Seneca Rocks (WV)

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.

The trail starts off over an arched bridge.
The trail starts off over an arched bridge.

Adam Says…

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.

The view from the Seneca Rocks viewing platform.
The view from the Seneca Rocks viewing platform. Below: Adam at the warning sign; More views

sign seneca rocks_1

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.

Christine Says…

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.

The Sites Homestead
The Sites Homestead. Below: Horseback Riders; A peek between the rocks.

seneca rocks horses seneca rocks_3

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.  You used to be able to take a guided horseback ride to the top, but Yokum’s Stables stopped operating in September of 2015.

Trail Notes

  • 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.

22 thoughts on “Seneca Rocks (WV)

  1. Matt

    There are many hiking trials out there that require you stay pitch tent so many feet away from trails. Does anyone know if there is a rule anywhere near Seneca Rocks where you would need to pitch tent away from trails. Does anyone know where good places are to pitch tents? Thank you


    • virginiatrailschristine

      I’m not sure about the official camping policies along the trail, but there really aren’t suitable tent sites along this particular trail. I know you can’t camp near the visitors center or picnic area. I would suggest checking out the nearby Seneca Creek-Spruce Knob area for GREAT backcountry camping. My advice… do Seneca Rocks as an easy day hike, but camp elsewhere.


    • Lester

      Seneca Rocks is part of a National Recreation Area, which means that, unlike most of the rest of the National Forest, you MAY NOT camp just anywhere. In a NRA, you must camp in the designated campgrounds, since the area is high-public-use — at Seneca, the Ntl. Forest Campground is called Seneca Shadows (across the road from the Seneca Rocks trails). If you do overnight near the Rocks and not in a campground, you can be cited for trespassing.


  2. Marty

    I am bringing a scout group to Seneca shadows in a few weeks. Can we put kayaks in the river by the swimming hole I’ve heard about? Can you tell me how far away the radio observatory would be. Thanks.


  3. Sheri Mitchell

    We are planning a trip to Seneca rock in a couple of weeks – it’s our first time in this area of West Virginia – what other things would you suggest we see in addition to Seneca rock? Is Blackwater falls far away – it also looked nice! We just want to make the most of our stay – we only have 2 1/2 days!


  4. Felicia

    Hi, I am from New York and I have bringing a group of students down to hike Seneca Rock and I was just wondering if it cost money to park or hike on the trail?

    Thank you for the help!


    • virginiatrailschristine

      Emily… I think you must be thinking of Blackwater Falls State Park. There aren’t really any waterfalls or wheelchair accessible paths at Seneca Rocks. The top of Blackwater Falls would be accessible by wheelchair. It’s not the best view of the falls, but still nice.


  5. jack d.

    I just walked the trail today for the second time with my brother. The last time i walked it was in 1990. It has drastically improved the trail is wide enough for 3 people to walk side by side and it is very easy to navigate. I highly recommend it to anyone who loves hiking and great views. Last time i walked it i was 17 yrs old and practically ran up it. I figured it may be a little harder now that im older but it is a very easy hike. Even for people who may not exercise much it is manageable, i plan on walking it again soon with my wife. Very nice trail and great view…the only downside was that it rained really hard and we got soaked but it was all worth it. 🙂


  6. disappearingwoman

    Hi there! It’s been awhile since I’ve been to Seneca Rocks (10 years or so) and would like to plan a weekend with my husband. Where would you suggest staying? I love being outdoors; hiking, swimming, boating, fishing, but I also like staying in a nice hotel, rather than a cabin or tent–unless the cabins are luxurious! 🙂 Thank you for any suggestions.


    • virginiatrailschristine

      We usually stay about 25 minutes north – in Canaan Valley. It’s a resort area with lots of nice rental houses. Also, the lodge at the state park just underwent a large/modern renovation. It’s very nice, too. There are more restaurants in the Canaan/Davis/Thomas area, too. If you do end up staying in the area, don’t miss visiting Tip Top Cafe in Thomas.


    • disappearingwoman

      Thank you so much for your information. My daughter and her finance are also looking for a getaway, too!

      I’ve stayed in Canaan Valley several times, in fact, we stayed there ten years ago. Thank you for your suggestion about the Tip Top Café. We’re planning the trip in August for our anniversary. I really appreciate your quick feedback. I’m in the Eastern Panhandle of WV 50 mins. outside of Washington, DC. I love your area. I’m going to follow you so I can keep in contact better with the goings on in the rest of the state! 🙂


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