Our first stop was Stuart Recreation Area just outside of Elkins WV. This is a small campground (28 sites, I think?) that is part of the Monongahaela National Forest. I think we ended up here because it was just about 150 miles from Pittsburgh, and from what we read, 150 miles is a good number of miles to travel to start. I used RVTripWizard to find campgrounds within a 150 mile radius of Pittsburgh in our desired direction (south). It had good reviews and in the past we have had good experiences with state/national run campgrounds so, we went with it! We didn’t reserve ahead of time – half the sites in the campground are first come, first served – so we scouted out the sites when we got there and had no problem getting a site.
After staying in Elkins for a couple days, and then driving through WV, Tim and I joked that we are now going to be defensive any time someone makes fun of WV! This state is beautiful and so unspoiled by development. I think the WV marketing tagline is “Wild, Wonderful, West Virginia” which certainly fits.
We didn’t have much trouble finding the campground (something we’ve struggled with in the past) thanks to the fact that Tim downloaded local maps before we left. The phone took us right to the campground, which doesn’t always happen. We’ve learned to check it out on satellite view before we go to make sure Google Maps is actually taking us to the campground, but sometimes it can be hard to tell. The campground is perched high on a mountain.
We pulled in and stopped at the hosts to pay our money ($30 per night for a site with water + electric) and get our pass. And by check in at the hosts, I mean walk into their fifth wheel, across their living room, and talk to them as they sit on the couch! They were certainly very nice, it was just a little strange to walk right into a stranger’s house. For example I now know they enjoy Sam’s Choice pop 2 liters by the dozen. They recommended a site to us, so off we went – well, I took the Escape around the loop first to make sure Trudy could fit. Sure enough, the site was very private and nice, but it was around a sharp bend and it would have been impossible to get Trudy in. So I cruised around and looked for another site. I thought I found one, so Tim drives Trudy back. The site was too unlevel and Trudy’s leveling jacks had the tires about 8 inches off the ground! This was out of our comfort zone so we retracted the jacks and tried another site. We were finally able to get level on that one. So hours of driving + 3 sites later, we could FINALLY put out or slides and connect water and electric. No sewer at this campground but they did have a dump station.
About a 10-15 minute walk from the campground is the Stuart Recreation Area, which is stunning. Acres of well kept grassy areas, beautiful log built picnic shelters with stone fireplaces, and the clearest river water I have seen. It is $5 to bring a car down there, but you can walk from the campground, or admission is free if you are a camper. We put Calla in the Deuter and went on a hike on one of the trails in the recreation area. The trails were beautiful but hard to traverse in some areas as there were large trees down with no easy way around them, especially with a toddler strapped to your back.
We also made the drive to Bickle Knob, which is at an elevation of 4003′. I was surprised that it took so long to drive up there. It was about 15 minutes of driving, straight up a mountain on a dirt road. I was extremely nervous the whole time (I have a fear of heights). Once you arrive at the top, you can climb an observation tower. It seemed too dangerous with the baby, so Tim and I went separately. I was shaking but I forced myself to do it because I wanted to see the views. The view from above was spectacular, and I hate to say it, but it puts every PA mountain view I have seen to shame.
Only 2 negatives of Stuart were 1. the road noise and 2. dogs barking. From what I read online there is a “bear dog” facility also on the mountain. I also had to google what a “bear dog” is. Apparently these are dogs trained to hunt bears. I had no idea such a thing existed, but they barked from early morning until night. Being in a national forest I was expecting total silence, so this was slightly annoying. Thankfully the barking stopped overnight. The sites were fairly large and private. We had no problem with the electric or water. The whole place was very clean and well maintained, including the recreation area. Stuart was a great first stop for us!