1.800.447.8797 Official Website of Berkeley Springs, WV ~ The Country's First Spa
Family Friendly Vacations
by Jeanne Mozier
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 pool with 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 a light-up model of springs geology and an exhibit of antique bathing wear that will 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 park nestles 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 and a newly constructed 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.
Closer to town on Cacapon Mountain, the family-owned Coolfont Resort provides its guests -- including children -- with a wide range of outdoor fun. There are two lakes -- one with a sand beach -- for swimming, boating and fishing. The noted Spectrum Spa has an indoor pool and clay tennis courts nearby to amuse the kids while Mom and Dad indulge in a massage or healthful classes. There are horses for riding and miles of hiking trails. Camp Coolfont provides special activities for children 5 to 12; sign up the night before. Other child-friendly indoor activities include an arcade room and evening movies or family-oriented entertainment. Coolfont's famous buffets for breakfast, lunch and dinner satisfy the varied tastes of any family.
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.
When the kids are tired of Mother Nature, take them south of Cacapon State Park to the Timber Ridge Go-Kart Track where they can roar around the snaking, tire-bermed track in authentic, stripped-down go-karts. The track is open 11am-8pm daily during the summer. The Berkeley Springs Bowlerama is open for family play every afternoon and evening except Mondays and Wednesdays. Personal visits to the llamas of Daveda Farm can be arranged by calling 258-8618.
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 and a glimpse at the local teen-scene on Friday nights. Even the prices are nostalgic in this alternative to modern multi-plexes.
Family-Friendly Places To Stay
Wherever you stay in Morgan County, whether full-scale resort or roadside motel, your bed is family-owned and operated. Even Cacapon State Park is staffed by many longtime local families. All the lodging places listed in our family-friendly guide welcome children; some welcome pets as well.
Coolfont Resort has everything from a campground and cabins to fully equipped vacation homes and chalets with whirlpool baths. No pets allowed. 800-888-8768. Cacapon State Park offers lodge rooms or cabins set up for light housekeeping. Pets are not permitted in the lodge, cabins or cabin areas; leashed pets are allowed on park grounds. 800-CALL-WVA or 304-258-1022.
Cacapon B&B The Perry family owns and operates this motel outside the entrance to Cacapon State Park. Clean, affordable rooms are made more attractive by the full breakfast that comes with them including French toast and hot cakes. Games are often played in the dining room and there's a swing set out back. For special canoe trips or to get a lunch packed for your adventure, ask Curtis. Pets are welcome. 304-258-1442.
Maria's Garden is the best place for families to stay in town, with rooms named for the Perry family's grandchildren and an Italian Restaurant on-site. Full breakfast with the room, packed lunches on request, a TV and game room and a short walk to the park makes Maria's almost irresistible. 304-258-2021.
Berkeley Springs Motel provides clean, affordable rooms for families and pets within walking distance of the springs and park. 304-258-1776.
River House, with its deck high above the Cacapon River is family headquarters for canoeing, biking and fishing. There's even round-trip tubing in the river without the need for shuttling cars. Pets are welcome. 304-258-4042.
Timber Ridge Motel welcomes kids and pets. Go-kart track and mini-golf on site. 304-258-4888. Mother's Inn serves a country brunch with their rooms. Kids and pets welcome. 304-258-1734.
Hideaways in the Woods
The ultimate vacation site is an individual farmhouse, rustic cabin, elegant cottage or log house in the woods, fully equipped for your family's comfort. Abundant in Morgan County, they have special features ranging from private swimming holes and whirlpool baths to nature tours and on-site hunting.
Mountain Morning - 304-258-1718. Pets welcome.
Sleepy Creek Farm - 304-258-4018. Pets welcome.
Moss Hill Farm - 800-738-9768 or 304-258-1837. Pets welcome.
The Gatehouse at Sleepy Creek - 304-258-9282
Barn at Shadow Valley Farm - 304-258-1137.
Yellow Springs Run Cabin - the only in-town cabin - 800-484-1453-0976
Reeder's Retreat - 304-258-4888
O'Brien's Cabins - 304-754-9128.
Sunset Mountain Farm - 304-258-4239 or 4653.