Four generations at Cacapon State Park, and counting

My father, grandfather and uncle at the top of Cacapon Mountain, November 1966.

My father climbed to the top of Cacapon Mountain near Berkeley Springs, W.Va. when he was about 16. He was on a fall hike with his father and younger brother. They all lived in suburban Maryland at the time, and it was, perhaps, their first visit to Cacapon State Park. A photo of the three of them on a rock atop Cacapon Mountain caught my eye when I became the keeper of my grandfather’s photo albums years after his passing. I was in my 30s, and had never seen the picture, which was labeled “Cacapon State Park-W.Va. Nov. 1966” in my grandfather’s distinctive block handwriting.

By then, I had spent my whole life looking at Cacapon Mountain, riding and driving over it, swimming in the river along its base. The western face of the mountain was a constant view from my backyard growing up in Great Cacapon, W.Va. It is the mountain I know best, in every season.

When my grandfather brought his family to visit Cacapon State Park half a century ago, he didn’t know that his great grandchildren would grow up playing in the park. It’s a common story, though. Families have been coming to vacation at Cacapon for generations. Former Superintendent Tom Ambrose said summer often meant seeing the same families return to their favorite cabins. Families would grow with marriages and children, then grandchildren, and they’d keep coming back to swim in the lake, build campfires, fish and hike.

Our family has done the same, though I’m luckier than most. I live just 10 miles from the gates of the park, and can visit easily in all seasons.

My Dad, when he got out of the Marine Corps in the 1970s, decided he and my mom wouldn’t raise their two young kids in the Maryland suburbs. He remembered Cacapon State Park, and asked if my mother would consider moving near there. Soon my parent were the owners of a farmhouse in Great Cacapon — on the other side of the mountain my Dad had climbed as a teen.

Even though the mountain was a constant in my young life, it took me until my adulthood to get to know Cacapon State Park and the east side of the mountain really well.

A West Virginia State Parks hiking challenge , sending me in search of 100 trail miles inside the state’s parks, led me over all of Cacapon’s park trails again and again. The steep Ziler Trail, and its wider Loop have delivered me to the top of the mountain plenty of times now. At the summit of the Ziler Trail, a pile of rocks stands near a bench that welcomes hikers who come up that way. Climbing the Ziler Loop, either north or south, you ease onto the top of the mountain along the trail lined with wild blueberry bushes and mountain laurel. In late spring and early summer, the loop rivals any West Virginia trail for sheer beauty. Mountain laurel, with its pale and dark pink blooms, towers over the trail, and press in from each side. Wild blueberries ripen at knee-height as you work your way up the sandstone trail on the northern end.

View from Ziler Loop, looking east.

From the top of the mountain, the views both east and west are wide. Many hikers will miss seeing the western view because they won’t wander far enough over to that edge of the park. Even for those of us who know the mountains toward the western horizon, the view of their rise and fall is mesmerizing from the top of Cacapon.

Park visitors who don’t want to or can’t make the hike from the park floor to the top of the mountain can drive up the park road to the Overlook. The Overlook Trail extends north from the parking lot, stretching all the way to the end of the mountain near the Panorama Overlook along Route 9/Cacapon Road.

Cacapon Overlook in Cacapon State Park. That’s Sleepy Creek Mountain to the east.

The Cabin Loop trail, Laurel and Central Trails wind through the lower section of Cacapon State Park. Each offer their own terrain, rising and falling between wet-weather streams and rocky formations that dot the park. New mountain bike trails have carved fresh paths across the forest floor, and down the eastern mountain face. The park is evolving all the time, and looks different now than when my grandfather first set foot there.

Back then, with its rustic log cabins and rough roads, Cacapon State Park still left a strong impression. My family is proof of it. Four generations later, we celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and homecomings in that park with family and friends. It’s where my husband and I held our wedding reception, and other family members have gotten married. We hike, swim in the lake, cast for fish, bike, sled ride, cook out and play there in every season.

When my Dad rolls into town on a visit from Maine, it’s a pretty sure bet we’re going to load up his grandsons and all take a hike at Cacapon. Walking the trails toward the top of the mountain feels like a good tradition to keep. Turns out a young man remembers that kind of thing for a long, long time.

My father following his grandsons up the Central Trail.

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