As I dropped my backpack inside the spacious Lodge at Camp Potomac Peak, just outside Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, my hosts Jeff and Sam DuVal encouraged me to wake for the sunrise.

“You won’t believe the view,” Jeff told me. The DuVals moved from Northern Virginia for the town’s pristine wilderness and beauty, renovating the property into a charming, multi-cabin retreat with all the amenities: modern appliances, a complimentary bag of locally-roasted coffee beans, and in the Lodge, a game room and dome loft to view the night sky.

While I had passed through Berkeley Springs before, I decided to spend a day there because of glowing reports I’d heard about its unique shopping, history and outdoor activities. But in the end, what made the town memorable was its relaxing environment and hospitable people.

A Stunning View and Homestyle Breakfast

The DuVals were right about the view from my bedroom window. I woke to the Potomac River and mountains for as far as I could see. The dawn pinkened, then brightened the rolling slopes, glinting off the roof of a Maryland farm and a faraway railroad winding from Pennsylvania.

With that view, I almost regretted my early breakfast reservation, but my stomach was more than ready. A 10-minute drive brought me to Charlotte’s Café, a longtime local haunt. When the most recent owners, John and Ashley Mason, discovered that there was a natural split in the kitchen, they decided to keep it that way—one side to serve people with gluten allergies, and one for people without.

Ashley, who stopped by my table to chat, said that a big hit on her gluten-free menu is the French toast, made from a loaf that she also sells. On her recommendation, I tried a homemade raspberry cheesecake-stuffed donut—decadent and just the right amount of sweet.

Physical (and Retail) Therapy

Later, I headed down the street to the Renaissance Spa at The Country Inn. The Renaissance is one of three facilities that use the town’s mineral waters, and its black-and-white timbered tower overlooks Berkeley Springs State Park. The 4-acre park protects the sole source of the historic warm springs, which have been used for healing purposes by indigenous people for centuries and European settlers since the 1700s.

At the Renaissance, I opted for a mineral water whirlpool soak and a hot stone massage, where an experienced masseuse used warm stones to relax muscles and allow for deeper work. The Renaissance calls this their “melt in the bed massage” for good reason—I felt like I was floating on air by the end.

Most of Berkeley Springs’ shopping is within an easy walk of the Country Inn, providing another form of therapy. While the wide range of local handcrafts and art is a definite draw—most notably at the Ice House Co-op Gallery—the real attraction is the friendly locals.

Berkeley Springs Antique Mall’s Beth Curtin is a perfect example. A downtown business owner for 31 years, Curtin is equally glad to talk shop or give recommendations for spots to visit around town. Her dedication to discovering the best, unique antiques is obvious—the expansive mall is unusually easy to navigate, with everything from pop-culture figurines to glassware in every color imaginable.

“We get a lot of compliments,” Curtin said. “If you walk in here and don’t see anything that appeals to you, it amazes me.”

For another brand of friendly service, try Inspired Chaos, tucked behind a picket fence on the first floor of a historic home. The shop is filled with American-made or fair trade “clothing, gifts and laughs,” co-owner Jenna Hansroth said. According to Hansroth, snarky sells—there are towels, signs and notebooks for every sense of humor, along with best-selling “Winosaurs,” or dinosaur-shaped gummies filled with wine. A playlist of ABBA, Elton John and Queen adds to the fun, with impromptu dance parties encouraged.

Berkeley Springs, WV from Bart Johnson on Vimeo.

Wonderful West Virginia Wilderness

For an early dinner, I headed out of downtown to Berkeley Springs Brewing Co., next to the Coolfont Resort. The rotating tap list boasts craft beers brewed in-house, as well as kombucha, hard teas and a delicious house-made root beer. The house-smoked meats also can’t be beat—I tried the Smoker Sampler, a delicious, sharable meal.

In addition to the town’s spa and small-town charm, Berkeley Springs is known for its wide range of outdoor activities. You can find many of these at Cacapon State Park, just outside town. While the afternoon light was quickly fading, I took a driving tour and was impressed by the offerings:

• 18-hole golf course

• Horseback trail riding

• Fishing

• Swimming and sunning on the beach

• Disc golf

• Sporting fields

• Nature center classes

• Mountain bike trails

• Hiking, with 23 miles of trails

Overlooking all of this is the state-of-the-art resort lodge, which was renovated in 2020 and boasts a new spa, restaurant and meeting areas.

I raced the dusk up to the Cacapon Mountain Overlook, reachable by hiking trail, or by car in the warmer months. At 2,285 feet, the wooden viewing platform provides a majestic panorama of the mountains and towns of West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Virginia, as well as a swing for an Instagram-worthy photo opp.

I made it just in time for sunset and a view that rivaled the morning’s. The brilliant orange sunset behind me painted the clouds a blushing pink and purple. While the day was done, I wasn’t ready to leave. I decided that I’d just have to visit Berkeley Springs again—next time for a long weekend—or longer.

Learn more about all Berkeley Springs has to offer here.

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