For more than two centuries, folks have traveled to the tiny mountain town of Berkeley Springs to soak up warm mineral waters for the health of it. Friendly, safe, affordable and less than two hours from metro Washington and Baltimore, Berkeley Springs offers state-of-the-art spas, unique shops and local arts, all surrounded by West Virginia’s splendid outdoors.
Billed in all the travel ads as a romantic getaway, the Berkeley Springs area has another side — a family-friendly face that encourages visitors to “bring the kids.” Safe and quiet, with miles of beautiful mountains, ridges, valleys and rivers — Morgan County has been a popular destination since George Washington brought his family nearly 250 years ago. Lodging and activities are geared for weekend getaways, week-long vacations or regular visits year ’round.
Berkeley Springs State Park in the center of the historic spa town of Berkeley Springs is a unique natural playground and the family jewel of the area. The famous warm springs can be seen bubbling up through sand patches and overflowing into a narrow channel and several large stone pools. Almost any day finds a passel of kids diligently catching the minnows and crayfish that dart through the sparkling clear water . To help the game, small nets are available for sale in the main bathhouse. Even when a child falls in, the constant water temperature of 74° makes it an enjoyable tumble.
Older children may enjoy splashing with their parents in one of the Roman baths housed in the two-story building at the park’s north end. The tiled tubs in individual rooms are family-sized and can accommodate a swimming stroke or two. For serious swimming, the park’s outdoor poolwith lifeguards is open daily during the summer, with a modest daily fee.
There’s lots to look at in the tiny park including a picturesque bandstand, 18th century millstone and George Washington’s Bath Tub — a favorite with the kids. There are picnic tables, green lawns, and free summer concerts every Saturday afternoon in July and August. Candy, ice cream, tasty lunches and pizza are available at several restaurants and shops within a block of the park.
The town’s long history as a spa is traced in the family-friendly Museum of the Berkeley Springs on the second floor of the Roman Bath House. There’s an 800-lb local crystal, a light-up model of springs geology and an exhibit of antique bathing wear that delight the children. The Museum is open most days during the summer season.
A few miles south of town, the ridge turns into Cacapon Mountain and a second state parknestles on 6,000 acres of mountain wilderness. Cacapon State Park is a full resort with activities open to both daytrippers and guests staying at the park’s cabins and lodge. There is no entry fee to the park. When you want to “turn ’em loose,” Cacapon State Park is the place to bring the kids.
The park’s stream-fed lake features a sand beach, lifeguards and a flotilla of paddle and rowboats. Open daily for swimming, the lake is free to park guests; there are modest fees for day use. Fishing is free and no license is required for those under 15 years old. The dam on the east side of the well-stocked lake is often filled with folks fishing for abundant trout and bass.
Over twenty miles of marked hiking and bridle trails to and along the mountain’s summit range from easy to challenging and boast stunning views, odd rock formations and mountain flora. Other park activities range from an 18-hole golf course, volleyball and clay tennis courts (bring your own equipment) to horseshoe pits, skeet shooting and a children’s play area near the lake. On rainy days, children can play in the lodge’s spacious gameroom, well stocked with arcade machines, ping pong and shuffleboard. The park’s naturalist offers weekly programs including photo safaris, animal and tree guided walks. Horses can be rented from the park’s stables and overnight trail rides are available. The lodge restaurant offers casual family dining for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
With its many attractions, pavilions and literally scores of picnic tables, Cacapon State Park is a favorite for family reunions and group parties. There’s even a campfire circle, ideal for an evening of ghost stories — or tales about wayward relatives.
If feeding fish rather than catching them is your children’s fantasy, take them to the Ridge Fish Hatchery, a few miles south of Cacapon State Park on Rt. 522, where resident bass and trout are fed daily around 3:30pm. Admission is free to the state-run facility and visiting hours are 8am to 4pm daily.
Opposite the western range of Cacapon Mountain is Sleepy Creek Mountain and an ideal primitive wilderness experience. Along the peak of the 23,000-acre Sleepy Creek Public Hunting and Fishing area is Sleepy Creek Lake with varied fishing including largemouth bass, northern pike, channel catfish and and bluegill. Boat launching areas are available on the 205-acre lake as well as a 75-site primitive campground. The mountainous forest is abundant with game, hunted in season, including the featured wild turkey, deer, grouse and raccoon. Hunting and fishing licenses are required for everyone over 15 years old. The entrance to the area is located 14 miles southeast of Berkeley Springs along Winchester Grade Road 13.
The nearby Potomac and Cacapon rivers provide a variety of outdoor experiences, all free. Start with Panorama Overlook along Rt. 9, three miles west of Berkeley Springs, a favorite road trip for visitors from George Washington’s day to ours. The roadside overlook just below famous Prospect Peak, offers a spectacular view of four states, the tiny hamlet of Great Cacapon and the joining of the stately Potomac River by the Cacapon.
The Cacapon is a wild and scenic river that snakes its way north through the heart of Morgan County, on the west side of the mountains, providing numerous opportunities for canoeing, fishing and tubing along its way. A map marking boat access to the rivers is available at the Berkeley Springs Chamber of Commerce.
There’s hiking on the C & O Canal along the northern shore of the Potomac River with a Visitors Center and access point in Hancock, Maryland, 6 miles north of Berkeley Springs. The Paw Paw Tunnel is the largest man-made structure on the C & O Canal, located just outside the town of Paw Paw in western Morgan County.
The most exotic attraction for children is Berkeley Castle, perched on the ridge overlooking the town. They love the fanciness of the stone castle, built as a summer home in the 1880s. [Note: Berkeley Castle is no longer open to the public for tours].
The ultimate in nightlife for children and teens is the STAR Theatre, showing a first-run movie every Thursday through Sunday nights at 8pm. A historic, small-town, mom-and-pop theater, the Star offers hot-oil popcorn with real butter. Even the prices are nostalgic in this alternative to modern multi-plexes.
The wide variety of places to stay in Morgan County guarantees you’ll find the right place for you and the family from a name-brand hotel, downtown inns and cabins at Cacapon State Park to fully equipped vacation homes, rustic log cabins and a campground. Check the lodging page for all the details including whether pets are welcome.