Tips for driving through and staying in southern West Virginia?
July 27, 2012 5:52 AM   Subscribe

Tips for driving through southern West Virginia?

For a work project, I am going to be driving (alone) through West Virginia, going to meetings in various places. I'm really excited, but I'm nervous about two things: driving (I rarely drive, and I hear the roads are pretty scary) and places to stay/personal safety (as a woman traveling alone.)

Does anyone have any driving tips for rural West Virginia, and ideas for safe, inexpensive bed and breakfasts or hotels? Places to eat? General things to look out for? General things to do or not to do?

(It's not that I'm scared of West Virginia itself -- it's just the first time I'm traveling alone like this, and I'm pretty nervous.)
posted by EtTuHealy to Travel & Transportation around West Virginia (16 answers total)
 
I love West Virginia, it's very beautiful.

The roads are fine, the drivers are a bit fearless. Stay in the right lane and let them pass you if you feel nervous.

The people are very friendly and helpful.

You'll find outposts of the major chain of hotels/motels throughout WV. I prefer the Marriott brands. Go to the website of your favorite brand and plug in the name of the town you want to stay in so you can see what your choices are.

Many hotels are franchisee owned, and quality will vary from property to propterty. Check out Trip Advisor for reviews from folks who have stayed there.

On a trip from Alabama to Pittsburgh, my Mom and I stopped at Pipestem State Park area and as Mom put it, there was a "Wide spot in the road" and had a very good steak.

West Virginia is enchanting. Also.

What is the West Virginia state flower? The satellite dish.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:08 AM on July 27, 2012


Just be careful and respectful of blind curves. Nearly a month after the "derecho" that swept through the region, there are still trees down and blocking roads in my urban, densely populated city. I'm sure that's still the case in more rural areas too.

WV is gorgeous.
posted by headnsouth at 6:18 AM on July 27, 2012


A couple years back I was driving north to Pittsburgh and stayed at the Country Inn & Suites in Beckley, WV. I found Beckley to be such a cute town that I thought about stopping my journey there.
posted by jabes at 6:52 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've traveled as a woman alone all over the lower 48. There are some areas I've been nervous, but West Virginia definitely wasn't one of them. The people are lovely, the scenery is gorgeous... I'm envious.

A few things I would suggest:

-Bring a can of Fix a Flat, even if you're driving a rental car. Having that available can mean the difference between a tow and being able to limp into town.

-If you're not used to mountain/rural driving, stay slow and don't let the people behind you pressure you into driving faster. They're used to the roads; you aren't. It's OK.

-I'm assuming you have a cell phone. They don't work everywhere, but they're definitely worth bringing.
posted by pie ninja at 6:56 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


-I'm assuming you have a cell phone. They don't work everywhere, but they're definitely worth bringing.

When I worked in Western PA and WV, I had one of those old, suitcase sized 3 Watt cell phones. I ALWAYS had connectivity in WV. (1998)
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:02 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Living near rural WV, and having traveled there weekly I can attest to just about any situation you could encounter as a woman alone. Be prepared to pee in the woods, as there are few bathrooms. Carry in a coffee can your emergency supplies-candle tin foil, matches, toilet paper, hand disinfectant and food. Note that if you stop in the woods to go, there will be rattlesnakes and other wildlife. I've driven out by Frost and encountered black bear on several occasions. Your phone may not work in some of the valleys, as your GPS is a bit wappy on rural roads. Carry a paper map. Also note that the locals drive way too fast on their familiar turf, and at any moment they can swerve into your lane on a switchback. There is an extensive problem with drugs (meth & bath salts) and moonshine. Document well to a friend where you are going and check in once in a while. Big Stone Gap is magnificent, and every curve is a delight to the senses. West By God Virginia is probably the most beautiful states in the US, and the state and Federal parks are lovely. I don't mean to sound like Debbie Downer, but there is a dark side to rural areas and you should be prepared.
posted by ~Sushma~ at 7:04 AM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


West Virginia is beautiful and for the most part has roads that are fun to drive. They love to really bank those windy curves to help you keep speed while zipping around the side of a mountain. Which isn't exactly the best idea, mind you.

General windy road driving tip: If you're breaking while turning, you went into the curve too fast. Turning and breaking is a great way to loose control of your car. I drove with a city-girl friend through some windy backroads once. She was used to city driving, namely as fast as you possibly can, and breaking hard when you came to a light. You need to be more zen about windy road driving. You need to learn to read the road, and judge if you're going too fast before you get to a curve.

Yes, it sounds counter-intuitive, but with a slight acceleration (this can be the natural centrifugal acceleration mind you, not from your gas pedal) you keep more traction on the road and can take the curve better. If you see a curve coming, make sure you're at a safe speed to take the curve. Brake well before the curve if needed, then coast through the curve until it's apex then gas through the rest. I'm talking just a tiny tap on the accelerator, then cover the brake. This doesn't mean that at anytime you're going an unsafe speed for the road. You develop a sense for reading the road, which isn't needed in city driving.

Really, I'm making it much more complicated than it sounds. Just remember:

Breaking+Turning= loss of stability
and
Too fast+Turning= loss of stability

Therefore, you've got to be going a safe speed, before the curve, and a touch of gas can help you get out of the curve.

In general, windy/backroad driving is more mentally taxing than, say, being stuck in rush hour commuting traffic in a city. You might find this fun, or you might not. Keep to driving in daylight if you can help it, and you'll be fine. If you do drive at night/dusk and you're on a road near trees, you do have to look for deer.
posted by fontophilic at 7:15 AM on July 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


Keep your gas tank more full than you would in gentler terrain. Climbing up mountains kills your fuel economy!
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 8:24 AM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Nthing the above about the locals. I've found that people in that neck of the woods can be quite friendly, even to obvious outsiders.
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 8:31 AM on July 27, 2012


If you go anywhere near Charleston, don't miss the capitol building. It was designed by Cass Gilbert (who did the Supreme Court building in DC), and is gorgeous both inside and out.
posted by ubiquity at 9:14 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you pass near Logan, get a hot dog with chili (actually, you'll need 2-3: they're pretty small) from Morrison's Drive Inn, possibly the single food item I miss most. (And yes, it really is spelled that way.) Sample review here. Then mail one to England for me, please.

On the other end of the spectrum, I guess you could splurge for a room or spa treatment at the Greenbrier. (They occasionally have massive discounts -- usually in the winter months, when occupancy is low -- that drop the price of a room down to around $100/night. The mid-summer rate is considerably higher.)

The New River Gorge Bridge, for many years the world's longest single-span arch bridge, is pretty neat to see. If you happen to be passing through on the third Saturday in October, you should check out "Bridge Day," where they open the bridge to pedestrians (no vehicular traffic) and BASE jumpers.

Not a destination in itself, but worth stopping at if you pass it on the interstate: Tamarack, a sort of showcase of some of the crafts, furniture, food, etc made in WV.

If you happen to head farther north, you could check out the Cass Scenic Railroad, or the Green Bank Telescope. If you're that far north, you might continue to Seneca Rocks, especially if you're a rock climber.

In general, I wouldn't worry too much about the roads. One piece of (probably obvious) advice is to watch your braking on the steep downhills -- use a lower gear and engine brake a bit if you can, and definitely don't just ride your brakes the whole way down.
posted by chalkbored at 9:35 AM on July 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


WATCH OUT FOR COAL TRUCKS

no, i'm serious. coal trucks are terrifying and they are all over southern west virginia. they are monstrosities, huge, heavy, and they go fast around curves.

you don't have to be concerned about traveling alone as a woman. i've driven all over west virginia (i grew up there) multiple times by myself and have never once felt unsafe. everyone is extremely nice and willing to help you if you get lost. don't be surprised if you're driving on a road and someone outside waves to you. wave back.

don't expect many healthy things on your travels. your main food choices on the road are fast food and family diners. there are plenty of grocery stores and wal-marts for fruit. and roadside stands in the summer.

king tut drive-in in beckley is fun and cheap. in the mornings, stop at a tudor's biscuit world and get a biscuit sandwich (my favorite is the dottie). west virginians love hot dogs, so you should pick one up while you're there. pies and pints pizzeria in fayetteville (and charleston) is delicious (grape pizza, get in my mouth).

above all, it's a really, really beautiful state to drive in. when i drive to wv from dc to visit my family, i almost always eschew the interstates and drive the back roads. this is going to be what you see for a lot of your trip. sometimes you'll be stopped at a stoplight and look over and you'll see flowers. sometimes you'll look over and see something incredibly beautiful and sometimes you'll be driving and all of a sudden just come across something that takes your breath away. when you drive through towns, many of them are little more than just main street. and i don't recommend driving a lot during the night, but the sunsets can be incredible.
posted by kerning at 12:04 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


This advice is so amazing and has turned my fear over this trip into utter delight and anticipation. Thanks so much, and keep it coming!!
posted by EtTuHealy at 12:35 PM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


N'thing that West Virginia is one of the most beautiful states, and the roads can have sharp curves and the way to handle that is to keep a slow speed or brake before the curve. Pay attention to road signs that tell you the safe speed for a curve.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:07 PM on July 27, 2012


West Virginia is one of the only places where I've stopped to ask someone on the side of the road for directions, when the road I thought I wanted seemed to turn into this guy's driveway somehow. Most of the people there are quite nice.

I spent most of my time in Pocahontas county, so if you're in that particular area I'd point out that 1) You will loose cell phone service when you enter the National Radio Quiet Zone, except possibly if you're near Snowshoe 2) there are very few restaurants, even fast food, or gas stations and they are often quite far apart, so don't expect to have an easy time of finding dinner on the road after about 6 and 3) If you have time and you're driving by, stop at the Green Bank Telescope. You can see the telescope from the parking lot (about a mile away), then you can skip the tour and borrow one of the bikes on site and go see it up close. It's usually not in operation Monday-Thursday in the day during the summer (painting), but if it is running it's really impressive to see 16 million pounds of steel move all at once. It's really, really big.
posted by kiltedtaco at 2:16 AM on July 28, 2012


I would advise, don't drive too fast on those winding roads since they're unfamiliar to you. And be extra careful driving at night - watch out for deer! Deer are stupid and will walk right out onto the freeway so I would not be driving way over the speed limit at night and would keep an eye on the shoulder for wildlife that might be about to run out onto the road. And if you are going slowly on a road with only one lane in your direction, and thus find yourself with a long row of cars behind you, it might not hurt to pull over briefly at the first *safe* opportunity so they can all go by, just to be polite and so you don't feel like you need to drive faster than you're comfortable. Also, those big rig trucks driving in the mountains - and there are a lot of them - will be going over the speed limit downhill and sloooowing way down going up hill, be prepared to change lanes if they're coming up fast behind you (and use the turn signal so they know what you're doing!). Don't feel like you need to keep accelerating just because there's a truck behind you with a lot of momentum downhill that keeps speeding up, just change lanes and get out of the way.
posted by citron at 12:52 PM on July 28, 2012


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