John Carlin’s Outdoors | Adventuring at Pipestem State Park

State parks are great, but Pipestem is upping the ante on adventure

PIPESTEM, W.Va. – It’s time to go into the Blue Ridge and beyond with a new edition of John Carlin’s Outdoors.

This time, John is at Pipestem State Park in West Virginia, where you can do everything from ax throwing to e-biking to skeet shooting and if indoors is more of your thing, there’s even a spa on the premises.

But the best way to see all the fall colors is by taking a zip on the nearly four miles of ziplines, including one that takes you more than 300 feet in the air across the Bluestone River Gorge.

Here’s a deeper look at what you can do just two hours from Roanoke

“The best way to do it is just kind of, pow.”

The words of our tour guide Baylee Bentlee, describe how to throw an axe so it sticks in the target, and to a certain extent how one might approach their weekend of adventures at Pipestem State Park in West Virginia.

Bentlee demonstrated the technique and abruptly demonstrated that she is not all words.

“And then kind of follow through, and then you’ll stick it,” she said as the hatchet flew through the air and impaled itself in the bullseye.”

Bentlee makes it look easy, but when you throw the ax and it works, it’s kind of like magic. After just a couple of practice throws, my wife Mary and I were impaling the target with our own axes. It’s no wonder, that ax throwing is attracting lots of people:

“It’s been really popular the last couple of years,” Bentlee said. Enough so that the lifespan of the boards that make up the target isn’t very long.

“So I would say the new targets that we’ve designed last about 10 days,” she said.

Flying targets

And if you are really intent on hitting a target, you can try your hand at shooting clay pigeons with a shotgun.

Mary had never fired a gun.

Baylee patiently coached her through safety and loading techniques. She showed her how to stand and properly hold the 20 gauge over and under then let her have a few shots. Let’s just say that no clay pigeons were injured in the making of this story!

The point is that even a novice can feel comfortable shooting at and eventually hitting the clay “birds.”

For the record, I hit a few and missed a few, but I had a blast doing it. (Pun intended)

John Carlin shoots at clay pigeons while at Pipestem State Park (WSLS)

Resting at Pipestem

And if hitting your target means relaxing, Pipestem now offers on-premises spa treatments. So you can go from savage axe thrower to peaceful relaxation in just a matter of minutes.

If you really want to see the park close up, you can hike on the many trails, or you can go for a spin on an e-bike – where you only pedal if you want to.

Unlike the recent story I did in Roanoke, where we tackled Mill Mountain on e-mountain bikes, these bikes are ready to go for anyone who has ever ridden a bicycle. They are equipped with a throttle, and with a flick of your wrist, you are off and riding. You literally don’t have to pedal if you don’t want to.

On the other hand, if you are looking for a workout, the bike can be dialed back to offer less assistance and you can build up quite a sweat.

John's wife, Mary, preparing to ride bikes at Pipestem State Park (WSLS)

Dining at Pipestem

The park offers two dining options, but for dinner, we opted to drive to a restaurant just off the grounds at the Oak, a well-established fine dining eatery named after the massive Oak tree in the yard, estimated to be hundreds of years old.

After a day of the fresh outdoors, our hunger was rewarded with a fantastic surf and turf, complimented with a fantastic California Cabernet.

John's Surf & Turf dish from the fine-dining restaurant at Pipestem State Park (WSLS)


The real sweet spot is hanging from a wire for the park’s zipline tour.

After a safety briefing and a half-mile downhill hike, our guides had us gliding through and over the trees.

The tour evolves from a series of zips below the treeline to more and more elevation.

Taylor and Russell Nuckles of Huntington were zip-lining newbies. They joined our group willing to share their thoughts and face their nervousness.

All told it’s about 4 miles of touring on the wire.

“We’ve got nine zip lines out here and all of them combined is 3/34 miles, 4 miles. Our longest one is pushing 1700 feet long, 300 feet in the air,” said guide Jeremy Harsanye.

Each trek on the wire seems to get better, and after six, he says, you are ready for the big daddy – seven. “Seven is heaven,” he said.

It kind of is. You almost feel that high. Seven starts fast and in the trees, then all of a sudden you are there, 300 feet up over the Bluestone River Gorge.

“That was exciting, I thought the views were the best,” Taylor Nuckles said.

Just for grins it began raining for our final zips, which gets you wet and makes the zipping even faster.

A short rappel from the final platform rounded off the zip line adventure – and a gondola ride back across the river took us home.

About the Author

John Carlin co-anchors the 5, 5:30, 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts on WSLS 10.

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