Mt. Lebanon is only 40 miles from the nearest West Virginia border. We can travel in a single day to a place with spectacular scenery, unique recreational options, and a surprising number of interesting historical sites.
If you haven’t been in a while, we have some suggestions for day trips to three nearby areas of our neighboring state, generally grouped around Morgantown, Wheeling and Moundsville. These three areas offer living history, interesting shopping and boundless recreation, as well as the fierce natural beauty that’s so close by.
Morgantown. Downtown Morgantown, home of West Virginia University, has a college vibe, with multiple spots for craft beer and gastropub fare. Check out the Iron Horse Tavern and the Hotel Morgan.
On the WVU campus, the University’s art museum has 4,000 paintings, prints and drawings, mostly 19th and 20th century. Outside, the Nath Sculpture Garden offers 2 ½ acres of American and international works.
And don’t miss the university’s 90-acre Core Arboretum, an urban old-growth preserve along the Monongahela River, featuring wooded trails with more than 250 species of herbaceous plants and 180 types of birds.
A bit farther south in Fairmont is Prickett’s Fort State Park, where history is re-enacted in demonstrations of 18th century cooking, blacksmithing, and dyeing. This rustic log fort is a re-creation of the original, built in 1774, which served as a refuge from Native American war parties on what was then the western frontier of colonial Virginia. Today guides cook on an enormous open hearth, show how muskets work, forge hooks and hardware in the blacksmith’s shop, and weave and dye cloth with native herbs. It’s not Williamsburg, but it’s a worthy approximation.
Save Coopers Rock State Forest for last. The road in is steep and twisting, but the ascent is worth it. The park is named for Coopers Rock, a series of sandstone cliffs above the Cheat River Gorge. Many of the park’s structures, including the main overlook, picnic shelters, and superintendent’s house, were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression. Follow the path to the canyon overlook on top of Coopers Rock, and marvel at the jaw-dropping view of the Cheat River far below, nestled in among the mountains.
The rest of the park is crisscrossed with 50 miles of trails for serious hikers, some of which pass between sheer rock walls; note the warnings about copperheads and rattlesnakes. There are also sandstone cliffs for climbing and bouldering, picnic shelters, cross-country trails, a lake for trout fishing, and a river for rafting. The terrain—rocky, steep, spectacular, wild—is West Virginia at its best. Almost heaven.
Iron Horse Tavern
140 High Street
127 High Street
Art Museum of West Virginia University
20 Fine Arts Drive
West Virginia University Campus
Prickett’s Fort State Park
88 State Park Road Fairmont
Coopers Rock State Forest
61 County Line Drive, Bruceton Mills,
Wheeling. Start north of Wheeling, at the very tip of West Virginia’s panhandle in Newell at the outlet store for the Fiestaware factory, technically known as the Homer Laughlin China Company. If you like these colorful dishes, you’ll find tremendous bargains here. Prices are much less than standard retail, and there is a roomful of seconds that cost even less. The dozens of colors are gorgeous, and the styles evoke a ’30s diner.
From Newell take the scenic drive south on Route 2 along the river to downtown Wheeling. Visit the 150-year-old Centre Market, West Virginia’s longest continuously operating market house. Centre Market is located in an old market square lined with charming 19th century houses (many with historical markers) and shops, including two breweries. Inside you’ll find galleries and stalls selling art, ice cream, clothes, fish, collectibles, roast beef sandwiches, craft beer and much more.
Just outside of Wheeling is the 1,700-acre Oglebay Park, left to the city in 1926 by businessman Earl Oglebay, who used it as a country retreat and experimental farm. Today it offers swimming, fishing, miniature golf, hiking trails, a driving range, a lake with pedal boats, a zipline, tennis courts, an amphitheater, an arboretum and three 18-hole golf courses (one designed by legendary golf course architect Robert Trent Jones, another by Arnold Palmer).
Oglebay’s restored home is open to the public as the Mansion Museum. Along with a glimpse of how the other half lived, it is filled with furnishings that range from the Victorian era (the original house was built in 1846) to the early 20th century, many of them dishes, furniture and paintings owned by the Oglebay family.
Nearby is the Glass Museum, where you can watch a glassblower create beautiful Christmas tree ornaments and other items, which are on sale in the gift shop. Since Wheeling was a major glass-making center in the 19th century, the museum’s main exhibits are 3,000 examples of glass made between 1829 and 1939 by five of the largest local glassmakers, including the Sweeney Punch Bowl, the largest piece of cut lead glass ever made.
Kids will like the Good Zoo at Oglebay, which has zebras, Burmese pythons, kangaroos and miniature donkeys, along with more exotic species. Throughout the year, the zoo sponsors special seasonal events like Boo at the Zoo and Zoo Brew. And don’t forget Oglebay’s Winter Festival of Lights
For longer stays,Wilson Lodge has dozens of well-stocked rental cabins, with two to six bedrooms and Wi-Fi.
Moundsville. If you’re interested in history—ANCIENT history—the Grave Creek Mound Archaeological Complex is a great place to start. The museum in Moundsville sits right next to a huge burial mound built by the Adena people in 250-150 BCE. Today the site is a National Historic Landmark.
In the early 19th century, the owner of this parcel of land realized that his 60-foot-high hill was manmade. The mound was the subject of various real estate schemes throughout the century (none of them successful), as well as archeological study. First excavated in 1838, it was found to be the site of two burial chambers, built on top of each other. Other areas of West Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky also have the remains of ancient burial mounds, but this one is the largest and best-preserved example.
The museum has fascinating exhibits on the life of the inhabitants of the area, the excavations, and the people who protected and studied the mound. Then you can follow a spiral path to the top of the 2,000-year-old mound itself for a view of the entire town and the Ohio River Valley.
Directly across the street from the museum’s parking lot is the former West Virginia State Penitentiary, a Gothic Victorian hulk used from 1876 to 1995. Daily tours focus on the history of this institution or, if you dare, the spirits of former inmates that supposedly haunt the building.
Just outside Moundsville are two spots that are also worth a stop. Grand Vue Park overlooks the city and offers a breathtaking view of the area, as well as a zipline, high ropes course, restaurant and swimming pool. Rental cabins feature treetop views and hot tubs.
Slightly farther down the road is the entrance to Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold, an eye-popping golden temple built in 1973 for the founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Today it’s a meditation center, offering an award-winning rose garden with 150 varieties, stunning vistas and great vegetarian food in the restaurant and snack bar.
Grave Creek Mound
801 Jefferson Avenue
West Virginia State Penitentiary
818 Jefferson Avenue
Grand Vue Park
250 Trail Drive
Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold
3759 McCreary’s Ridge Road