Soak Away the Winter Blues in West Virginia's Quirky Spa Capital

Native Americans slogged here from all over the east to soak in the hot springs – so did George Washington and all his pals. You perhaps somehow know better than they did? Really, spas come and go, but Berkeley Springs, capital of West Virginia’s counterculture (it's a thing!) lives forever. Slightly ratty, a lot friendly and very relaxed, this fun little town, just minutes south of the Potomac – and about 100 miles from Washington, DC, Pittsburgh and Baltimore – should be experienced at least once.

What to do

Renamed in the whole unfortunateness that was the split between West Virginia and just plain old Virginia, this town used to just be known as Bath. There’s a reason for the name – it was built up around a very generous aquifer that has been churning up mineral rich waters at a pleasant 74 point-something temperature for oh, about a bajillion years. Berkeley Springs State Park is the centerpiece of the lively downtown; it’s like a nice town square, but with bathhouses. (Can’t really argue with that.) Get a massage, go for a more communal experience or rent your own private mini-bathhouse – or, just fill up your jug with water. Everybody does. Make sure to have your picture taken with George Washington’s “bathtub.” The park doesn’t need to offer any recession specials – prices here have been ridiculously low forever. Reservations recommended in the warmer months.

Berkeley Springs likes to brag that they’ve got more massage therapists than lawyers in town. This is probably true, it also makes choosing your spa that much more difficult. Easy solution – start at the top with Atasia Spa, just steps from the state park. Reasonably priced treatments and a peaceful atmosphere are guaranteed. Besides wellness, the town also goes for art in a big way – the local arts council is headquartered in the renovated Ice House building downtown and puts on multiple events throughout the year. Make sure to spend at least one evening gorging on popcorn and candy at the classic Star Theatre, a vintage one-screener downtown run by local luminary Jeanne Mozier (137 N. Washington St.)

Where to eat

You’d be surprised at how well you can eat here; the best restaurants in town are slightly tucked away, though. All day long, the Earthdog Cafe on the southern end of town cooks up a menu that blends the health-conscious with the not-so-much (398 S. Washington St.). Make sure to sample the seasonal/local menu at the cool Lot 12 Public House, easily one of the nicest spaces in town (117 Warren St.)  

Spend the night

There are a handful of cute inns and bed and breakfasts in town, but for maximum West Virginia-ness, book in at the Cacapon Resort State Park, a beautiful, state-run mountainside preserve with a golf course south of town that offers a whole bunch of different lodging options. Go for a cabin, if you can.

Ready to make the trip? Visit our fare finds for nearby airports Washington (IAD), Washington (DCA), and Baltimore (BWI).

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