What's cool from PIT -> ILM?
February 7, 2013 9:49 AM   Subscribe

Considering driving from Pittsburgh -> Wilmington, North Carolina in early July. What neat stuff is on the way? (any way!)

I'm going back and forth about how to get to Wilmington, NC for summer vacation. Pros of flying are obviously speed and effort. Pros of driving are scenery, exploring, seeing other spots on the way. Assume that I have enough days off of work to cover either case. What are some cool things to do?

According to Google Maps, there's a couple ways to get down there at around ~10 hours. Routes include I-95S, I-79S, and I-40 E. Looking closer at the map, it appears as though we could hit Winston-Salem, NC, Raleigh NC, Morgantown, WV, Washington DC, Richmond VA, or go through the George Washington National Forest.

Any suggestions for things to do on these routes? Camping is possible but so is sleeping in a car. Trying to keep this relatively low budget. We like being outdoors but not roughing it. Two adults, 20s-30s, no kids.

posted by amicamentis to Travel & Transportation (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I-95 is terrible and you should avoid it north of Richmond if you can. The second and third routes in your link look okay to me (I live in Raleigh, but have driven to Boston from here [never do that, by the way] and also through Virginia in various directions a bunch of times).

There is a lot of history in Richmond, if you're into that sort of thing. You could also conceivably pass through Charlottesville, which is near Monticello - I was there a couple of years ago and really liked it. I always struggle with activities around town when people visit me here in Raleigh, but we do have a lot of good food and a few decent museums.
posted by something something at 9:55 AM on February 7, 2013

please please please for the love of all that's holy, avoid I-95 between DC and richmond, ESPECIALLY in the summer. i used to go to the wilmington area for vacation every year with my family and i've driven 95 every year with the hope that THIS YEAR is gonna be better and every year i end up sitting in traffic for the majority of my trip and crying. it's only like a 6 hour drive from DC to wilmington and every year it's taken me 9-10 hours. just a warning.

ok, so, this is going to be long. but i've driven these roads A LOT:

the 79 and 40 route is the route that my family takes when they go (they live in charleston, wv). it is a very easy drive, they rarely run into traffic. i would choose that route - you'll be mostly interstate BUT driving through west virginia is beautiful - especially in the summer when there are just rolling mountains of green all over the place.

79 south, you'll pass through morgantown, which is where WVU is. it's a little soon to stop in your trip, though - if you stop for gas, try to stop in the fairmont area and pick up a colasessanos pepperoni roll. on 79, near the sutton lake area, there's a small outlet mall called the flatwoods outlets which is wholly uninspiring EXCEPT for the fiestaware outlet where you can buy fiestaware seconds for cheap cheap cheap - i almost always make a stop there. (there's also a little amish market right next door where i buy a couple bottles of wv wine and some fun bulk gummi candy)

soon after the outlets, you'll get off onto route 19 - i'm not super familiar with it, it's been awhile since i've driven on it. but you'll drive right through the summersville lake area, where you could stop for camping if you wanted. summersville is beautiful and popular in the summer so you might have to make camping reservations.

route 19 will take you to beckley, wv. on the way, you'll drive over the new river gorge bridge near fayetteville (home of TWO delicious eateries, the secret sandwich society and pies and pints [if you go to p&p, get the grape pie. no questions, just do it.])

in beckley, there's tamarack, which is like a little rest stop that also features like a million things from west virginia artisans. also, in beckley, i know you're going to still be full from food in fayetteville, but PLEASE stop at king tut's drive-in in beckley and have a milkshake or some pie or something. they will also bring out a mini loaf of a homemade quick bread to your car for only 2 dollars (the last time i was there, they brought me a mini loaf of pumpkin bread with cream cheese frosting and it was the best 2 dollars i have ever spent to this day.)

mt. airy in north carolina was the basis of mayberry in the andy griffith show. if you're a fan, you could stop there for a bit. you'll pass by pilot mountain when you get on the pilot mountain parkway and then you'll be in winston-salem, then greensboro - both of these are larger cities so it will be easy to stop off for drinks/leg-stretching. once you get through raleigh, it's smooth sailing - i generally don't stop once i pass winston-salem unless i really need to. traffic can get sort of bad on 40, especially once you pass the route 117 connector, because it's pretty much nothing but beach traffic and it's not a very big road. but wilmington is lovely! make a day trip to oak island, whose beaches, depending on when you go in the summer, are usually not as crowded as wilmington's. and have fun!

(and seriously, stop in at king tut's. i recommend the black raspberry shake.)
posted by kerning at 10:47 AM on February 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

Unfortunately the route between Pittsburg and DC, one I've been on many, many times, is boring. There's some views of the Appalachians, but mostly it's either built up or featureless. You will, at least, get your choice of fast food restaurants. On top of that even though the PA turnpike is a toll road, it's crowded and frequently under construction during the summer. I-95 is a major commute corridor for most of the time you'll be on it, so proper timing is essential: Saturday midday, Sunday morning, and weeknights after 7 p.m. are the best unless you want to do it overnight. That little section that looks like it's a bypass around Washington, DC, is some of the most congested road in the entire country.

The route through West Virginia, though, is beautiful. You'll do better for scenery to get off I-40, but even if you don't, you'll see a lot more of the beautiful, weathered Appalachians. There's a number of places to camp in the national forest, but I don't know if you'd be able to do that without making reservations.
posted by wnissen at 11:14 AM on February 7, 2013

I would go through White Sulpher Springs, West Virginia and check out the Bunker at the Greenbriar Resort. Stay in Lewisburg, WV if you need affordable accomodation.

The declassified Bunker at The Greenbrier is a must-see experience that takes you behind the scenes and walks you through a fascinating period in the resort's history. Carved deep into the mountainside beneath our West Virginia Wing is an emergency Cold War fallout shelter. Once a top secret U.S. government relocation facility for Congress, The Greenbrier Bunker is now open to anyone interested in reliving a legendary piece of The Greenbrier history. Bunker tours provide a unique and in-depth look behind the hidden doors and let you explore an aspect of The Greenbrier that no other resort can claim.

I have dreamed of visiting this place ever since I heard about it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:21 AM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

This drive is hell. Slow down in Virginia and watch for all the speed traps. The landscape can be very pretty through the mountains, but there's not a whole lot on the way.
posted by MangyCarface at 1:29 PM on February 7, 2013

I'm from Winston and have lived in Wilmington for 5 years.

Winston has some awesome little pockets of neatness. There are myriad art galleries, Old Salem and Bethabra, (think Williamsburg, VA, but much smaller scale), excellent golf, singletrack mountain biking in town and extra trails in Greensboro, Friday night gallery hops and free music downtown Thurs/Fri/Sat nights. Concerts at Ziggy's! Also, the food! If you want soul-inspired, hit up Sweet Potatoes or Mozelle's; brunch on the weekends - Breakfast! Of Course; steak - Putters Grill out near WFU; BBQ - Hill's on N. Patterson or Mr. Barbecue on Peter's Creek.

I can answer a lot of questions about the Triad. Yes I get homesick a lot.

As far as Wowtown...well, I'll buy you a beer when you get here; check out Litehouse on WB. And I can answer most questions about this place as well. Ask away!
posted by sara is disenchanted at 3:34 PM on February 7, 2013

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