Randy Yohe Published

Alternative Lodgings, 'Glamping,' Enhance W.Va. Tourism Destinations

Vickie Yohe, sitting by the fire outside a glamping dome near Alderson, West Virginia.
Randy Yohe

Many vacationers seek out suitable lodgings near whatever indoor or outdoor experience they are venturing to see. But that trip can become richer when the shelter becomes part of the experience.

Alternative lodging and glamping can turn a weekend stay into a little adventure. Randy Yohe and his wife Vickie said if you haven’t stayed in a treehouse, wigwam, or caboose – consider expanding your horizons.

Between shoveling coal into the locomotive firebox, or checking the water level to produce enough pressure for the engine to produce steam, Cass Railroad fireman Justin Gay said he enjoys his job, most of the time.

“You get to meet people from all around the world,” Gay said. ”You got people from different countries and neighboring states, then you got to deal with difficult coal that doesn’t burn too hot.”

The all wheel drive Shay locomotive was designed for the roughest mountain duty under the worst possible conditions.The antique Locomotives that tourists ride at the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park are among the few remaining anywhere.

Gay said in its heyday a century ago, this railroad didn’t stop, and this lumber town was busy.

“This line here was the main line that went up the mountain,” Gay said. “The track beside us was with C & O, which went up to Durbin and then Durbin connected into Western Maryland and Maryland. They did a whole lot here. They clear-cut that whole mountain. This giant parking lot was nothing but a lumberyard.”

No lodge, cabins or tent campground evident at this state park highlighted by a grand old train. My wife Vickie and I crossed one off our bucket list by staying in one of the 20 or so refurbished Cass company houses. Similar homes in a row built in the early 1900’s for the workers at the lumber mill and the machine shop.

“The company houses are great. They’re the original structures, Vickie said. “Of course, they’ve been fitted with modern amenities, shower heat, air conditioning, but it’s just a nice experience to take a look back at the history of Cass, yet be comfortable. You can do anything offered there in the community: trail biking, take a ride on the railroad, or you can just sit on the porch and relax and wave at your neighbors.”

My wife and I like hotels just fine, but we also enjoy staying in creative places that offer a new experience.

“We’ve stayed in a treehouse in the Virgin Islands, a wigwam off Route 66, the Castaway Caboose in West Virginia, a really wonderful experience. That’s just to name a few,” Vickie said.

West Virginia tourism secretary Chelsea Ruby said the state is getting into the alternative camping and glamping game. Ruby says “Tentrr” campsites sprouting up in state parks put visitors in the heart of the adventure. A short hike is required to access these campsites; many are surrounded by spectacular views.

Tentrr sites come equipped with a pre-set canvas tent on its own wooden deck platform, a queen-size memory foam mattress, side tables, a propane tent heater, picnic table, fire ring, solar shower and more.

Ruby said advertising West Virginia’s alternative lodgings in national tourism publications is drawing travelers to the Mountain State.

“Last month, it was one of our top performing ads,” Ruby said, `”We had an ad that featured a treehouse cabin and one that featured the fire tower. And both of those were among the top and most clicked on ads just because people are interested in these new types of places you can say.”

Our most recent glamping stay was at a farm and forest setting near Alderson, aptly named WV glamping domes.com. Vickie found it by googling West Virginia glamping.

“It was nice. It was beside a stream. You could hear all the sounds in nature, but yet, you’re close to amenities,” Vickie said “Most people want a shower facility, kitchen, running water, even a hot tub. The dome itself was very interesting. It was open partially to the outside so you can see the night sky, the trees, the woods.”

“There’s a river running right through the middle of it. It sits in two counties, and there’s a walking bridge that’s reminiscent of one of the bridges you might find in England or Paris.”

That was Tim Luce. Tim and his wife Angela Luce left their city jobs behind to establish WV Glamping Domes.com in Greenbrier County. Tim said the pandemic helped him find his marketing niche.

“We found that because of the pandemic, rural destinations like ours were up about 300 percent,” Luce said. “That showed me there was a demand from the consumer base for something like this. And so we opened and we booked up an entire year’s worth of reservations in a week for our first dome. And so we rolled all of those reservations as cash flow into building the next ones.”

“We wanted to focus on a connection with nature so the giant window faces the stream,” Tim Luce said. “We also have another dome we’re building right now that’s going to be a mountain view with a huge panoramic view. And then a thing that our guests really love is the skylight.”

From a railroad company house to a Caribbean tree house – from a not-so -rustic tent – to a hot-tub-enhanced glamping dome – finding lodging on part or all of any trip seems only limited these days by imagination and a sense of adventure.

“The Thorny Mountain Fire Tower, that’s what I’m waiting on,” Vickie said. “We are on the waiting list and I hope to do that soon.”

And I plan to join her.