Mountain State Family Vacation Getaways

Mountain State Family Vacation Getaways

Here's a district-by-district look at some of our state's finest family (fishing) holidays for you to try this year. One of these great picks is sure to be close to home. (June 2007)

Photo by Bill Banaszewski.

Every year since 1992, my family has journeyed to at least one West Virginia state park or forest over the course of the spring and summer as part of a family fishing vacation. This past June, my wife, Elaine, and I traveled to North Bend State Park, four miles outside of Cairo. Although our children, Sarah and Mark, often accompanied us on these forays in the past, at the ages of 24 and 21, respectively, they have moved on to lives of their own. However, Elaine and I still relish our annual visits to parks.

North Bend has much to offer, maintains assistant superintendent Kathy Metz.

"We have lots of activities for families," she said. "The park offers a nature/recreation program, biking and hiking, and a nature center.

"Some of our most popular programs are our night hikes where we look for such birds as owls and whippoorwills as part of our sounds of the night activity; there are scavenger hunts, where the kids are given a list to look for such things as leaves and acorns from specific trees; and creek critters, where we look for such things as crayfish, hellgrammites and minnows."

North Bend also proffers a Young Parks Person (YPP) patch, available for youngsters 6 to 16 years old who complete three environmental education activities. Children who finish the program receive a certificate, pen and a prize, which varies.

Metz relates that the park offers a number of hiking and mountain bike trails, as well. A real family favorite is the Overlook Trail, a two-miler that begins at the cabins and extends to the overlook at Hughes River Dam. This moderate trail features impressive rock outcroppings.

Of course, another option is the North Bend Rail Trail, where folks can amble anywhere from one to 72 miles. The byway begins in the vicinity of nearby Parkersburg in Wood County to Wolf Summit in Harrison County. For example, one morning after breakfast, I ventured forth on the trail for an hour or so. The trail passes through 10 tunnels and crosses 36 bridges, making it an extremely scenic escape.

Of particular interest to me is the newly created 300-acre lake at the park, tentatively named North Bend Lake. Largemouth bass, bluegills and crappie were stocked upon its creation, and the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR) stocked 1- to 2-pound catfish there last June.

One evening I visited the lake with my fly rod in hand. As is typical of most new lakes, the bass and panfish are experiencing rapid growth in both size and numbers. While there, I talked to several local anglers, among them Buddy Hodge of Harrisville, his 15-year-old son, Dalton, and friend Scott Cunningham, also from Harrisville. The Hodge duo had just teamed to land a nice largemouth.

"Dalton and I really like coming to the lake," Hodge said. "It's very quiet and peaceful here, and the lake is just full of fish. You can always catch plenty of bluegills, but we really like catching the bass."

His son, Dalton, agreed.

"I just like coming here to catch fish," he said. "Bass are my favorite fish; they put up more of a fight than bluegills."

Scott Cunningham said that the lake has been a major plus for sportsmen in the Parkersburg area (the park lies in District VI). Also, Cunningham said that the new lake typically receives little fishing pressure, especially with the Little Kanawha and Ohio rivers being nearby.

Fred Hess, who operates Hess Fish and Tackle in Harrisville, said that the bass fishing is quite good.

"I've caught largemouths in the 4- to 5-pound range and some nice smallmouths from the upper end of the lake," he said. "There are also some spotted bass in the lake. Most of the black bass are between 10 and 13 inches."

For guided trips and gearing up for Parkersburg-area fishing, contact Hess Fish and Tackle at (304) 869-3311; HessFishandTackle.com.

North Bend features 29 guest rooms at its lodge, which is where Elaine and I enjoyed a pleasant stay. A very nice restaurant is also a part of the lodge. Eight cottages and two camping areas with 78 sites are available, too. For more information on North Bend, or on any of the state parks mentioned in this story, call (800) CALL-WVA, or online at www.wvparks.com. For boat and bike rentals, contact Ritchie County Adventure Outfitters at (304) 299-1768.

DISTRICT I

Tygart Lake State Park

Several years ago, I had the pleasure of visiting 2,134-acre Tygart Lake State Park, just outside of Grafton. Superintendent Mick Elsey said that this District I getaway is very family friendly.

"We have everything in the world here that a family would want to do in the outdoors," exuded Elsey. "I would have to say that boating and fishing on the lake are the most popular family activities."

The 11-mile-long riverine impoundment certainly contains a variety of game fish. The superintendent lists largemouth and smallmouth bass, bluegills, walleyes, muskies, white bass, hybrid stripers and "humongous" catfish as among the species that fin there. Three ramps at the marina offer access to the lake. And don't forget about the Tygart River tailrace and the river below.

"The walleye and trout fishing below the dam can be outstanding," Elsey said. "The cold water coming from the dam is the reason for this fishery. I also like to float the Tygart for smallmouths. I believe a lot of families might enjoy paddling from the tailrace here to Valley Falls State Park, a float of seven or eight miles. There have been times when I've caught smallmouths on this float until my arms were tired. And there's no white water, just riffles."

Tygart Lake State Park also sports seven hiking trails. Elsey lists the Dogwood Trail, which is near the lodge, as his favorite and a good one for families, as well. The trail winds through old farmland, second-growth and old-growth forests and is just over a mile in length.

Kids should further enjoy participating in the nature/recreation program, which has the usual wildlife-related activities, along with campfire songfests and interpretative trail hikes. The park also provides 11 cabins, 20 lodge rooms and 40 campsites.

DISTRICT II

Cacapon Resort State Par

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At 6,115 acres, Cacapon Resort State Park near Berkeley Springs certainly contains a sizable chunk of District II forest. And with a 46-room lodge and 31 cabins, some of which date to the Civilian Conservation Corps era, lodging options are certainly no problem.

Dave Lombardo, a district administrator for the state park system, relates that families should enjoy plying the waters of six-acre Cacapon Park Lake.

"The lake has good populations of largemouth bass, bluegills and channel catfish," Lombardo said. "Trout are stocked in the spring, and sometimes these fish are caught on into the summer.

"One of my favorite things about Cacapon State Park is the nature program that Kelly Smith runs. She has a really interesting night hike, where the kids listen for creatures such as owls and whippoorwills. Kelly is simply great working with kids."

The Eastern Panhandle establishment also offers over 20 miles of trails from easy to difficult hikes, plus horseback riding, and tennis and volleyball courts. Also of note for the fishing inclined is that the Potomac and Cacapon rivers are nearby. Last June, for instance, I finished a three-day float trip on the Potomac near Berkeley Springs, which is a short drive from the park. Like the Potomac, the Cacapon also is a very gently flowing river in the vicinity of the park.

When I finished my Potomac adventure last summer, I stopped by Berkeley Springs State Park and its famous spas and mineral water. For families recreating at Cacapon, a side trip to the sister park should be a pleasurable experience.

DISTRICT III

Stonewall Jackson Resort State Park

My favorite lake to fish for largemouth bass in West Virginia is Stonewall Jackson. In fact, the Lewis County impoundment is also my preferred destination for crappie. Those are not unusual preferences among anglers who seek out bass and papermouths in the Mountain State. Sam England, who is superintendent of the park, explained the lake's appeal for both kids and serious anglers.

"The lake is known for its excellent fish populations," enthused England. "Stonewall is considered the No. 1 reservoir in the state for fishing success. Crappie and bluegills are really abundant, which is great for the kids. Of course, there are good populations of largemouth bass and channel catfish.

"Stonewall is also known for its great habitat, mostly the standing and fallen timber. This lake is one of the few in West Virginia that was actually designed for recreation, a major reason why the timber was left. In fact, some 40 percent of the lake has a no-wake zone restriction -- another thing that fishermen will appreciate."

The catch-and-release regulation for black bass remains in effect, continued England, and that helps explain why this District III body of water draws both serious and casual anglers. Kayaks and paddleboats are available for rental at the park, but most anglers bring their own craft, either the standard bass boat or a motorized johnboat.

England said that families have a number of housing options. One of the most intriguing is the opportunity to rent a houseboat. I have spent several nights on these boats and have found them very comfortable. Kids may well enjoy fishing for bluegills from the docks where the boats are anchored.

Also of interest is the Stonewall Resort, which was opened in 2002 and contains 198 rooms. Elaine and I spent a weekend at the resort when it first opened and thoroughly enjoyed both dining at the restaurant and the excellent accommodations. Ten cottages and a 45-site campground round out the lodging possibilities. Sam said that the cabins were constructed right on the lake. This was possible because Stonewall only varies about 6 feet in water level from summer to winter pool.

England added that the park also offers a nature and recreation program for children, interpretative hikes and activities designed to help folks learn how to use canoes and kayaks.

DISTRICT IV

Moncove Lake State Park

Bob Beanblossom, district administrator for the state park system, informs that 144-acre Moncove Lake is on the comeback trail. The lake was closed and drained several years ago (some 10,000 pounds of fish were captured and sent to Bluestone Lake) so that workers could repair a crack in the riser of the dam. Beanblossom said that the repair was an expensive project, but it was successful and the body of water was refilled and restocked in the spring of 2006.

"The stocked bass and bluegills have experienced very significant growth rates," Beanblossom said. "Back in September, my wife, Judy, and I visited the lake. She caught a largemouth that was between 12 and 13 inches. Moncove Lake should be a very good place for families to fish during the summer of 2007.

"The lake is a very important resource for folks living in southern West Virginia. In fact, visitation to the park really suffered when the lake was drained. I think fishermen will be interested to know that Moncove still has a lot of the hardwood stumps, which were left behind when the lake was created in the 1950s. Those stumps are in remarkably good condition and still draw bass and bluegills."

The state park administrator emphasized that the WMA, which encompasses the lake, adds to the scenic nature of the park. Hiking trails, a swimming pool and paddleboat rental are other possible family activities.

DISTRICT V

Beech Fork State Park

Dave Lombardo believes that Beech Fork State Park would make another fine family fishing foray.

"The access to the lake at Beech Fork is excellent. Families and kids can fish right out from their campsites. In fact, I would say the Beech Fork campsite is one of the most popular in our entire state park and forest system."

The park sports 275 campsites, some 80 of which are lakefront, and six cabins. Among the other enticements are a summer naturalist program, hiking trails, swimming pool and a large recreation center with arcade-style games. Lombardo lists largemouth bass, channel catfish and bluegills as the big three game fish at this District V impoundment. Crappie, walleyes and tiger muskies also have been known to show up on the ends of anglers' lines.

Bob Beanblossom suggested that parents and their offspring concentrate on the lower end of 720-acre Beech Fork Lake, which is near Barboursville. The upper section of this long, narrow impoundment is heavily silted and fishing is noticeably poorer there. Beanblossom added that the tailrace contains a put-and-take trout fishery. Some of those fish carry over to early summer. The most consistent action, however, is for warmwater game fish at the lower end of the lake.

Regarding trails, Beanblossom recommends the first mile or two of a seven-mile trail, which runs for a while along the lake. Families can gauge how well their children are doing and perhaps extend the hike -- or head back to the beginning of this fairly flat pathway.

VIPP Program

I

have been writing the annual family fishing story for this magazine for 15 years now. A few years ago, I realized that while penning all those stories and undertaking visits to the various parks and state forests, I was slowly earning the right to become a Very Important Parks Person (VIPP).

Created in 1986, the VIPP program was designed to develop "friends" for West Virginia state parks and forests and to recognize those who make regular visits to these establishments. To attain the VIPP status, visitors must visit 20 state parks and forests from a designated list. Fifteen parks and forests are listed as mandatory, and five elective establishments must be visited from among all the rest. I took 15 years to gain my designation, but no time limit exists.

Upon completion of the 20 visits, in recognition of an individual's new VIPP status, the West Virginia DNR will present the person with a membership certificate, card, and most importantly, to my way of thinking, a windbreaker jacket featuring the VIPP program. Quite honestly, I was thrilled last June when I received my VIPP jacket while Elaine and I were staying at North Bend State Park. I plan to wear the jacket to every park and forest I stay at from now on.

This year, I also plan to visit some of my favorite parks. For example, at this writing, I hope to go to Greenbrier State Forest. While there, I am going to float the Greenbrier River and fly-fish in some of southern West Virginia's trout streams. I also have always wanted to hunt in the Calvin Price State Forest. This may be the year when I accomplish that goal. Little Beaver State Park is not too far from our home, and maybe that is where Elaine and I will spend our summer vacation. Indeed, the choices are many for those who love fishing and the outdoors -- and West Virginia certainly has it all when it comes to fine state parks and forests to explore.

Find more about West Virginia fishing and hunting at: WVgameandfish.com

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