Spring Travel: Get Outdoorsy in West Virginia

A grand estate renews winter-weary spirits with 11,000 acres of back-to-nature pursuits.


The Greenbrier combines lush nature with modern grandeur. Photo via istockphoto

The six-hour drive from Philly to the Greenbrier resort sets the tone for what’s to come: Busy four-lane highways morph into quiet two-lane country roads that cut through mountains so densely covered in trees, you begin to wonder if West Virginia is one big state park. The property’s meandering driveway leads you to the gleaming white hotel, which rises like a mirage. This, you will think to yourself, is the definition of old-school class. But there’s no need for posturing — the Greenbrier was built in the 1700s and has hosted royalty, celebrities, 26 presidents, and Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints, who recently held their training camp on-site.

The Greenbrier might be storied, but it’s far from dated: A $50 million renovation in 2007 has kept the 710 rooms, 10 lobbies, eating halls, shops, gaming center, spa, pools and grounds modern while preserving the signature Dorothy Draper decor — a pattern-happy mix that looks like the love child of Betsey Johnson and Lilly Pulitzer.

But while it’s easy to spend your stay indoors, luxuriating in the steakhouses and body scrubs, bowling alleys and cooking classes, the Greenbrier has a sporty side. It’s nestled on 11,000 acres in the Allegheny Mountains, the ideal place to slough off a winter spent indoors. Here, you can get your hands dirty (off-roading a Jeep through muddy puddles, perhaps?) without having to do all the heavy lifting. Forget hauling fly-fishing rods, or driving a kayak to launch point. At the Greenbrier, the staff takes care of all the details so you can focus on things like un-hooding a hungry falcon, zip-lining over a gorge, paddle-boarding on pristine Lake Moomaw, hiking and biking through meandering forest trails, basking in the sunshine, and letting yourself remember, finally, what it’s like to play outside.

WHERE TO STAY: The Greenbrier, 300 West Main Street, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia; starting at $169 per night.

WHILE YOU’RE THERE: In 1992, the Washington Post revealed that a secret bunker — built during the Cold War to house Congress in an emergency — was located under the western wing of the resort. It was decommissioned in 1995, and today the hotel runs tours of the space, a must-visit piece of history that never was.

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO: If you’re traveling with your squad — and this is a wonderful family vacation spot — consider booking one of the “legacy” cabins, which have up to four bedrooms, en-suite bathrooms, sitting areas and kitchens. A chef will even cook a family meal for you on the porch.

Published as “The Purpose-Driven Traveler: Embrace the Outdoors” in the March 2017 issue of Philadelphia magazine.