Dear Pittsburgh - Stop Underestimating West Virginia

Originally published January 30th, 2017.

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We kept saying that we "didn't expect much" from our weekend trip to Thomas, West Virginia.

It was West Virginia after all, and the town had a population of less than 600 people. And it was in the middle of nowhere.  And it was the off-season for travelers. 

We had one goal for the getaway: escape our daily routines. If that ended up being all Thomas had to offer, that would be enough.

Well, that's what we kept saying... but I was lying.

I expected a lot out of Thomas, West Virginia. I'd heard about the town from some of my most trusted travel comrades. These were people that knew good travel, and they couldn't stop raving about the place. 

West Virginia gets a bad rap.  This could be because two major horror movies (Wrong Turn and Deliverance) are set there, but it's probably because the state is humble. Unlike Michigan and California with their excessive T.V. commercials, West Virginia isn't flashy about all it has to offer. 

After spending a weekend there, I can tell you this: forget Hollywood's take on West Virginia, and listen to John Denver

Thomas is a thriving cultural pocket on the outskirts of the Monongahela National Forest in northeastern West Virginia.

Because the Monongahela National Forest is jaw-droppingly beautiful,  the state has spent a ton of money turning the area into a well-maintained park system.  Thomas is located on the edge of the state park, and has taken up the torch of being the "stopover town" for hikers and skiers. 

All Thomas really needed to provide was a few hotels, and perhaps a place to get a hot meal. However, it went above and beyond. 

Amazing hiking? Check. Adorable coffee shops? Check. Live music, art galleries, and a brewery? Check, check, and check. 

thomaswestvirginia

Outside of West Virginia, the area is a well-kept secrets. Not a ton of people know about it, and those who do only begrudgingly share their knowledge. However, once you're in the state, residents flaunt the area's thriving artist community. 

Somehow, in this tiny town in the middle of nowhere, you can wake up, grab a soy-milk latte, spend a full day hiking, and then return back to town in time to shop, grab a beer, and see a live music performance.  

The best part? No cell service and limited wifi. This forces you to be in the moment and appreciate simple pleasures like a good book, or a frothy latte. Disconnecting from the "online world" also makes time go much slower. Although we only spent three days in Thomas, I felt like I'd been away for weeks when I returned home. 

Because Thomas is less than three hours driving from both Washington D.C. and Pittsburgh, PA, is it the perfect weekend getaway. It's impossible to visit and not be charmed by the scenery, friendly locals, and quaint shops.

Thomas, WV, is a true hidden gem - but you didn't hear it from me. 

thomaswestvirginia
thomaswestvirginia

IF YOU GO:

Thomas is just under three hours from both Pittsburgh, PA, and Washington D.C. The drive is easy enough, but be sure to fill up on gas before the entering the final hour. Once you're passing through the mountains that surround town, gas stations are few and far between.

For hikers, a long weekend (Friday - Monday) is the perfect amount of time to spend in the area. 

Stay:

The Purple Fiddle

It's not luxurious, but you don't stay at The Purple Fiddle for luxury. You stay there to be in the center of the action. The downstairs is a restuarant/bar/music venue, and typically has 2-3 different performers each day.  It's the most popular spot in town to hang out, grab a drink, and listen to music. 

Upstairs is a tiny hostel with a kitchen, pool table, and giant patio. The accommodations are barebones, but it will push you to hang out around the pool table and make new friends. Plus, it's extremely affordable at $25 per night. 

The Purple Fiddle
96 State Hwy 32
Thomas, WV

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See: 

Dolly Sods Wilderness

There are many beautiful sections within the Monongahela National Forest, but one of the main reasons people travel to the area is to hike/camp in the Dolly Sods Wilderness. Something about the unique climate of the area makes the Dolly Sods repeatedly switch between dense forest, prairie, and marsh. It's beautiful in every season, but autumn can't be beat. The trees become a dense quilt of orange, red, green and yellow. You truly feel like you're hiking inside of a postcard. 

There are many hiking loops in the Dolly Sods, ranging from 6- 21 miles. We hiked Bear Rocks Trail-Raven Ridge Trail-Dobbin Grade Trail. It provided great exercise and unbeatable views. 

Dolly Sods Wilderness

dollysods

Lindy Point Overlook

Lindy Point is located very close to Thomas, so you have no excuses to not go. Get ready for a sublime, panoramic view of the mountains. If you have a free moment and the sky is clear, don't hesitate - get in your car and drive to the trailhead. It takes all of 10 minutes to get there from Thomas.  

Lindy Point Overlook

Santangelo Shop

Santangelo is a tiny shop on Front Street in Thomas. Though it may be small in size, it's expertly curated. For example, before we went to Thomas, I'd been searching for mugs by Philly-based artist Brian Giniewski for weeks, and couldn't located them anywhere in Pittsburgh. Guess where I ended up finding them? At the Santangelo shop in the middle-of-nowhere West Virginia.

Second hand books, jewelry, beautiful pottery, and much more can all be found in Santangelo.

Santangelo
280 State Hwy 32
Thomas, WV

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Galleries:

There are many art galleries in Thomas. Some of our favorites included: The White Room Art GalleryLamplight GalleryCreature, and Mountain Made

Ella & Company

Ella & Company is a wedding design team that has a tiny store in Thomas. They specialize boho, Pinterest-esque weddings. Picture a plush, cobalt arm chair in the middle of a forest - that is the type of wedding we're working with.

They have a ton of pieces of vintage rental furniture that can be viewed in their shop.  Even if you're not getting married, it's fun to walk around the shop, which also sells vintage cups, frames, and other knickknacks. Checkout their instagram for more information. 

Ella & Company
250 State Hwy 32
Thomas, WV

Eat/Drink: 

Tip Top

Tip Top is a trendy, Brooklyn-esque coffee shop that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as fresh pastries and quiches. This is a great place to grab a coffee and read in the morning, as well as a beer and a burger in the evening. It also has the most comprehensive selection of designer chocolate that I've ever seen. 

Tip Top
216 State Hwy 32
Thomas, WV 

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Mountain State Brewery

In the mood for a beer? Look no further than Mountain State. The original brewery is located Morgantown, WV, but they also have a brewpub in Thomas. This is another great spot to eat while listening to live music. 

Mountain State Brewery
1 Nelson Blvd
Thomas, WV  

Country Roads Saloon

Local dive bar with a pool table. Need I say more? 

Country Roads Saloon
16454 Appalachian Hwy
Thomas, WV

Front Street Grocers

Proving that Thomas truly has everything, Front Street Grocers is an organic grocery shop. They have a wide selection of allergen free products, making it easy for anyone to grab a quick and healthy snack. 

Front Street Grocers
122 State Hwy 32
Thomas, WV 

dollysods

Tips from someone who did it:

- Bring your own food/groceries. There are plenty of restaurants, but it's nice to have sandwiches for the hikes. 
- Don't camp past September. The weather may seem promising, but the mornings are bone-chilling cold. Everyone I've spoken with who camped in October or November regretted it. 
- Bring a car with four-wheel drive. A lot of the trailheads are miles and miles in on dirt/gravel roads. 
- Go during the fall when the leaves are turning
 - If you can manage it, don't visit on a weekend.  Trails are less crowded during the week. 

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HAPPY GALLIVANTING!