some spring air. After being locked mostly indoors due to winter-like conditions in Indiana since our March trip to Florida, we were happy to get out and enjoy what we could on our hike.
With hikes done for the day, we decided to look for a free spot to camp in the Monongahela National Forest. This was our first time camping on National Forest land and it felt a bit strange to pull into a spot and not have to pay someone for it. We used the Google maps app to make sure we were on National Forest land and not private property, and then found an area that had obviously been used for camping before us as it had a fire pit and a small area to drive in off the road.
It was kind of early for dinner when we pulled in, but we were both hungry from hiking so I went ahead and got it going. This was our first time cooking with the supplies we purchased for our minivan camper kitchen. We had everything we needed to prepare our meal–too much actually. I think we will remove a few items from the kitchen area before we use our minivan camper again this winter. One thing we won’t remove is our folding table; it is a lifesaver for free campsites without a picnic table.
We enjoyed a relaxing evening reading in the woods and went to bed fairly early. We did get to enjoy a sunset through the trees before we drifted off to sleep. This was my first time sleeping in a non-urban area, and WOW! It was peaceful. So peaceful that it took me a while to drift off to sleep. Up until now, we have always camped in campgrounds with other campers or in rest areas with truckers around us. I didn’t realize how much the sound of vehicles and other urban life sounds lulls me to sleep.
The evening air was a bit warm and humid, so I was thankful that we brought our window screens with us. They allowed us to get a breeze in the van without the bugs.
The next morning we awoke, looked at our atlas and decided that we would explore nearby Blackwater Falls State Park. On the way there we stopped in Thomas, West Virginia, and as always I couldn’t resist trying out their locally owned coffee shop that is named Tip Top Coffee.
Not only did they have great coffee, but they also had terrific baked goods. We just might have gone there again later in the day–okay, yeah we did! The coffee and baked goods are that good.
And look–they have a Little Free Library box right outside their front door–one of my favorite places to drop off books that I get for free with points from MyReaderRewardsClub.com.
Blackwater Falls State Park is worth a visit! We want to go back and try cross-country skiing through it one winter very soon.
There is a lot more to do than just viewing the falls–although Blackwater Falls are pretty spectacular. There are several trails to hike, a lodge to visit, and more falls to view. In the summer you can swim, boat, camp and fish. In the winter they have the longest sled run on the East coast (1/4 mile long) and offer cross-country skiing on several trails.
The water that runs through the park is tinted an amber color from the hemlock and red spruce needles that fall into it. It is crystal clear and meanders through most of the various trails the park has to offer.
We completed the hikes on the south side of the park and then enjoyed a picnic lunch on a rock near where our minivan camper was parked. If you are interested in what you need to create your own minivan camper, click here to read my post on the essential items you need to create one.
My husband desired a lazy Sunday afternoon nap so after lunch, we headed back into Thomas and found a quiet place by the river to park. He stayed there and napped and I walked up the hill and enjoyed some solo time at Tip Top Coffee–which I spent updating social media and emptying emails. But hey! I did it while sipping a yummy cold brew. Before heading back to the van to wake up the hubby, I first grabbed a blueberry danish for him and me to enjoy and checked the weather app.
The weather app said that rain was on its way to the area within the next three hours, and once it arrived, it would continue to rain all through the evening and the next day. With that information in mind, we decided to head home Sunday evening instead of Monday late morning.
We made just one stop on our way home for an inexpensive and quick dinner of Sam’s Club hot dogs and pop.
Are you looking for an alternative to busy and expensive campgrounds and one-night Walmart stops on the way to your destination? Check out our post about our first time using Boondockers Welcome.