Island Campground: A West Virginia Hidden Gem

Campsite Reviews

Some of the best places are ones you accidentally find. Maybe it’s because of the struggle it takes to find them, or maybe it’s because they’re just a last resort that will just have to do for a night. But somehow, it always works out.

That’s what happened when we set out on our Memorial Day adventure. We had no plans other than we were going to find a place to camp with our MotoCamps trailer. I had a few places in mind, thinking that if we just headed west, I would certainly find adventure. And if not, then we would settle on the usual backups.

So like many of my adventure rides, I started driving with no plan. Let’s just see where this goes.

Stella is skeptical.

I set out on US Route 250 toward Monterey. Monterey is a cool little town on the junction of Route 250 and Route 220. There are a couple of small shops, restaurants, and a cidery. This is also the home of the Highland Maple Festival.

As we arrived in town, I had the looming thought that maybe this was kind of crazy. Memorial Day weekend is a busy time, and I should have been a little more deliberate with my plans. Conveniently, my wife reminded me that it was lunchtime. We pulled into Highs Restaurant in downtown Monterey. This is, of course, one of our must-stops in the area. They have great burgers, but the local trout sandwich is hard to beat.

While we waited, we pulled out our phones to see what would be some good destinations that we might be able to find a spot. We found a couple near Marlinton, West Virginia, that looked promising. So with a quick stop at the ABC store to see if there were any good bourbon hiding on the shelf, we headed southwest through Frost, Virginia. This is always a great road as it winds through the mountains.

Along the way, we decided to check out Watoga State Park. It’s just off the beaten path enough that we had never been there to see what it was all about. So with a taste for adventure, we deviated from our chosen directions and set out to find that elusive hidden gem.

Well, gem it was, but available it was not.

And I can see why. This place had it all. Nestled in the mountains with a little lake and log camp store, it had swimming, fishing, boating, cabins, and primitive sites. It even had Greenbrier River frontage. This has got to be a destination in the future.

So we continued back on our intended path to Marlinton. With our luck and time running short as we got deeper into the day, we knew we would have to find a place soon or just throw in the towel and try again tomorrow.

With our last sliver of optimism, we decided to head north on Route 28. I knew that there had to be more campgrounds this way as it goes deeper into Monongahela National Forest and spots like Spruce Knob, Laurel Springs, and Dolly Sods. And if nothing else, there was at least had to be some dispersed camping we could find.

The first place we checked out was Lake Buffalo. Having this be one of my favorite rides, I knew that there was likely nothing available because there are only a few dispersed spots and few amenities. So we cruised in just to take a look anyway and maybe we would get lucky. And to no avail. As we approached the top of the ridge above the lake, we took a minute to collect ourselves and let the dogs run for a while. Once again, I turned to the maps hoping that there was something that I missed that looks like somewhere we could call camp. And there it was, back on 28 almost exactly where the road we were on comes out.

There was. Island Campground.

At this point, we laughed a little that this place is nowhere near any of our intended destinations. We joked that it was “lonely” Island Campground. So we once again trudged on.

As we arrived at the lonely Island Campground (it had stuck by this point), a spark of optimism rushed in. It was nice! It had a restroom, about 12 campsites with level pads, picnic tables, metal fire rings with a grill grate, and they even had a lantern rack. Once again, West Virginia for the win. With all but one of the 12 sites vacant, I thought that there had to be something I was missing.

Why is this place not full?

So we decided to give it a shot for at least one night. We set up camp in spot #7. It was an elevated spot not too far from the restroom but still a little isolated from the other spots.

Setting up the MotoCamps trailer was easy. As soon as I unhooked it and leveled it out, Jen started making dinner while I finished setting up camp and building a fire. We were going to enjoy much-deserved wood-fired steaks and mashed potatoes. I also had a nice bottle of Michter’s sour mash that I had saved from a recent bourbon drop. We were ready for a great night!

The next morning, we woke up to a nearly full campground. We made coffee, breakfast, and chatted with a few of the other campers who were out for a morning walk. We came to find out that many of them had a similar experience as we did. It was like an island of misfit campers who had to change plans last minute only to find this last resort.



Thinking that this spot was actually quite nice, we went ahead and paid for another night. We packed up some snacks and supplies for the day’s adventure.

We decided to go hiking and fishing at nearby Spruce Lake and Spruce Knob, which is the highest point in West Virginia. Having been to this spot before, I was looking forward to relaxing lakeside and taking in the WV views.

On our way back to camp, I remembered that earlier we had seen some fly fishermen walking back from somewhere down camp road. Thinking that it made sense, since it was an island and we had no luck fishing from the lake shore earlier, we figured we would go check this out. To our surprise, beyond the gate there was a secret, hidden old picnic area. This was where Long Run and the East Fork of the Greenbrier River converge. This was it! This was what I had been looking for the whole time. A hidden gem that still had some secrets to discover. And by pure luck, we found it.

Sometimes you have to plan for adventure, and sometimes you just have to let the adventure happen. And that’s how we stayed on the road less traveled!