Hidden treasures: 2 luxurious escapes, 1 locale

Sheltered in the depths of Pipestem’s mountains are 2 retreats that beckon you to escape.

Do you seek solace below the canyon, or blissful indulgence above it? The choice is up to you. Hidden in the depths of the Bluestone Gorge is a lodge so remote, its only connection to the outside world is an aerial tramway.

Or, get mentally and emotionally grounded at Pipestem’s classiest spa and entertainment venue.

Let 2 retreats rejuvenate your soul:

Simple Delights in the Canyon

Sunset at PipestemTucked into the Bluestone Gorge, there’s a place where time stands still, and the only technological gadget you’ll see is an aerial tram. Welcome to Mountain Creek Lodge, a hushed retreat sheltered by trees and cradled by the canyon’s depths. Modern interruptions and noise melt away, letting nature speak instead.

David Caplinger, Park Superintendent of Pipestem Resort State Park, understands completely.

“It’s for people who favor a slower pace of life and savor seclusion,” he said. “Here, you can hear the hum of the river.”

He knows that Mountain Creek Lodge is a rarity. Most of us live amidst machines and gadgets, where things beep incessantly and demand more of our time. Even cars talk back these days. But here, you can be so remote that noisy burdens can’t intrude— a blessing that brings loyal customers to the 30-room lodge from May to October.

In fact, the only way you can enter the Lodge is by an aerial tramway. It climbs the Gorge from Canyon Rim Center down to the basin— a trek of 3,410 feet. That’s it. Your car stays in the parking lot.

“There’s a restricted-access lane for employees,” said Caplinger, mentioning staff arrangements. “So you might see a vehicle for the staff. It probably won’t move the entire time you’re there.”

Your retreat begins when the tram pulls away from the canyon’s rim. Rumpled forest canopies and cliffs spill into the soft, still distance. A few birds wheel and dart in the air.

“The view is just tremendous,” said Caplinger. “You’ll be about 80 feet in the air. It’s very safe, pretty smooth. It’s also very quiet, and you’ll sometimes see wildlife like deer.”

There’s also a waterfall, complete with a horseshoe amphitheater. You may spot critters like minks, coyotes, bald eagles and river otters, too. There’s also a moonshine still.

“If you’re really keeping your eyes open, you’ll see it,” the superintendent said. “It’s a recreated one, but it’s a touch of history. I imagine it’s remote location would have made a decent spot for a real one.”

“Here, we encourage rock skipping. There aren’t any roller coasters or anything— just old-fashioned family bonding.”

As the 6-minute ride unfolds, human traces become scarcer. When you leave the tram, your gaze meets acres of unspoiled wilderness that stretch into the horizon. Caplinger reckons Bluestone Canyon is the least developed of its kind in the east. In fact, he struggles to recall anywhere you’ll see a modern structure up or down the river.

Back at the Lodge, there’s a gourmet dining room that blends into the landscape (reservations required). In the evening, the Gorge is at its most beautiful, when low light and muted colors sink into the canyon. Best of all, you can dine next to expansive windows overlooking the river.

The guest rooms are just as romantic. Each has a balcony about 200 feet away from the Bluestone, which murmurs throatily to itself. Outside, you’ll have nostalgic memories of summers long past.

“Here, we encourage rock skipping,” said Caplinger. “I’d say this is a great place for children. People like to have picnics in front of the lodge. There aren’t any roller coasters or anything— just old-fashioned family bonding.”

You can also linger for hours beside the Bluestone River, where fishing is superb. In spring, the water is stocked with delayed-harvest trout. Pipestem has a catch-and-release rule until June. Smallmouth bass come later in the year.

“The fishing here is outstanding,” Caplinger said. “In fact, it’s probably the best spot in West Virginia for stock trout.”

The bald eagles and river otters apparently agree; it’s not unusual to spot them. After all, people aren’t the only ones who want trout and bass.

Listening to Caplinger describe Mountain Creek Lodge, it sounds like he has the best job in the world. He knows his mountains and animals well, and lives in one of the most beautiful states in America. You’d think that it would be difficult to choose a favorite moment, but he has one top-of-mind.

“I like riding the tram at sunset myself,” he said. “But right after dark… that’s pretty special, too, because you can sometimes see fireflies.”

Leave Worry Behind at the spa

Surrounded by gracious forest groves, Pipestem Spa and Event Center beckons you to unwind. Here, it’s all about leaving pressures outside.

Pipestem Spa

Pipestem Spa

Just ask Anna Ferraraccio, owner and licensed aesthetician and massage therapist. Her calm demeanor and ready laugh speak volumes about Pipestem Spa and Event Center: it’s a vocation, not a business. Going the extra mile— making people feel special— is what she strives for. And as you speak with Anna, you don’t doubt that guests get lavish attention.

For one thing, there are special, imaginative programs throughout the year. Summer kicks off with the Red, White and Brew Craft Beer and Wine Tasting, with a cash bar, wine and Greenbrier Valley Brewing beers on the program.

“It’s a lot of fun, with live music and everything,” Ferraraccio said. “We love to support local musicians, and we already have 2 ready to go.”

There’s also A Night at the North Pole in December. Kids come out in their pajamas, visit with Santa and the elves, drink cocoa and have pizza.

Like a PJ party? (“Yes, definitely. But just for kids!” Ferraraccio said, laughing.)

Her voice bubbles over with enthusiasm. Clearly, all of these events are her favorite. It’s hard not to get carried away yourself— each one sounds delightful. There are Princess Spa and Tea Parties for little girls, a Super Hero’s Training Camp, spa parties for grown ups, a Taps, Corks, & Canvas Paint Party…

Murder and Merriment

It’s all about sharing pleasure at Pipestem. Like at the Murder Mystery Dinner Theater, a popular regular feature that gets everyone giggling. Each act is based on a theme like “A Murderous Reunion,” which will be in June. It’s an 80s drama about alumni celebrating their 30-year graduation from Calvin Coolidge High School. The untimely “death” of an unpopular student president naturally attracts a detective, who faces plenty of red herrings and suspects. You can compete for a prize as you play with actors from Murder and Merriment, a local group.

“It’s completely interactive and really wild, so much fun,” Ferraraccio said. “People get to talk to the actors during dinner.”  

For a fun twist, you can come in costumes that blend in with the show. For “A Murderous Reunion,” show up in 80s clothes. August’s “A Fistful of Bullets”— a murder plot with disgruntled actors in a western movie— calls for jeans, cowboy hats and boots. In fact, Pipestem Spa and Event Center encourages fans to be an ‘extra’ in the ‘movie.’ Expect a western dinner, too.

These extra touches— creative meals, lavish cocktail bar— put Pipestem Spa and Event Center ahead of the pack.

Laugh in

Another feature that gets folks away from themselves is the Comedy Zone. The monthly show opens with a local band before the opening acts and headliner.

“We bring in professional comedians from all over, from New York LA, Las Vegas, Miami and even Puerto Rico,” Ferraraccio said. “We have entertainers who have been featured on Showtime and HBO, award-winning talents like Best Female Comic of Las Vegas and several that were winning contestants on ‘Last Comic Standing,’”

She’s rightfully proud of this accomplishment, but simple pleasures also speak to her.

“One of the nice aspects about all of our events, such as The Comedy Zone is that we always have a table for single people,” she said. “We often have people come alone, for various reasons, and we sit them together. We had 2 romances start at that table!”

She’s especially sensitive to guests who might need some extra attention, like people whose spouses are in the military, or work out of town. At Pipestem, no one will sit alone if they want some company.

Soak it up

But it’s the spa that really makes Ferraraccio enthusiastic. Day Spa Magazine, a high-profile publication that showcases glamorous venues all over the world, just did a piece on the spa’s Kundalini Back Massage, a special treatment that removes all of your emotional and physical burdens.

“Some of our unique treatments, such as the Raindrop Therapy, use essential oils and special music and are designed to lull you into a deep, sound sleep.”

“It starts with a room spritz, an essential oil blend called ‘For An Aura of Confidence,’” said Ferraraccio. “And then you get a deeply relaxing pressure-point facial; a scalp and neck massage with oil blends; a Himalayan Pink Salt foot scrub with hot stones and towels; and a unique back massage that focuses on balancing your chakras with rare essential oils.”

The Kundalini Back Massage has its own specially designed music with choreographed Sanskrit sounds, which induce profound relaxation. Who doesn’t need one of these?

 You’ll discover that everything is just right, from the flickering candles and low illumination to the warm yellow walls and rich leather upholstery. Here, Ferraraccio’s magical touch soothes and caresses.

“Here, we like to help reset biorhythms,” she said. “Some of our unique treatments, such as the Raindrop Therapy, use essential oils and special music and are designed to lull you into a deep, sound sleep.”

Healing touch

There’s no doubt Ferraraccio knows the ropes. For one thing, she’s a graduate of the Barbara Brennan School of Healing and has worked as a doctoral-level clinical psychologist. For another, her husband and business partner, Anthony Ferraraccio, is the only licensed massage therapist permitted in West Virginia to perform ETPS therapy, a form of needleless acupuncture. He specializes in treating chronic pain, such as carpel tunnel, sciatica and plantar fasciitis.

And then, there is the spa’s ample menu of treatments. You can get aromatherapy, hot stones and a Dead Sea Salt back exfoliation. Want a body wrap? The treatment center uses all kinds of brushes, exfoliation gloves, muds, seaweeds and clays. There are energy healing sessions, hair and nail services, facials and more— lots more.

The Ferraraccios also have a state-of-the-art Vichy Shower. It’s a European appliance that has its own plumbing system and 8 shower heads, which pulse warm cascades of water on a shallow bed. You’ll feel utterly relaxed, of course, but the Vichy Shower also stimulates your circulatory system.

What does the spa’s healer recommend?

“I like the hot stone spa pedicures,” Ferraraccio said. “They come with free drinks, so you can have a margarita or a glass of champagne while you get your nails done.

But any service in the hair salon earns you a drink on the house, too— even a spiffy adult beverage.

“I guess that’s one of the things that really makes us stand out,” Ferraraccio said, thinking about Pipestem Spa and Event Center’s placement against other salons in the area. “How many pedicures come with a free margarita?”