For years we have driven through West Virginia on our way to various camping destinations. Every time we passed through the state we’d say to ourselves, “This is such a beautiful place—we really need to spend time exploring West Virginia!” Then over the summer, Jarrett and our youngest son went on a mini overloading trip: They tent camped and checked out various spots in West Virginia. When they came home from that trip with amazing pictures and stories of all the fun they had had, the rest of us wished we could have gone too.
Thus, for fall break this year, we booked reservations at Seneca Shadows in Seneca Rocks, West Virginia. It was a bit farther than we normally travel for long camping weekends (Friday-Monday) but we wanted to hike up Seneca Rocks and visit the Green Bank Observatory. We were just hoping the weather would cooperate and the trees would put on their autumn show.
Seneca Shadows is aptly named, for it is in the shadow of the Seneca Rocks formation, only about 5 minutes away. It is located in the Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, which is part of the Monongahela National Forest. In some of the reviews we read before our visit, some people mentioned their displeasure with the the winding, steep access road that leads to the campground. We weren’t visiting at a particularly busy time, but we had no problems traversing it with the camper.
The campground is not huge, consisting of 38 designated sites, plus walk-in campsites. Of those sites, only 13 are electric sites. We camped in site 37, which was arguably one of the nicest spots in the campground. It was tucked back along a circular loop, with the campsite facing into the surrounding woods. It also boasted a spacious picnic and fire-ring area.
Other nice sites included site 36 if you wanted a clearer view of the sky for satellite and site 30 was an easy back-in site. Several of the other sites had some sloping that ranged from minor to significant (32 was extremely sloped). A few campsites (like 31, 34, and 38) are double campsites, meaning they are meant for two units, so you will pay more for the double site. The campsites also featured well-maintained tent pads in both the electric and nonelectric loops. Additionally, the campground has an entire area dedicated to tent camping.
The showerhouse in our loop was unheated at the time of our visit. Brrr!!! There were two toilet stalls and one shower stall on the women’s side. The showers were push-button style spigots that had a preset temperature, which can be described as luke warm at best. During the warmer summer months, this probably wouldn’t have been a big deal, but due to the colder temperatures, we ended up taking army showers in the warm confines of Tilley. The bathroom was clean. There was also a set of pit toilets in our loop.
One of the biggest challenges to camping at Seneca Shadows occurs when it’s time to leave: The dump station is awkwardly located in the front of the amphitheater parking lot. When there are no cars parked in the area, you can maneuver a camper into the area—but if cars are present, it could be quite challenging to pull alongside the dump station and then navigate back out of the narrow parking lot. Another surprise: The campground charges $7 to use the dump station.
If you like finding campgrounds where you can truly unplug, then Seneca Shadows should be on your list. We had no Verizon signal in the entire area around Seneca Shadows and Seneca Rocks. The only way we were able to check in with family and let them know we had safely arrived at our destination was to log onto the Seneca Rocks Discovery Center’s guest wi-fi.
Here’s a little video of the campground:
One of the main reasons for our trip to the region was to hike Seneca Rocks. Seneca Rocks draws climbers who thrive on the challenge of traversing up the side of a rock mountain. The rock formation offers a number of climbing possibilities, ranging in skill level. We started at the Discovery Center, where there is a small educational display—and a huge wall of windows showcasing the beautiful rock formation.
Just around the corner from the Discovery Center, families can tour the Sites Homestead, which was originally built in 1839 as a single-pin, log home. From the homestead parking lot (which fills up fast on a beautiful fall day!) we joined up with the clusters of families, couples, and solo hikers making their way up the Seneca Rocks walking trail. It is a 1.5-mile hike one way along an established path, with sections of steeper incline as you go. When you reach the top there is a observation platform overlooking the beautiful valley. Near this observation platform is a large sign warning hikers to not continue beyond this point due to the risk of falling from the cliff—the day we visited, however, we observed many people continuing on beyond the sign to the higher vantage point.
The next day we drove down to Green Bank, W.Va., which is home to the Green Bank Observatory. The site is located in the National Radio Quiet Zone, a 13,000 square mile region that minimizes radio signal interference for radio astronomy study. The onsite science center is open free to the public and offers a wide-range of interactive displays related to radio astronomy. Our kids enjoyed exploring and testing out the various instruments.
Then we took a tour of the grounds and got to view up close several radio telescopes—including the massive Green Bank Telescope. We just couldn’t take pictures past the point below:
The one-hour tour included an introductory movie, a short science demonstration, and then a bus ride out onto the RFI-restricted Zone 1. Tickets were cheap: $6 for ages 11 and older, $5 for seniors, and free for children 10 and under, as well as veterans and service members. It was definitely worth the stop!
Our weekend in West Virginia proved to be just the perfect amount of nature, touring, and hanging at the campsite. And it was just the trip to further whet our appetite for coming back to explore more of Wild and Wonderful West Virginia in the future.
Have you camped in West Virginia? If so, what places would you recommend we visit next?