Around the US, West Virginia

A Winter Weekend Getaway: Buckhannon and Audra State Park

When I think of the places I like to go in winter, I think of serenity in nature – the stillness that comes to the world with animals hibernating and seeds waiting in the ground until warmer weather urges them to sprout. There’s a peaceful beauty that I love about these cold months when snow blankets the ground and icy winds urge us to go inside and seek warmth in good food and good company.

But inevitably, winter starts to drag on, and I find myself eager to go outside and explore the world again. Having been in Arizona the past few winters, it took a while this year for the cold and isolation to really seep in; for the most part, I was excited about the snow and ice. I spent December and January eagerly running outside to take pictures in the snow and subsequently running back inside to drink hot chocolate. But by the end of January, I was starting to get tired of not going anywhere. I needed an adventure, and I wanted to go somewhere new. So, on a Wednesday evening, I went searching for cheap, locally-owned hotels in Buckhannon, thinking that if I put a down payment on something, I would be forced to follow through with my plan instead of letting myself or others talk me out of my weekend trip ideas (as had happened every weekend in January when the forecast kept calling for more snow).

On the road through Audra

I came across the Deer Park Inn just outside of Buckhannon and instantly fell in love with their photos. I then fell even more in love with their prices, so within about ten minutes of finding the place, I booked a room. (By the way, I know I usually write a lot in my blogs about the history of the places I visit, and while I will eventually write a nice long post on Buckhannon, today I’m just telling a story as I get back into my blogging routine.) On Thursday and Friday of that week, my anticipation grew and grew, and my winter blues disappeared as I thought about the prospect of beautiful snowy riverbanks and icicles like I’d seen in pictures of Audra State Park. I was also excited to visit Buckhannon because I’d never seen the city in winter; all my visits before this were in spring or summer. I imagined lights and softly falling snow, and I couldn’t wait to leave.

Now, I did check the weather before I booked my room and left. Snow was expected, but only about three inches here in Preston County and, knowing as I did that Preston County tends to get a lot of snow, I assumed that this milder trend would be the same in the Buckhannon area. Also, our roads here were relatively clear; I even checked with people who drove more than 100 yards to work, and they confirmed that, yes, Preston County roads were pretty nice all things considered. The manager of the Deer Park Inn called me around noon on Friday to see if I wanted to cancel my reservation, and I checked the weather again and decided no, I was still going to come. After all, it couldn’t be that bad.

Oh the weather outside is frightful (but the scenery is so delightful)

I left work an hour early, which I was pleased about since it meant an extra hour of daylight to drive in. Normally, Buckhannon is about an hour’s drive from Arthurdale, but I went into this assuming that I would drive a bit slower than usual, especially on Route 92, the two-lane that I would take most of the way there. And though I was careful to watch for ice and did drive a bit more slowly on 92, it was actually a very nice road to drive on that Friday afternoon with snowy farmland vistas around every turn that further confirmed my resolve to take this trip. It was when I reached Route 48, the larger four-lane that I had expected to be clear that I began to worry.

In my opinion, at least, 48 is a very boring road to drive, and I usually go pretty fast on it, as do many other cars. However, 48 is also a very exposed road that rides along a plateau of the Appalachian mountains, and on this particular day, it was experiencing a lot of wind and snow that meant the prevailing speed of traffic was around 25 miles per hour. But there were still a lot of cars, and one lane at least was clear. I followed a good distance behind the car in front of me whose slow speed seemed reasonable given the circumstances, and I told myself that I was almost there. I did, however, forget about the steep grades on 48, and on sections of that long 7% grade, I wondered if I was actually driving so much as I was in a semi-controlled slide down an icy slope. The 15 or so miles that I spend on 48 took almost as much time to drive as the 40 miles I spent on 92, and they were much more stressful.

The Deer Park Inn

By the time I turned onto Old Elkins Road, rather than feeling stressed about the road that was actually covered in snow, I just felt relief to be off the highway. And honestly, the snow on these side roads was great because it gave my tires traction, and I made it to the beautiful Deer Park Inn with daylight to spare. As it turned out, I was the only one staying at the hotel that night; the other guests had cancelled due to fear of the weather. The owner, Russ Meeks, was an incredibly nice and welcoming man, who gave me his cell phone number in case I needed anything and, because the bar was closed, showed me where to grab a drink if I wanted one. The Deer Park Inn also has a farm-to-table restaurant, but they weren’t open for dinner when I stayed there. (Side note, I highly recommend reading about the Meeks on their about page because they have a really cool story, and I love this little slice of heaven that they’re operating in Buckhannon.)

Once I settled into my room and took a few minutes to breathe, I decided to pick up something for dinner. I’d originally planned to eat at Stone Tower Brews, a restaurant in Buckhannon that I’ve never been to but that a friend recommended. But I couldn’t find a take-out option on their website, and given the weather and prediction for more snow over night, I just wanted to pick something up and get back before it was completely dark outside. So I opted for a Buckhannon classic: CJ Maggie’s. Since it was my special winter weekend getaway, I went all out on my meal and ordered the Maggie’s Choice pasta, with a side of French Onion Soup, and a big Brownie Toll House for dessert.

It was getting dark by the time I headed into Buckhannon to pick up the food, but sticking to side roads, I felt pretty safe as long as I drove slowly. I remembered too late that Buckhannon requires parallel parking, but given that I hadn’t done that since taking my driver’s test in 2015, I think I did an excellent job of it. Walking down the street to pick up my food was exactly as I’d pictured it: Neon signs shining in the growing darkness and snowflakes drifting down like something from a Hallmark movie. So, I picked up my food and headed back to Deer Park, ready to be done with driving for the night. I did have a small moment of panic as a deer got a little too close to my car for my liking, but I was ultimately fine, and I returned to my room with my feast, ready to watch some Netflix and enjoy the luxury of my beautiful room.

The next morning, I got to enjoy the Deer Park Inn’s restaurant as I sat down to breakfast as the only guest in the hotel. Seeing as it was a nice vacation, I decided to treat myself with my order. It’s been over a month since I was there, but I am still thinking about those steak medallions I had that morning, which I think may have been the best steak I’ve ever had. While I ate, Russ actually brushed the fresh snow off my car, which was incredibly kind and not something I expected at all. After eating, I went out to turn the car on and scrape off some remaining ice then I got dressed in my many layers and prepared to venture into the snow.

I drove into Buckhannon first and picked up a couple dozen donut holes from the Donut Shop because you really can’t go to Buckhannon without getting donuts. I was still very full from breakfast, but I figured they would be a good snack for later and a nice souvenir to bring to work on Monday to share with everyone. Then, before heading out of town, I topped off my gas just to be safe, and then I got on the road, which was marginally better than it was the night before.

It was a very nice, scenic drive to Audra, and once I got off the main roads and was the only person driving, it was pretty relaxing too. When I turned off the “main road” into the park, it became clear that I probably would not be doing much hiking. I pulled into the first parking lot and stepped outside to check things out. The roads had been cleared recently but still had a packed half-inch or so of snow. Off the roads? It was probably 6-8 inches in places. While I could get into this first parking lot, when I drove a bit farther into the park to the trailhead I wanted, I realized that I may have some difficulty getting in and out. Had I been with someone else, I probably would have attempted to drive into the other lot, park, and hike from there, but on my own, I worried about my car getting stuck. So I returned to the first parking lot, and just went for a short walk by the river.

It was a beautiful morning, and I felt a little giddy as I made my way through the snow. It was bright and sunny but still very cold, and I was grateful for my many layers. I only spent about 20-30 minutes running around the park snapping pictures, but the trip there was still entirely worth it to me. And the still-warm donuts were very welcome when I got back in my car!

I drove the rest of the way through the park and made my way along these side roads until I reached Belington where I could take 92 back to Arthurdale. I was back here in time for lunch, so all things considered it was a very short trip. I really enjoyed it though, and I had so much fun just driving around and exploring places that it was entirely worth the trip! Also, I discovered the Deer Park Inn, which I really loved and will definitely visit again sometime.

Freezing but loving every minute of the trip!

So that was my little road trip! I really didn’t do all that much, but it cured me of my late-January cabin fever. And now that it’s March and I’m finally writing about it, I’m getting ready for more trips around the state and even a couple out of state later in the year. I’m not sure right now what my next trip will be, but I’m betting on a state park. Spring is starting to appear, and I’m ready to hit the trails!

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