We were heading to the mountains to hike when we got a bit sidetracked the other week! Our drive to our planned hike took us up Route 15 in Maryland through Thurmont. As we approached the small town of Thurmont that sits at the base of the mountain, we saw the signs for the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve. As always, we started to talk about our past visits there and how much we enjoy a stroll through the zoo and how we hadn’t been to the Preserve once this year due to a lack of time in our schedule and of course the pandemic. Before we knew it, we were pulling into a parking spot and heading toward a fun afternoon at the zoo.
Catoctin Wildlife Preserve
The Catoctin Wildlife Preserve is a 50-acre wildlife preserve that is dedicated to educating the public about the animals that live in our world. The atmosphere at this zoo is very relaxed and allows you to view and interact with the variety of animals in a safe way. The park offers quite a few paths that allows for a nice walk that will take you through some lush areas of vegetation and past many different types of animals.
While parking is free at the zoo, there are admission costs. Currently, the cost for admission ranges from $16.50 (child) to $22.50 (adult). The annual membership is $60 per person and includes passes for some of the additional activities in the park, amongst other benefits. There are also family and grandparent passes available.
While visiting this preserve you will be able to observe quite a few animals from a safe distance. However, there are ample opportunities for a visitor of the zoo to interact with the animals in different ways. For an additional fee (check for availability) one can purchase tickets for additional activities. Some of these activities include a Safari Ride that will take you around the property and give you the opportunity to see and even feed a wide variety of animals from the safety of the Safari vehicles. You can also purchase a camel ride or a feathered encounter experience.
If you are not interested in any of the additional purchases, there are still plenty of opportunities to interact with animals. There are special times throughout the day (Memorial through Labor Day) to allow for opportunities to hear a zookeeper talk about specific animals and to encounter a variety of animals at the conservation theater. (Check with the Preserve for a schedule of the times and opportunities available on the day of your visit.) There are a variety of animals that you can feed and pet interspersed all around the zoo. They are friendly and welcome a little treat from the visitors that come into their home.
Our Visit to the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve
During this visit, we decided to pay for an annual pass for each of us. The annual passes work on a rolling calendar year so we will be able to visit the Preserve on these newly purchased passes through October 30, 2021. (And if we visit a total of 3 times, then financially we will come out even….actually a bit better than had we paid for individual passes for each day). We declined the Safari Tour that came with our membership. We are going to save that for a nice spring day next year. When we entered the park, we also purchased two cups of food to feed the animals and we headed off!
Due to the temperatures, some of the animals had been removed from display for their safety, but we had expected that. However, there were still quite a few animals that were out and about! We couldn’t help but stop and watch the cages where there were young animals.
We stopped to explore all of the animals on display. We each have our favorites but stopped to enjoy all of the inhabitants of the preserve. The cooler temperatures of the fall day made our visit much more enjoyable and perfect for the current pandemic as we very rarely saw other visitors and never felt rushed to move on to allow someone else to see an animal. We laughed at the antics of some of the animals such as the wolves who were totally disinterested in us when we first walked up. But when we decided to grab a drink and snack became TOTALLY interested in us due to the beef jerky that Jason was eating.
We especially enjoyed the opportunities to feed the animals at the feeding stations. The animals that they have in those areas are a joy to interact with. They were all very interested in us, probably because they are used to quite a few more people visiting and they missed the interaction as much as we enjoyed their attention. Ok, maybe the food that we were offering was part of their interest.
The Catoctin Wildlife Preserve is a great place to spend a few hours enjoying animals that you may not normally have a chance to experience. This preserve is just entertaining. From meercats to wolves, from alligators to emus and from snakes to black swans; the Wildlife preserve in Thurmont Maryland offers fun for all ages! We have our annual pass; we will be back!
Where do you want to go, we asked each other. We couldn't decide what in the world to do with our long weekend. We pondered and we talked about options. Undecided, we knew we had to make a decision and we had to make it soon. It wasn't until the simple comment was made, "There is so much I want to see in this world" that we knew. Immediately, we knew what the plans were going to be. We were going to visit two locations in western West Virginia. Places that we had each longed to visit. I was going to finally visit the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston, WV and Jason was going to be able to see the New River Gorge Bridge in Fayetteville, WV. We couldn't be happier with our plans.
We took our time and researched everything fully and settled on our plans. We woke up early and drove to Weston, WV and arrived at the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum at 11:30. The first tour was set to start at Noon. I had already ascertained and decided on the tours that we would be doing, so I quickly paid and we went out to wait for our tour to start. Ohhh my word, this building and tour is everything I could have imagined. This building is quite historic and is just teeming with stories and happenings.
WeThe tour guide was knowledgeable and was able to give a history of the architecture and inhabitants through a variety of stories and information about the site. I already want to go back!
We were tired at that point so we headed to our hotel. We stayed at the Hampton Inn and we couldn't be any happier with our hotel. The staff working the hotel were super friendly and the building was immaculate. It was so clean in fact that we asked if the building has just been built and opened to the public!
The next morning we were ready to head to our next destination, The New River Gorge. Before we left the town though, we decided to head into the Museum of American Glass. This museum dedicated to glassware was interesting. We enjoyed the oil lamp collection and I absolutely loved the Lady Jane Stained Glass Dollhouse. The drive from Weston to Fayetteville was through mountains where nature surrounded us. The scenery alone made the drive worthwhile. It was about an hour drive and eventually we arrived! We were so excited to get our first glimpse of the bridge. We started at the National Park Service visitor Center parking lot. We walked the boardwalks to the overlooks and took in the bridge.
It is hard to describe the massive proportions of the bridge. This thing is huge!
This is located in a national park and unfortunately, due to the ongoing pandemic the visitor center was closed. However all overlooks and trails were open. We took every chance we could to see the bridge.
One of the highlights of this weekend was the visit to Thurmond, WV. This is an abandoned town nestled in the bottom of the gorge. Once a boom town, this town slowly faded to a collection of empty buildings as the coal mines shut down. The buildings are intact and have been secured and maintained by the National Park Service. The commerce area of the town is right on the edge of the railroad tracks while the residential area stood on the hill above the town. Walking through this town was amazing. It is hard to not think about the people that walked those roads many years before.
The trail system and scenery in this area are second to none. There are trails that take you to overlooks, trails that take you to abandoned coal mines and trails that lead you to rivers edge. It seemed as if we saw a waterfall at every turn, each one just as pretty as the one before. We could have stayed for a week and still not seen and experienced everything that this area has to offer. There are mountain bike trails, miles of hiking, ruins, kayaking and so much more.
On this trip, we even managed to squeeze in a quick visit to the Monster Museum in Sutton, WV! The quirkiness of this little museum was a great stop along the drive home.
We have already decided that we will be returning to New River Gorge as soon as possible. It's pretty and full of activities that will have you appreciating history and nature. A weekend at New river Gorge National Park and visiting Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum was a perfect getaway!
Check out the in detail descriptions for the locations visited during this trip
New River Gorge
Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum
Museum of American Glass
A visit to The New River Gorge National Park would not be complete without a visit to the town of Thurmond, WV. Before we visited the area, I did my due diligence and researched many of the attractions and trails in the area. We only had a short time during that visit and I wanted to see as much as I could and to hit the most important locations. As soon as I saw the words ‘abandoned town’, I was hooked! Thurmond was one of the ‘musts’ for this trip!
The town of Thurmond was once a bustling boom town. The steady flow of money from the local coal mines and the railroad station in town fueled the economy. Over the years the coal mines began to shut down which caused a decline in the financial wealth of this community. Simultaneously, the rise in popularity of the automobile brought around a steep decrease in passenger train travel, which further hampered the economic prosperity of the town. Slowly, people began to leave the town for more prosperous towns. In the 2010 Census, the population of the town was listed as 5 and most of the buildings are now owned by the National Park Service.
The Commercial Area of Thurmond, WV
The first thing you will see as you drive into the town is the train station. This station has been completely redone and serves as a visitor center for the National Park. It is the focal point of the town. This is still a flag stop for Amtrak service. So if you want to begin and/or end your vacation in Thurmond, you can definitely arrive by train!
To tour the business area of the this abandoned town you will be walking along the railroad tracks. The commercial area of town is nestled between the side of the mountain and the railroad tracks. These railroad tracks are still owned, operated and used by CSX, so please be careful. It is fascinating to walk by the businesses and imagine how life was in this town during the heyday when it was a bustling center of activity that while small was so prosperous that it was able to support two banks.
The Coaling Tower
There are still remnants of the bygone era of steam locomotives. The coaling tower still stands tall and proud at the end of the commerce section of town. Along with some of the outbuildings that supported the thriving railroad. Proud of the history of this town, in recent years they have held a Thurmond Train day for rail fans.
The Residential Area of town
We walked through the commercial area of the town and walked by a few buildings that were obviously residential in nature before we came to a winding road that led up the side of the mountain. It was a hot day when we were there, but we decided to walk up a bit of the hill to explore. Oh my word! I am so glad I did. Abandoned house after abandoned house stood at the side of the road a testament to the lives that had been lived in this town. The houses have been secured by the National Park service, so they are not readily available for entry. However, it is possible to walk onto the porches and peer in some windows.
Remnants of lives once happily lived are evidenced in the flowers that were once carefully planted but now grow wild. As we wound up the hill and back down, we came across the town church standing proud on the side of the mountain. Oh, if walls could talk!
Thurmond, WV quickly became the absolute favorite part of our visit to this area. It is not often you get to walk through an abandoned ghost town that is still almost fully intact. The history and vibe of the area was something to behold! We explored that town as fully as we could! We have both on many different occasions since we have been home have made the remark that we will go back to that town to explore more!
For more about this area, check out The New River Gorge Bridge.
Belief In Living
Travel with us as we explore!