Seneca Rocks – West Virginia
The formation of Seneca Rocks is an exciting landmark for all to see. The trail is a pleasant three-mile hike along gentle uphill grades and switchbacks. The summit has a viewing platform suitable for all hikers and the opportunity for more adventurous folks to scramble out onto the exposed rock face for a more dramatic view.
When people first see the sheer rock face of Seneca, most probably assume they’re in for a really tough hike. However, I was surprised to find that this hike is not as difficult at all. This was my second time hiking up Seneca Rocks.
Seneca Rocks is probably most known among rock-climbers. You may see several dots scaling the face from the parking lot. There are multiple paths up the sections of rocks, but it is not for amateurs. Seneca Rocks is made of Tuscarora quartzite.
The trail starts off from the parking lot opposite of the Sites Homestead. You will see a sign marking the beginning of the trail, mentioning that it is 1.5 miles to the top along with 1000 feet of elevation gain. You will quickly come to a bridge across the North Fork River. The trail continues on the opposite side. There are interpretive signs along the trail that will give you a lot of information about the trees and geology of the area. You will slowly rise through the forests to meet a row of stairs which starts a steeper, uphill climb. You will have several switchbacks along the trail, but they help take the pain away you would feel for a steeper hike. Once you reach the top, there is an observation platform that allows for some gorgeous views to the west.
For those that are more adventurous, you will find a sign slightly above the observation point pictured above. You can continue past this point, but it is not for the faint of heart or the feeble-footed. This path will take you to actually hike the skinny area of the top of Seneca Rocks. At some points of this climb at the very top, you will be standing on rock about the width of your body with several hundred feet of drop-off on both sides of you. The views do allow you to see to the east and west from the top, but most people should stay at the observation point. Fearful of heights, the first time I did not venture much further past the warning sign. This time, I felt a little more confident and did explore things a little further. Several people have died on this portion, so do not attempt anything that is uncomfortable.
If you are interested in geocaching, there are several to find around the Seneca Rocks area. There are more than these listed, but these are the easiest to do while on this hike. Here are the ones I found in the area:
I would highly recommend anyone interested in taking a trip to West Virginia to take some time to visit Seneca Rocks. These formations are really an amazing site and the hike up is paid off by gorgeous views that will make you truly appreciate the breath-taking scenery of West Virginia.
Seneca Rocks was the last stop of our whirlwind day in West Virginia. We’ve hiked this trail a few times, and wanted to take the time to share it on our website.
The hike is understandably the most heavily trafficked trail in all of Monongahela National Forest. Seneca Rocks has so much to see beyond its namesake attraction. The visitors center, located at the base of the rocks, is beautifully designed and is full of interesting exhibits, a theater and a small gift shop. The original visitors center burned to the ground in 1992, but the new one is even nicer than the original. The area also offers fishing, picnicking, nearby camping and even a restored homestead from the 1830’s. The Sites Homestead has lovely gardens and a spectacular view of the rock “spine” on the mountain above.
Since Adam has already described the hike itself so thoroughly, I wanted to share one of my memories from a childhood visit to Seneca Rocks. My family spent a lot of time camping and hiking in the area when I was a kid. On one trip to Seneca Rocks, I kept telling my parents that the “rock was shaped different”. My mom said that I probably didn’t remember what the rock looked like exactly. But, I insisted that a big part of the rock face had fallen right off the mountain. My parents just laughed at me. But, it turned out I was RIGHT. Two days before that visit, a large freestanding tower of rock (called the Gendarme) in the center notch of the rocks had toppled over and crumbled down the mountainside. You can see the Gendarme in this old historical engraving.
The hike to the top of Seneca is really pretty easy. But, if you want to skip the uphill walk or just want to try something different, horseback rides to the top are also an option. The horses come up a fire road and tie up near the summit to allow riders to explore. I’d love to try that sometime.
- Distance – 3 miles out and back
- Elevation Change –1000 feet
- Difficulty – 2. The entire outbound hike is uphill along gradual grades and switchbacks.
- Trail Conditions – 3.5 The trail is well-maintained.
- Views –4. The view the platform is pretty to the west, but for a better view, climb beyond the platform onto the rocks for stunning east and west views.
- Waterfalls/streams –3. The beginning of the hike takes you over an arched bridge and across a beautiful, wide section of the North Fork River. Several smaller streams converge near the trailhead.
- Wildlife – 1. We saw lots of chipmunks and a gigantic black snake.
- Ease to Navigate – 5. There is only one trail. It would be nearly impossible to get lost.
- Solitude – 0. This is the most popular trail in all of Monongahela National Forest. Everybody hikes this trail, so expect lots of company along the way.
Directions to trailhead:
Seneca Rocks sits right at the junction of Rt. 33 and Rt. 55 in West Virginia. You can’t miss it. The hike starts out across the parking lot from the historic Sites Homestead.