Welcome back to West Virginia Revisited! Let’s explore another pocket of the Mountain State, shall we?
Today’s destination is one that is near and dear to me–the city of Elkins. I spent two years a half hour down the road from Elkins and got to know it pretty well. I know I didn’t always appreciate it when I was there–it’s a small town so it doesn’t take long to see everything there is to see–but I’ve been back a few times since moving on to my next adventure, and coming back to Elkins always feels like coming home.
The seat of Randolph County, Elkins was developed in 1890 by senators Henry Davis and Stephen Elkins (Elkins was also President Benjamin Harrison’s Secretary of War). It is now home to about 7,000 people, a small liberal arts college, large annual events, and several shops and restaurants. These things combined with its proximity to several parks and ski destinations make Elkins a perfect year-round destination.
Elkins and Randolph County are considered the gateway to the Potomac Highlands, the mountainous eastern region of West Virginia, and its central location makes it an ideal jumping-off point for many different mountain adventures. Located just outside downtown is the Elkins Train Depot and Welcome Center. Stop by to learn about all that Elkins and the region has to offer, or if you’re in the mood for a scenic train trip, check out the number of trains that depart from the station. The New Tygart Flyer and the Cheat Mountain Salamander trains use old mountain railroads to climb to some of the most remote but spectacular scenery in West Virginia. The train trips last for several hours and aren’t cheap, though. If you want a shorter (and free) mountain trip, there are a few spots just outside of Elkins that offer hiking and gorgeous mountain views. Take Highway 33 east until you hit Forest Road 91. There you’ll find Bickle Knob Observation Area and Bear Heaven Recreation Area. Elkins is also a short drive from many other beloved West Virginia destinations. About an hour and a quarter south is Snowshoe Ski Resort. An hour north is Blackwater Falls, Canaan Valley Park and Resort, and the towns of Davis and Thomas. Less than an hour west on Highway 33 are the small towns of Buckhannon (home of West Virginia Wesleyan College) and Weston (home of the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum). And an hour southeast are Seneca Rocks and Spruce Knob.
Elkins is home to a number of restaurants that do not disappoint when hunger strikes. Downtown you’ll find local favorite C.J. Maggie’s, beloved for its massive, homemade portions of American dishes. Whether you’re in the mood for pasta, a sandwich, appetizers and drinks, pizza, or a knife-and-fork meal, you’ll find something to satisfy just about any craving. Try their homemade lemonade or sweet tea, or get them both as an Arnold Palmer. Just across the street is Beander’s, which serves up no-frills pub food and a variety of beers and drinks. Be sure to try their brew city-style fries! If you’re looking for something a little more dive-y, head for The Jabberwock, a little establishment with an even tinier menu (only six items!) prepared on a tiny flat-top, a few pool tables, and what is probably the best bar in Elkins. Just off the main drag and a few blocks from downtown is El Gran Sabor, which serves up authentic Venezuelan goodies like empanadas and arepas. A bit up the road from downtown is 1863 Grille, a reasonably priced steak house known for its homemade lemonade and buttery after-dinner cinnamon rolls. Just past 1863 is The Custard Stand, a West Virginia franchise serving up fast food fare like chili dogs, burgers, and frozen custard treats. A bit outside of town along Highway 33 you’ll find Smoke On The Water, a barbeque establishment with log cabin aesthetic and a huge outdoor seating area. And if you’re looking for fine dining, go a bit further east on Highway 33 and you’ll find The Forks, a cozy inn serving up sophisticated seasonal fare.
If drinks are what you’re after, I’ve already mentioned The Jabberwock as having a great bar. Also be sure to sample Big Timber Brewing Company, a micro-brewery that sells its beers in many restaurants and stores in the Elkins area. One place that you can find it, among others, is Lynn’s Self Serve, a tiny c-store that has one of the best craft beer selections in town as well as a Growler Station. And don’t miss The Brewstel (right next to The Jabberwock), a cool little stop with several taps that spotlight local brews (including some made by The Brewstel) and other craft beers. Sip a pint, sample a flight, or fill a growler at their bar! If you’re a home brewer, it’s also a brew shop where you can pick up a variety of grains and hops. If you need a place to stay while you’re in town (and you’re okay with possibly staying with strangers), The Brewstel’s upstairs is a small hostel that has access to a rooftop patio with a beautiful mountain view, perfect for relaxing with friends and, of course, a pint.
Elkins hosts a variety of uniquely West Virginia events throughout the year. Head to the Augusta Heritage Center at Davis and Elkins College year-round to learn about West Virginia’s rich musical culture. Throughout the summer you can stop by City Park for Pickin’ in the Park, which are basically folk and bluegrass jam sessions sponsored by the Augusta Center. If you’re in town in mid-August, check out the Augusta Festival, an annual celebration of Appalachian folk music that caps the summer Pickin’ in the Park season and features a concert that is recorded for NPR’s Mountain Stage program. In late September and early October, don’t miss the Mountain State Forest Festival, celebrating all things West Virginia with events like the lumberjacking competition, firemen’s parade, and the crowning of Queen Sylvia. And, of course, with carnival rides and fair food. In April, come to the Ramps and Rails Festival, celebrating Elkins’ railroad history and the humble ramp, a pungent variety of wild leek that grows in the West Virginia highlands and has become a delicacy in American cuisine.
Small town charm, plenty of history, and a beautiful mountain backdrop all come together to make Elkins a quintessential West Virginia destination, whether you’re just passing through or want to stay for a little longer. Enjoy!