- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 4, 2000

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. Even the most manic Type A personality could not help but chill out in this soothing town, which boasts three times as many massage therapists as lawyers. Everywhere you look, there is another hot tub or Swedish massage.
There's another way to unwind before you splash around in mineral-rich water, though.
Before soaking, try hiking.
West Virginia is loaded with great hikes, and Cacapon Resort State Park, 10 miles south of Berkeley Springs, is one of the favorites for taking in the wonder of a fall day.
Cacapon, pronounced CaCApon, is derived from the Shawnee word meaning "medicine," a reference to the medicinal waters nearby where George Washington first soaked in 1748.
But the healing power is also here in the park's 20 miles of wooded trails that cross stream beds, wind around a small lake and hug rock piles.
At an altitude of 2,300 feet, Cacapon Mountain is not exactly Mount Whitney. The payoff is not a dramatic panoramic view.
You can find ample inspiration, however, by peering down the valleys and hollows below here in the mountains.
Deer dart by. A big, majestic bird a hawk perhaps? soars above treetops that are just starting to turn red and soon will be ablaze with color.
Gnats buzz around your head. OK, not all wildlife is wonderful. It is only after slathering ourselves with insect repellent several times that we are able to walk without swatting.
Hiking in Cacapon can be as rugged or as cushy as you want. Some hikers are content to take a leisurely half-hour stroll along the aptly named Cabin Loop Trail.
On another, more challenging path, a robust man in his 20s is pedaling up the steep incline on his mountain bike, zooming past us like a machine. His powerful thighs pump up and down, oblivious to gravity and the pebbles on the trail.
"You gonna make it to the top?" we ask incredulously.
"I'm gonna try," he says, his eyes steely with resolve, as he propels himself out of sight.
This isn't one of those shabby state parks with a campground and a few sorry cabins.
Cacapon became a resort park in 1973 after it put in an 18-hole championship golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones. The 6,000-acre retreat also has deluxe cabins, riding stables, paddle boats and other amenities. Cacapon Lodge, the newer of its two lodges, has a spacious lobby, a restaurant and a patio that overlooks the golf course,.
The lodge rooms are reasonable. We pay $61 for a simple room with wood paneling nothing fancy or charming, but somehow just right for this mountain setting. Everything is right here. After a $5.95 buffet breakfast, we walk out the door and head straight to the trails without getting in our cars.
We hike for five hours, taking a series of switchbacks until we make it to the summit. We walk along tall grass on the ridge and then catch occasional views of valleys and the golf course on the ridge going down. Half the fun, though, is meandering from one well-marked trail to the next.
Then we drive 10 miles up the road to Berkeley Springs to soak in the medicinal waters, which gurgle from the base of a steep ridge in the village square.
Though there are various contemporary spas with fancy wraps and soaks, my favorite place is the popular bathhouse of Berkeley Springs State Park.
It is as unpretentious a spa as you will ever find.
The place is steeped in history. In 1748, 16-year-old George Washington visited the springs as a member of a surveying party and wrote in his diary, "March 18th, 1748, We this day called to see Ye Fam'd Warm Springs."
In the late 1770s, Washington and other Revolutionary hotshots, including five generals and three signers of the Declaration of Independence, purchased land here, establishing its reputation as a health resort.
The bathhouse is still so popular, we have to call days ahead to make a reservation for a weekend soak or massage.
No one seems to mind changing into bathing suits in shabby bathrooms that have all the atmosphere of an old YMCA. Lockers? Forget it. Clothes are carried into the soaking room.
But what do you expect for $10 per person per half-hour? It's the best deal around, unless you count the youngsters splashing around in the runoff in pools outside. Their mineral-water dousing is free.
Once we submerge ourselves in 750 gallons of warm water fortified with sodium chloride, sodium sulfate and other minerals, it feels as luxurious as an exclusive spa.
Later, we will enjoy a beer and a wonderful meal at Tari's, a very cool restaurant/art gallery a block away.
For now, though, we're content sitting and soaking, letting all the aches and kinks from the hiking trail melt away.
For more information, call Cacapon Resort State Park at 304/258-1022, or log onto https://wvweb.com/www/cacapon.html. For West Virginia information, call 800/CALL-WVA.

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