https://www.facebook.com/pages/Our-Lady-of-the-Pines/226342894136938With weather stations calling for tornado and flash flood warnings from the effects of Hurricane Cindy, we decided this weekend would not be the best for tent camping. Deciding instead, we hopped in our vehicle and took our first West Virginia Very Important Park Person (WVVIPP) Road Trip. Today we plan on visiting Stonewall Jackson Resort State Park, heading up to Audra State Park for a hike, swinging by Canaan Valley Resort State Park for lunch, then finishing our day with a hike at Blackwater Falls State Park. I’m sure we will make some detours along the way, so let’s get started.
Stonewall Jackson Resort State Park
Our first stop is at one of our favorite WV State Parks, Stonewall Jackson Resort. Having celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day, & Christmas here, staying for romantic getaways, special weekends, and spending nice quiet days on the lake. It is our little escape to paradise. With over 14 miles (22.5 k) of hiking and biking trails, this has always been one of our favorite places to kick off the hiking season, then after a long day of hiking, take a break by the lake and dine at one of their three onsite restaurants.
Located at the parks check-in station the WVVIPP stamper can be found. The park attendant gladly stamped our passport and asked if she could be of any service. Thanking her for her time, we headed onward to Audra State Park.
Years ago, on a Summer Road Trip, we traveled through a State Park that I found very interesting. Instead of building a pool, they concreted a section of the river for people to swim. I have always wondered where this park was and earlier this year, we found it at Audra State Park.
Audra State Park
Audra isn’t known for its abundance of things to do, but what it does have is worth exploring. 67 campsites along the shores of the Middle Fork River provides campers an excellent location to relax and swim. Alum Cave Trail and Rock Cliff Trail are the only trails at the park. Alum Cave Trail is a 2.7-mile (4.3 k) loop that makes this park popular with hikers. Circling the nature area, leading down to the Middle Fork River, the trail brings you to low-lying walls of laurel taking you to a set of stairs ending at a wooden boardwalk. Hikers can then follow the boardwalk under overhanging rocks, which makes for a favorite photo spot amongst all who have a camera. Concrete slabs along the bank of the Middle Fork River provides a makeshift pool for park visitors to swim. The park is also popular amongst kayakers making it a convenient launching point for a 6.6-mile (10.6 k) journey to the Buckhannon River.
Located in the center of the campgrounds is an information kiosk containing the WVVIPP stamper. Making it convenient to campers, this hub of the campground provides a small store, bath house, and restrooms within easy walking distance from all the campsites.
Canaan Valley Resort State Park
Almost three hours into our trip we have stopped for a quick break at one of our favorite winter time State Parks, Canaan Valley. Being the first commercial ski resort in WV, Canaan Valley offers skiing, snowboarding, snow tubing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating, and air boarding during the winter month. During the Summer, the trails are used for hiking and biking, the tube park is turned into a turtle slide tube ride, and a ski lift is used as a scenic chairlift providing riders views of the Valley and Allegheny Mountains. Today’s visit we are letting Leo play on the playground, snack on BBQ sandwiches with fries while taking in the beauty of the Canaan Valley.
Located at the front desk of the lodge, across from the restaurant, the front desk attendant has the WVVIPP stamper. Once getting our stamp, it is time to head for Blackwater Falls State Park.
Blackwater Falls State Park
Named after the falls of the Blackwater River, Blackwater Falls State Park provides breathtaking views of the Blackwater River and Falls. The park contains miles of hiking and biking trails and many with beautiful vistas of the gorge below.
The WVVIPP Stamp can be obtained at the receptionist desk of the lodge. Once receiving the stamp, we went on two short hikes for a few photo opportunities. The Gentle Trail is a short .25 mile (.40 k) paved trail providing a beautiful view of the Blackwater Falls in the distance. Driving to the other side of the park, we hiked the Blackwater Falls Trail. The Blackwater Falls Trail is less than a mile (1.6 k) leading you down to the Blackwater Falls. The trail provides three platforms for visitors to view and enjoy the falls. With dark storm clouds rolling in, it’s time to head toward Cathedral State Park.
Fairfax Stone State Park
On our way to Cathedral, we noticed a sign that says, “Fairfax Stone. The Fairfax Stone marking the Potomac’s headwaters was a corner of Lord Fairfax’s vast estate. The line of 1736 was checked in 1746 by a survey on which Peter Jefferson, father of Thomas Jefferson, was engaged.” Well, let’s find the stone.
The Fairfax Stone is located in the Fairfax Stone State Park and seems to be a long-forgotten park. The stone and monument are the only attractions at the park, no tables, benches, nor restrooms. After a little research, we found that the original stone was stolen and other Fairfax Stones have been destroyed by vandals. The current Fairfax Stone, at this park, has been replaced and a plaque set within a rock making a historical monument that reads, “Fairfax Stone. This monument at the headspring of the Potomac River makes one of the historic spots of America. Its name is derived from Thomas Lord Fairfax who owned all the land lying between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers. The first Fairfax Stone marked “FX” was set in 1746 by Thomas Lewis, a surveyor employed by Lord Fairfax. This is the base point for the Western Dividing Line between Maryland and West Virginia.”
If you are history lover, this makes for a nice little stop. If you love parks for their attractions and activities, this may not be the place for you. For us, it was a nice little adventure of learning and exploration. Next time we may bring a picnic and blanket so we can make this one of our little roadside stops.
Our Lady of the Pines
Continuing toward Cathedral, we ran across another roadside attraction, “Our Lady of the Pines, Smallest Church in 48 States. In Peace Be Welcome. Established in 1950.” At first, we drove past the sign. At the next road, there was another sign, and we drove past it also. Turning around at the next wide spot, we headed back to check out the Smallest Church in 48 States.
The church building is 12 feet (3.6 m) by 24 feet (7.3 m) with an altar and 6 two-seat pews. The grounds and church are beautifully kept and highly worth a visit. Inside are pictures and postcards of the church for sale by donation and a guest registry book. It was a unique place to visit and worth the stop.
Cathedral State Park
With a few rainstorms and our roadside stops, the night is falling upon us, and we will not be able to enjoy the trails at Cathedral State Park. Cathedral State Park contains the largest tract of Virgin Pine remaining in West Virginia. The park is 132 acres, with trees over 90 feet (27.4 m) tall and 16 feet (4.8 m) in circumference we were hoping to enjoy a few of their trails. With one more stop on our trip, we will have to grab the stamp and plan another day for Cathedral.
When entering Cathedral State Park, there is a park office which also is the residence for the Park Host located on the right. The WVVIPP stamp can be located on the left side of the porch. With another stamp collected, we headed to our last park of our road trip, Tygart Lake State Park.
Tygart Lake State Park
The lodge at Tygart Lake provides beautiful lake front views and restaurant onsite. Campsites are set away from the lake with no lake visibility. Tygart Lake is a nice quiet getaway and is enjoyed by boaters and kayakers. There are five hiking trails within the park totaling about 5.5 miles (8.8 k) of hiking.
The WVVIPP box is located to the left of the lodge entrance. Looking for the stamper, the front desk attendant came out and asked if I needed our WVVIPP passports stamped. I said yes, but couldn’t find the stamper. She replied that people were stealing them, so they never replaced it and now using the Tygart Lake Lodge stamp inside. She provided us our stamp, finishing our last park visit on our WVVIPP Road Trip.
11:30 pm and ready to rest, we thought about spending the night at the lodge and heading home tomorrow. With the weather still calling for more rain and us with no extra clothing, we decided to head back and schedule another weekend to enjoy Tygart Lake and Cathedral State Park thoroughly.
With the weather hindering our camping weekend, we are considering our 1st WVVIPP Road Trip a success. We were able to view the beauty of Stonewall Jackson Lake, listen to the waves of the Middle Fork River at Audra, look over the vastness of Canaan Valley, and feel the power of Blackwater Falls. Taking a detour through history, we discovered Fairfax Stone State Park and came across the Our Lady of the Pines, the Smallest Church in 48 states. In the quest to obtain our WVVIPP stamps we found two more State Parks we would love to experience.