Summertime Sights at Watoga State Park

Ah, those summertime sights, sounds, and smells entice many people to visit Watoga each year. This summer was no different.

From the children splashing about in the pool’s crystal-clear water to a family of deer meandering alongside a mountain stream, there’s always something to fill your senses in this 10,000-acre park.

Wildlife, Back to Nature, and Dark Skies

Raccoons, bats, and owls highlight the summertime night sights and sounds, but the dark skies alone are worth a visit to Watoga. Here, you can see the Milky Way along with other galaxies, planets, and constellations. You can even “wish upon a star!” And don’t forget to chase or catch a lightning bug or two during your summertime visit!

Recently, the International Dark-Sky Association recognized Watoga, along with Calvin Price State Forest and Droop Mountain State Park, as West Virginia’s first Dark Sky Parks.

Special thanks to photographers Tiffany Beachy, Donna Dilley, Angela Hill and Brian Hirt for sharing their photography with Watoga State Park Foundation.

"A bear! A bear! All black and brown and covered in hair!" - Author: George R R Martin.
“A bear! A bear! All black and brown and covered in hair!” – Author: George R R Martin. © Angela Hill.
Just one of many summertime sights at Watoga. ©Donna Dilley.
One of the many summertime sights at Watoga. © Donna Dilley.

Fishing in the summer on the lake is just a given. ©Angela Hill
Summer isn’t complete without fishing on the lake. © Angela Hill.
Evening sunsets can be quite spectacular in the summertime at Watoga Lake. Just one of many canopies of trees within the park. ©Donna Dilley.
Evening sunsets can be quite spectacular at Watoga Lake. © Donna Dilley.

Summertime Views For You!

A bench with a view, framed by West Virginia's state flower.
A bench with a view, framed by West Virginia’s state flower. © Angela Hill.
A vote by public school students in 1903 selected the rhododendron as West Virginia's state flower. © Angela Hill.
A vote by public school students in 1903 selected the rhododendron as West Virginia’s state flower. © Angela Hill.
This Wrybill pauses to take in the summertime sights at Watoga. The swimming pool is a popular spot in the summertime at Watoga. ©Angela Hill.
This Wrybill pauses to take in the summertime sights at Watoga. © Angela Hill.
Pickerelweed along the banks of Watoga Lake. This Wrybill pauses to take in the summertime sights at Watoga. ©Angela Hill.
Pickerelweed along the banks of Watoga Lake. © Angela Hill.
At Watoga, summer isn't complete without the Mountain Trail Challenge Races, held annually on the second Saturday in August. ©Brian Hirt.
At Watoga, summer isn’t complete without the Mountain Trail Challenge Races, held annually on the second Saturday in August. © Brian Hirt.
Just one of many canopies of trees within the park. ©Donna Dilley.
A canopy of pine trees in the Pine Run Cabin area. © Donna Dilley.
The photographer calls this shot "Rhododendren Heaven on Bear Pen Trail."
The photographer calls this shot “Rhododendron heaven on Bear Pen Trail.” © Angela Hill.
Sights like this one await you at Watoga.
Sights like this one await you at Watoga. © Angela Hill.
Up close and personal with a rhododendron bloom. © Angela Hill.
Up close and personal with a rhododendron bloom. © Angela Hill.
Cabin 34, aka "The Honeymoon Cabin," on a wondrous summer evening.
Cabin 34, aka “The Honeymoon Cabin,” on a wondrous summer evening. © Watoga State Park Foundation.
In a secluded area at Watoga, a synchronous firefly (Photinus carolinus) pauses before liftoff to search for a mate. This insects synchronization is one of many amazing summertime sights at Watoga.Photo by Tiffany Beachy©.
A synchronous firefly (Photinus carolinus) pauses before liftoff to search for a mate. © Tiffany Beachy.

Summertime, summertime . . .

You're almost there! A summer day at the solar-heated pool is priceless.
You’re almost there! A summer day at the solar-heated pool is priceless. © Watoga State Park Foundation.
The swimming pool is a popular spot during the summer. ©Stanley Clark.
The swimming pool is a popular spot during the summer. © Stanley Clark.
One of a number of mushrooms within the forest at Watoga.  © Angela Hill.
One of a number of mushrooms within the forest at Watoga. © Angela Hill.
A day of fun-filled activities is almost complete.
A day of fun-filled activities is almost complete. © Angela Hill.
The dark skies at Watoga never cease to amaze. Angela Hill.
The dark skies at Watoga never cease to amaze. © Angela Hill.
Comet Neowise in July 2020 from the Anne Bailey parking lot at Watoga. © Angela Hill.
Comet Neowise in July 2020 from the Anne Bailey parking lot at Watoga. © Angela Hill.

BLUE HIGHWAYS TO FALL COLOR

INSIDER TIPS ON GREAT FALL DRIVES

Roads less traveled, where to find them and why they’re worth it.

Reprinted with permission from Blue Ridge Country magazine’s September/October 2021 issue. For subscription and other information on the magazine, please go to blueridgecountry.com.

John Dean's backroads take him to the dark skies of Watoga State Park, West Virginia. Here, he provides Insider Tips regarding the park.Photo by Jesse Thornton.
John Dean’s backroads take him to the dark skies of Watoga State Park, West Virginia.
Photo by Jesse Thornton.

By ANGELA MINOR

One of my favorite pastimes when I was at college in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains was hopping in the car and just driving. Any backroad was fair game. I “discovered” small ponds with baby geese; old-timey stores with giant wheels of cheese under glass domes; service stations where they washed your windshield; unimproved mountain roads where the quietness was vast; and, roadside stands of produce where an overall-clad fella would tell me all about this year’s tomato crop and how his honeybees were doing.

In tandem with these mini-journeys it happened…I read the new book “Blue Highways: A Journey into America” by William Least Heat-Moon. The rural roads on my paper maps (picked up at the service station, unfolded once, never to return to their original shape!) were drawn in blue just like the ones used by the author of this now classic book. Somehow, I felt a kindred spirit with his goal of “just paying attention” to the world around him.

And I still wonder where that road goes…

Our featured travelers also explore their blue highways in the Blue Ridge…and that has made all the difference (Robert Frost).

Let’s meet them!

WEST VIRGINIA

“Let nature take over all your senses,” says John Dean, a writer, journalist and editor. “Backroads trips in and around Watoga State Park are a chance to get reinvigorated and inspired by the amazing discoveries along the way. Watch for black bear or deer roaming through the forest. Fill your lungs with fresh mountain air; hear the sounds of nature at work and stand in places so silent that it can be deafening; visit a pioneer cabin; and, maybe even see a ghost,” he adds with a smile.

The Anne Bailey Lookout Tower is in Watoga State Park. The Insider Tips are provided by John Dean. Photo by Brian Hirt.
The Anne Bailey Lookout Tower is in Watoga State Park.
Photo by Brian Hirt.

Generations of Dean’s family have called this region home. “My grandparents’ 211-acre farm bordered the park. They worked with the CCC to ‘build the park.’ And, my dad worked there for 43 years. One of my uncles was West Virginia’s first-ever game keeper; and another was a founding member of The Watoga State Park Foundation” (where Dean now serves as a member of the board of directors). “And I lived on site for 16-plus years,” he states.

Dean welcomes fellow travelers to experience “the peak months of autumn in nature’s paradise with hues of orange, red and yellow” at a park “so remote that GPS will not find specific directions to it! Once you visit,” he concludes, “you’ll return year after year, especially in the fall. Each autumn when I depart, those rustling leaves whisper my name to return…and I do.”

Top Fall Drive Picks:
• U.S. 219 or SR 39 to Watoga State Park
• SR 92 through the adjacent Calvin Price State Forest
More info: watogafoundation.org; wvstateparks.com/park/watoga-state-park

John Dean travels with Jack and Max (standing). Photo by Donna Dilley.
John Dean travels with Jack and Max (standing).
Photo by Donna Dille
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