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6 Great Mountain State Family Vacations

6 Great Mountain State Family Vacations

Everyone in the family can enjoy these getaways, where hiking, biking, horseback riding -- and fishing -- are on tap for hardy Mountaineers. Here are some terrific spots where you should go! (June 2006)

"Can I catch another one?" asked Brett Oates. The 8-year-old Hacker Valley resident had just horsed a trout up the bank during an outing at Holly River State Park, while park superintendent Ken McClintic and I looked on. Brett, the son of assistant superintendent Donald Oates, made no effort to restrain his enthusiasm for fishing. And why should he? Kids, family fun and fishing naturally go together at West Virginia's state parks and forests, as well as at many other bodies of water across the Mountain State.

At 8,101 acres, Holly River is the second-largest state park in West Virginia and is located in the center of the state in Webster County.

"Holly River is a nice, safe, family-oriented park," McClintic said. "Most of our guests are repeat visitors and have been coming for years, often at the same time of year. As such, they have become friends with other park visitors who also come at the same time. So it is almost like an annual reunion when these folks return. Some of them even want the same cabin or campsite every year.

"Laurel Fork is where many people like to fish at the park. Laurel is a crystal-clear stream and has a great environment for trout. Many of the sections are very accessible for adults and children. The stream is located near the cabins. Above the cabins, if parents and children are willing and able, they can visit more remote sections. This is a hike-in fishery, as the stream cascades down the mountain, forming falls and plunge pools."

One evening while my wife, Elaine, and I were at Holly River, I hiked up the mountain that Laurel Fork flows down. I saw a number of trout finning in the quiet, rhododendron-shrouded pools. I was very impressed with the beauty and solitude of the stream. A footpath winds along the creek, making access convenient and also giving one the chance to easily amble up the mountain.

"The gorge that Laurel Fork flows through is stunningly beautiful," McClintic said. "The vegetation is very lush: moss, ferns, rhododendron, and mountain laurel; also large boulders lie along the creek. Visitors won't find a prettier trout stream anywhere."


Another plus for fishing Laurel Fork is that the stream receives regular stockings of trout. In fact, a trout-rearing pond exists near the park office and restaurant and is itself a fascinating place for children to visit and observe fish. A particularly fun time is when the trout are fed. Rainbows, browns, brookies and golden rainbows all are present in the pond. As a whole, Laurel Fork is stocked in Holly River State Park from the Pickens fire tower road downstream four miles along secondary Route 10. Fish are released into the stream once in January, twice in February and once each week from March through May.

McClintic said that these trout overwinter well. He added that park employees endeavor to spread the trout widely from the rearing pond. They tote five-gallon buckets of trout to both easily accessible and remote areas of Laurel Fork, so as to spread out the fish and the fishing pressure.

The superintendent said that a big trout in the creek is about 12 inches. His choices of baits include salmon eggs, night crawlers, minnows and orange Berkley Power Bait. For some reason, orange is the preferred color the superintendent said.

I immensely enjoyed my time trekking along Laurel Fork, and Holly River State Park features over 40 miles of trails, which McClintic described as a "real asset" to the establishment. The superintendent confided that Wilderness Trail is his favorite one, as it winds along both Laurel Fork and Crooked Fork. Wilderness Trail also meanders through some old homesteads, as well as through a very remote area and by a fire tower. Look for the split rail chestnut fences when the trail passes through the former farms.

Summer naturalist Emily Thomas and her programs are another major attraction. Thomas lets the kids feed the fish in the trout-rearing pond and has an education program on the salmonids. The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR) provides free fish food. Other outdoor activities include hayrides, campfire activities, storytelling and geological talks.

Among the amenities at the park are 10 cabins, an 88-unit campground, swimming pool, picnic shelters and recreational courts. The highly acclaimed West Virginia State Wildlife Center in French Creek is nearby and very much worth a day trip, as kids will likely relish seeing wild animals in a natural setting. For more information on the wildlife center, call (304) 924-6211. For more information on the state park, dial 800-Call-WVA or (304) 493-6353;


Valley Falls State Park And Tygart River

Holly River State Park lies in District III, but obviously each of the state's six districts hosts appealing family fishing and outdoor fun destinations. In District I, certainly a fetching family location is Valley Falls State Park, a 1,145-acre day-use establishment located on the Tygart River between Fairmont and Grafton.

The park comes by its name honestly, as 12- and 18-foot falls on the Tygart River along the boundary of Marion and Taylor counties are the origins for the nomenclature. Although no overnight accommodations exist, visitors can hike on some 18 miles of trails, many of which are suitable for youngsters and their parents. Other amenities include picnic areas, playgrounds, and sightseeing at the remains of a sawmill and gristmill.

Bob Beanblossom, a district administrator for state parks, states that Valley Falls entered into the state park system in the mid-1960s and has an interesting history. The area was a mid-1800s boomtown with spindle, coffin and axe handle factories. Very little remains of the period except a millrace.

Beanblossom said that families can easily access the Tygart River from the park. The river hosts a typical warmwater fishery with largemouth and smallmouth bass, sunfish and catfish. For more information, call (304) 367-2719.


Berkley Springs State Park And Potomac River

At just four acres, Berkley Springs is certainly not an expansive state park, but it makes for a fascinating place to visit, and the fishing in the nearby Potomac River is certainly family oriented. Beanblossom relates that the primary feature of Berkley Springs is its mineral baths. The park came into the system in the 1970s, but for some 200 years the site has had a reputation as a destination for those who yearned for the mineral waters and their restorative powers. The spring pumps out 2,000 gallons a minute at a c

onstant temperature of 74.3 degrees.

"Before or after a visit to Berkley Springs State Park, I suggest that families drive nine or so miles and access the C&O Canal along the Potomac River at Hancock," Beanblossom said. "They can hike or bike along the trail and periodically stop to fish for smallmouth bass and sunfish."

If families would rather do a float trip, a number of options exist in that area. There is an access point at Hancock, but the float downstream to McCoys Ferry is 14 miles away -- too far to paddle for many children. An excellent half-day excursion is from Taylors Landing to Snyders landing, an easy 4 1/2-mile getaway. Also quite good is Snyders Landing to Shepherdstown, a trip of four miles.

Another possibility is Shepherdstown to Dargan Bend, an eight-mile float. This float has a great deal of slow water, which can make paddling tedious. The upside, however, is that quite a few bluegills and sunfish prowl the watery depths along these banks on this float. Another possible downside is that the take-out is more than an hour's drive from Berkley Springs.

The C&O Canal lies on the Maryland side of the river, but the Free State and West Virginia have reciprocal license agreements, so Mountain State anglers who own a state fishing license need not purchase an out-of-state one. If overnight accommodations are needed, nearby Cacapon Resort State Park is certainly an option. Cacapon offers 46 lodge rooms and 31 cabins, along with numerous amenities. Among them are an 18-hole golf course, lake, row- and paddleboats, horseback riding, tennis, game courts, hiking trails, tennis and picnicking. For more information, contact Berkley Springs State Park at (304) 258-5860 or Cacapon at (304) 258-1022.


Greenbrier State Forest And Tuckahoe Lake

The 5,130-acre Greenbrier State Forest lies only an hour from my home, so naturally it is a favorite destination of mine. Mike O'Brien, assistant superintendent for the state forest, said that the forest has much to offer.

"I think certainly one of the things families will enjoy most about coming here in the summer is our seasonal naturalist program," O'Brien said. "The topics are for all ages from 5 to 95. Two popular parts of the naturalist program are our stream stomp and snake identification. It is really fun for people to walk along a creek here and learn more about the species that live in it.

"Kids and adults also learn a lot from our snake program. For example, many people wrongly think that water moccasins live in West Virginia, which, of course, they don't. What folks are often seeing is just a common water snake. And many people think that just about every snake they see is either a copperhead or a timber rattler, which obviously isn't true either."

O'Brien added that the Greenbrier State Forest also features 15 miles of marked hiking/biking trails. Certainly the predominant feature of this Greenbrier County jewel is Kates Mountain, which tops out at 3,388 feet. The establishment offers 13 cabins, a 16-unit campground, and a heated swimming pool from Memorial Day through Labor Day. The cabins and campground open in mid-April and close Oct. 31.

For angling opportunities, O'Brien suggests Tuckahoe Lake, a 40-acre impoundment just outside of nearby White Sulfur Springs. Tuckahoe receives trout once each month from February through May, but the assistant superintendent believes that the warmwater fishery will be the most appealing to kids making a summertime visit. The lake's black bass are under a catch-and-release regulation, and a fine population of bluegills exists. O'Brien said that when nearby Moncove Lake was drained, many of the bluegills there were trucked to Tuckahoe.

The DNR also releases fingerling channel catfish into the lake. Access is quite good, as a boat landing ramp and handicapped accessible pier exist. For more information, contact the Greenbrier State Forest at 800-CALL-WVA or (304) 536-1944.


R.D. Bailey WMA And Lake

The R.D. Bailey WMA lies on the border of districts IV and V in Mingo and Wyoming counties. The 630-acre R.D. Bailey Lake is certainly a major focal point for fishing families in the region.

"R.D. Bailey is a great spotted bass lake," Beanblossom said. "And it also has largemouths and smallmouths. If a parent wants to introduce a child to bass fishing, and the kid is old enough for that step up, R.D. Bailey is certainly a good lake for that. The lake also has bluegills, crappie and catfish. I hooked a muskie there once, something I will never forget.

"One thing that families will really like about a visit is that a marina there has pontoons for rent. I think these boats are ideal for taking kids out on the water. Another thing that makes this lake a nice place to visit is its beauty; there are some really scenic sheer cliffs."

Beanblossom added that the tailwaters of the impoundment feature a put-and-take trout fishery. The DNR releases fish once in February and once every two weeks from March through May and once each week for two weeks in October. The park administrator adds, though, that this fishery receives a great deal of fishing pressure. Still, trout are present in the tailwaters in early summer.

The 17,280-acre R.D. Bailey WMA encompasses the namesake lake. Beanblossom said that although the archery season is still months away, hunting parents should know that this WMA has a reputation for producing some of the bigger bucks by bow among the state's public lands. The WMA is under an archery-only restriction for deer hunting.

Families that like to hike and have older children may well enjoy the challenge of going afield on this WMA. That challenge exists because the terrain features narrow coves and steep ridges, plus expansive forested areas. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operates a 169-site camping area. Beanblossom said he relishes biking from the campground down to the boat launch, a distance of about six miles. Biking families will likely enjoy doing so as well, he said. The Guyandotte River flows along the highway and offers more angling possibilities. For more information, contact the R.D. Bailey Lake and WMA at (304) 664-3229 or 664-9587.


North Bend Rail Trail And Hughes River

Bob Beanblossom maintains that families will likely enjoy hiking along sections of the 72-mile-long North Bend Rail Trail. This trail, which used to be part of the CSX Railroad system, extends from near Parkersburg in Wood County to Wolf Summit in Harrison County. Interestingly, the byway passes through 10 tunnels and crosses over 36 bridges. The trail also roughly parallels U.S. Route 50 as it cuts through the north-central reaches of the Mountain State.

Angling families may want to concentrate their efforts on the western section of the trail, specifically in the Eaton and Petroleum areas. That's where the Hughes River and North Fork of the Hughes come closest to the trail. This is a situation where those two-piece backpacking rods might come in handy. I would also suggest one of those small, portable plastic tackle boxes that feature compartments that can hold a good assortment of

hard plastic lures, such as crankbaits, stick baits, spoons and in-line spinners.

The Hughes River system is mostly known for its muskies -- a challenge for a budding angler to be sure. But the river also contains black bass and sunfish. For more information on the North Bend Rail Trail, dial 800-CALL-WVA or (304) 643-2931; or go online to

This coming summer will mark the 16th consecutive year that my family and I have vacationed at a West Virginia state park or forest. And it is a very important milestone for us. We have already decided that we are going to North Bend State Park. The reason is that once I go to North Bend, I will have qualified to become a Very Important Parks Person (VIPP).

Begun in 1986, the VIPP program recognizes individuals who have visited 15 mandatory parks and forests and five of the 21 elective parks and forests. I have crossed off all five of my electives and 14 of the 15 mandatory establishments, all except North Bend State Park. Once I have sojourned at North Bend, I will then contact West Virginia State Parks and the agency will send me a state park VIPP windbreaker.

Of course, vacationing at our state parks is not about one day receiving a windbreaker. It is about family fun, togetherness and fishing -- three marvelous things for sure.

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