Hidden Gems and Unique Things to Do in Parkersburg, West Virginia
Parkersburg, West Virginia, is located in the Mid-Ohio Valley region of West Virginia near the confluence of the Ohio and Little Kanawha rivers. My husband and I drove here from our house in Cincinnati, which took us about 3 hours. West Virginia is becoming one of my favorite States to road trip to. The winding country roads with beautiful scenery always make my heart so happy!
There are so many hidden gems and unique things to do in Parkersburg! From historical sites to biking through rustic tunnels that were once part of the B&O Railroad. This area is such a great destination to explore.
I would like to thank the West Virginia Department of Tourism for sponsoring this trip. As always, opinions are my own!
Julia-Ann Square Historic District
1001 Juliana St, Parkersburg, WV 26101
Julia-Ann Square is one of the oldest historic districts in West Virginia, and it is impressive! These houses were once owned by the leaders in Parkersburg, such as bankers, political figures, and business owners. It's a great example of what Parkersburg used to look like in the late 1800s.
I've always dreamed of living in a charming Victorian house with a lot of character, and Julia-Ann Square inspired me! There is a variety of architectural styles to admire here such as Queen Anne and Colonial Revival. We loved the towering mature trees and talking to friendly locals as we passed through. The blooming flowers of the neighborhood and gardens were so amazing to look at too.
You can start your self-guided walking tour at 904 Juliana St. Here you will find a white box with brochures. The brochure features 49 houses and information on when they were built and the families that used to live in them. It's such a great source of information. There is also a virtual walking tour created by one of the locals on Youtube you can watch!
Blennerhassett Island State Park
137 Juliana Street, Parkersburg, WV 26101
The first time I heard of Blennerhassett Island, I was surprised to learn it's located on the Ohio River. I had no idea the river had such large islands! The only way you can access Blennerhassett Island is by a Sternwheeler Riverboat. The tickets are available online on their website or at the Blennerhassett Museum (the address listed above). You'll find horse carriage rides and historical sites on the island!
The Sternwheeler picks you up at Point Park at the beginning of the hour. You can choose your time of departure when you purchase your tickets. I loved learning about the history and seeing the paddlewheel in motion. The boat ride was relaxing, and I enjoyed feeling the cool morning breeze along the water. Make sure to grab a seat on the top of the boat for the best views.
Once we reached the Island, we picked up our tickets for the horse carriage ride and mansion tour (even if you get tickets online, you will need to get your printed ticket from the ticket booth). We first took a horse carriage tour, a wagon-style ride similar to how everyone traveled around the island in the 1800s. I was able to sit in the front of the wagon and had some amazing views of the grounds! There's a small hill at the end of the tour, and the horses are allowed to sprint to make the pull up the hill easier. It was so much fun, and all the kids in the wagon loved it.
The Blennerhassett Mansion has so much incredible American history. It was once one of the most lavish houses in Virginia. I can only imagine what visitors of the mansion thought when seeing it for the first time from the river. The house was owned by Harman Blennerhassett and his wife (who was also his niece). They arrived in this area to make a new life and name for themselves after leaving Ireland. Their family back in Ireland and the UK didn't accept their scandalous marriage.
The Blennerhassets lived a lavish lifestyle on the island until Harman decided to conspire with Aaron Burr (a former Vice President of the United States). Burr had plans to rebel against the US and form a new country in the western territories. Harman spent a large portion of his fortune funding the operation. Burr and Harman were accused of treason and Harman fled the Island but was later arrested in Kentucky. He was eventually acquitted of the charges, but by this time, his home was owned by the state and many of his belongings were sold to cover unpaid taxes. The mansion mysteriously burnt to the ground in 1811, and a replica that contains some of the original furniture was built in the 1980s.
During the tour, you'll learn all of this history and more. Walking through the mansion reminded me of the happier times they must have had on the Island. I can only imagine all of the parties that they hosted and the political gatherings that they had there. Famous people that have visited Blennerhassett Island include Henry Clay, General James Wilkinson, and Howard Chandler Christy.
Once you're finished with the tours, you can stop by the gift shop or grab a bite to eat at the Snack Station. There are many picnic tables and shelters near the entrance of the island. We chose one that was next to the river to enjoy our lunch. The ferry then brought us back to Parkersburg, where it picked us up.
Parkersburg Art Center
725 Market St, Parkersburg, WV 26101
The Parkersburg Art Center is one of the oldest art galleries in West Virginia. This art center has six different gallery areas and is a colorful and cheerful place. They were changing out the art on the walls when we visited but still let us look around. We viewed two floors of art, and I also learned that the third floor is used for events such as wedding receptions!
The art center offers classes, exhibits, custom framing, a market full of local art to buy, and a gift shop. We stopped by the market and I was surrounded by so many beautiful pieces of local art to purchase.
Fort Boreman Historical Park
Fort Boreman Dr, Parkersburg, WV 26101
Fort Boreman is located on top of a hill and was once used to protect the B&O Railroad terminal and the commercial facilities in the valley during the Civil War. Today the area has several overlooks, a park, and a picnic area. There is also a boardwalk that winds through trees along the hillside that has a spectacular overlook of Parkersburg!
North Bend State Park
202 N Bend State Park, Cairo, WV 26337
West Virginia has so many epic State Parks and North Bend State Park should be on your list! The winding country roads through untouched forests were just what we needed.
The North Bend Rail Trail runs through this park and used to be part of the B&O Railroad. You'll find multiple tunnels to bike through, including a tunnel that's over 2,297 feet long! There are even legends of the Silver Run Tunnel being haunted by a woman in white.
The bike trail is 72 miles long! The trail goes through 10 tunnels and over 36 bridges. My husband and I had so much fun going through the tunnels and the temperature change on a hot day felt so refreshing. The tunnels do get dark to almost pitch black and I recommend bringing a flashlight. It was a rainy day when we went and we loved seeing the fog roll through tunnels.
We didn't explore the entire 72-mile trail but I would love to complete the whole trail one day. The trail is mostly flat and great for bikers who love leisurely riding. It runs from Parkersburg to Clarksburg. We started our biking journey in the State Park at River Run Campground. This campground offers bike rentals for $12 every 2 hours. It's also very close to the trail access and tunnels #12 & #13.
Not only does this State Park have an amazing bike trail it also has hiking trails, fishing streams, mountain biking, horseback riding, camping, and cabin rentals!
Where to Eat
Blennerhassett Restaurant and Lounge
320 Market St, Parkersburg, WV 26101
The Blennerhassett Restaurant is such a beautiful place to dine. We first started at the lounge. I ordered a Lavender Dream cocktail and my husband chose a beer from their wide selection. You can sit at the bar or take a seat on one of the large couches or chairs.
After having drinks in the lounge, it was time to be seated for our meal. We sat in the patio area since it was such a beautiful evening. We both chose pasta dishes and were in pasta heaven. They also serve complimentary fresh bread and butter with your meal. If it's a weekend, you may need to make reservations to secure a spot for dinner.
Unity Cafe International Restaurant & Creperie
212 7th St, Parkersburg, WV 26101
The first thing I noticed when I walked into this cafe is how cozy and colorful it is. The walls were painted with flowers and the ceilings were painted with stars. We ordered two dirty chai lattes and they came in large mugs. The menu is full of different crepes options to choose from. The egg and veggie crepes were so flavorful! This cafe is open from 8 am-3 pm and is the perfect spot for breakfast or lunch.
Parkersburg Brewing Company
707 Market St, Parkersburg, WV 26101
This brewery is located downtown within walking distance of the Blennerhassett Hotel. We loved the brick walls and rustic feel. The menu had a great variety of food and beer to choose from. Our favorite food item from here was the PBC nachos that were topped with beer cheese!
231 Ann St, Parkersburg, WV 26101
This café serves home-style American dishes. We got delicious omelets here for breakfast. They open early at 7 am and have daily specials. They also serve breakfast all day!
1606 Blizzard Dr, Parkersburg, WV 26101
This coffee shop has one of the most extensive flavor lists I've ever seen. We arrived right before it opened and there was already a long line for the drive-thru. That's when you know it's going to be good! The staff was so friendly and helpful with choosing a drink. We tried their signature drink- the Stoked Mocha which is espresso, white chocolate, and caramel drizzle. It was so good!
The Root Beer Shack
1420 Staunton Ave, Parkersburg, WV 26101
This is such a great place to grab lunch or dessert. I have been craving a root beer float for a while now and had to stop here! They serve their root beer floats in large cold mugs with vanilla or chocolate ice cream. This was the perfect treat after riding bikes at North Bend State Park!
Where to Stay
320 Market St, Parkersburg, WV 26101
The Blennerhassett Hotel opened in 1889 and was built during the Parkersburg oil and gas boom era. It was extremely grand for its time and even had electricity generated by natural gas. So many famous people have walked through its doors and stayed here including John F. Kennedy during the 1960 Presidential campaign. You can even choose to stay in the same room he stayed in, the JFK room!
After 134 years, the architecture of this hotel remains grand and gives the city of Parkersburg so much character. I love the gas lights outside the hotel, lighting your way back. Even though we didn't experience any paranormal activity when we stayed on the 3rd floor, there have been multiple ghost sightings throughout the years. The hotel often offers haunted tours on the 3rd Friday of each month.
We stayed in a standard king room with so many luxurious touches. The bed was so comfortable and the pillows were fluffy. It was the perfect spot to return to after a long day of adventures in Parkersburg.