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Urban getaways found in our capital city

For the Gazette

By Sarah Francke

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- We are finally, yet slowly, emerging from the winter months in Charleston. This means our energy levels are on the rise, the daffodils are a welcome burst of color, days are getting longer, and everything around us seems to be shedding its winter skin.

Still, no matter how pretty our day-to-day surroundings are becoming, stress and anxiety can sneak into our lives and taint the joys of spring.

So it's important to know where to go when you need to get going. Living in a state that is known for its mountainous beauty, we are lucky not to have to travel far for those spacious and stress-relieving spaces that quickly become our cure-all to our daily bothers.

In case you didn't grow up here, or haven't spent days upon days exploring Charleston for all it has to offer, you may not know what you're looking for or where to go.

Remember, when you hit the ground running, always keep your eyes open for anything that looks interesting. West Virginia is full of winding back roads, structures rich in history and trails that lead you to breathtaking views. Here's hoping you stay curious of what may be around the corner as the adventures are truly endless.

Here's a list of six day jaunts to get you started.

Spring Hill Cemetery, Farnsworth Drive

Acting for years as my favorite in-town getaway, Spring Hill Cemetery changed the way I viewed Charleston by deepening my historical knowledge of our city's founding fathers. It also provides views of Charleston you only can encounter from the tiptop point of a hill. If you catch the views early in the day, you'll sometimes get to see the morning fog lifting from the valley.

The cemetery is accessible by car, but once you've arrived, I recommend you ditch your vehicle and explore the grounds on foot. You'll be dwarfed by monuments and overwhelmed by many familiar names on the headstones -- Quarrier, MacCorkle, Summers and more. Suddenly you'll see a window into the personal lives behind those names that today are mostly known to us as navigational tools in downtown Charleston.

Ruffner Park, Kanawha Boulevard East

Some of my earliest memories of Charleston were formed at Ruffner Park when my mother would pick me up from preschool and we'd proceed down the Boulevard, landing at Ruffner Park for a picnic.

I've returned to the site many times since my preschool days, and each time I visit the little alcove type of park, the bustle of the world seems to disappear. Its prime location on the Boulevard means you've driven, jogged, walked or boated past it many, many times. However, something about its design makes it feel like a secret garden. It's still a perfect spot for a picnic, but its shaded benches also make it ideal for reading.

Sunset Park (Capitol Hill), Sunset Drive and Hinton Terrace

With its brick sidewalks, parallel rows of trees, giant clock and glowing streetlights, Capitol Street in downtown Charleston is beautiful to walk. However, my favorite view of Capitol Street is from Sunset Drive, on Capitol Hill, on the north end of the city. Sunset Drive is an overlook of Charleston that provides a panoramic view that you're likely to drive right by unless you know what to look for.

As the drive winds you through the neighborhood, around sharp turns and hills, you'll approach a small wooden railing, which marks a staircase descending to a small grassy field -- with a bench to boot. Sitting atop the wooden railing, you'll be stunned by the endless miles in sight. From this spot, my favorite view is of Capitol Street and, amazingly, what seems to be a lush forest of green trees growing smack-dab in the middle of the city.

The difference between the daytime and nighttime view is exciting, so you'll want to make at least two visits to the site.

Danner Meadow Park, South Fort Drive and Longwood Road

I have many memories of running and playing with friends at Danner Meadow when I was younger. I admit that I've ventured to this park only a couple of times since I moved back to Charleston; it is nested so privately, I often forget it exists. The field is surrounded by hills and towering trees on every side, and when you're there, you quickly forget the urban surroundings nearby. When you need a wide-open space to organize a pickup game of soccer, football, Frisbee or anything else of the sort, Danner Meadow is the place to go.

The Carriage Trail, Beginning at the bottom of Bridge Road, ending at Myrtle Road

Winding up the wooded hillside between the South Side Bridge and the former MacCorkle mansion (which now houses the Farmer, Cline & Campbell law firm), the Carriage Trail is another one of Charleston's secluded ventures.

The gravel path once was the direct route to Gov. William A. MacCorkle's mansion. It still leads you through the woods past stunning glimpses of the city, patches of wildflowers and rhododendron, historical monuments from the early 1900s, and eventually to the mansion itself. I use this trail for solo runs or hikes with my family, often sharing it with a lone cyclist or a dog walker.

Kanawha State Forest, Kanawha State Forest Drive

Kanawha State Forest is one of those places that I've grown up exploring through every stage of life and during every season of the year, and yet am still able to crave. Each time I visit I find myself once again enthralled by each towering tree and turn of the road. Needing only the willingness for adventure (and the patience to endure the loss of cellphone service), Kanawha State Forest is an endless source of sights along twisting creeks, and around every bend you'll see a sign for a trail or access to picnic grounds.

Sarah Francke is a business development professional living life to the fullest in Charleston. Follow her lifestyle ideas on Twitter at @WVstyleteam and read more of her twentysomething adventures on her blog, www.sarahfrancke.com.


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