Dolly Sods – Rohrbaugh Plains to Red Creek (WV)

This 10 mile (round-trip) hike takes you past some of Dolly Sods most beautiful scenery.  The dense rhododendron thickets, unblazed trails, and rugged terrain will have you feeling like you’re truly in the wild.  Camping along Red Creek is popular and can be crowded with weekend backpackers, but it’s still one of West Virginia’s most spectacular places.

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Beautiful Red Creek
Beautiful Red Creek was our destination for this short overnighter. Below: Our excellent hiking crew (Maia the dog not included in the photo!);  Making our way onto the Rohrbaugh Plains Trail; The trail is only lightly maintained so you have to climb blowdowns and navigate without the help of blazes.

Our Hiking Crew Start of the Rohrbaugh Plains Trai Rohrbaugh Plains Trail

Day One…

Back in early June, we were at happy hour with our friends Christy and Brian.  Over beers, we cooked up a vague plan for a weekend backpacking trip in late July.  In the weeks to come, we added our mutual friend, Kris, into the mix and settled on a route.  The plan was to take two cars, and do a trans-navigation of Dolly Sods starting at the picnic area and ending at Bear Rocks.  It was about a 16 mile route with tons of camping options along Red Creek.

As it turned out, a heat wave settled over the mid-Atlantic that weekend.  It was the hottest, most humid weekend of the summer.  We still thought we could make the full 16 miles, so we met at Bear Rocks and shuttled in our car to the start point at the Dolly Sods Picnic area.  On the ride, we learned that you really can fit five adults, five big backpacks, and one German Shepherd in a Subaru Forester. It was like a clown car!

We parked at a small pullout near the picnic area, and picked up the Rohrbaugh Plains Trail on the opposite side of the road.  The trail meandered through dense rhododendron forest.  A lot of the rhododendron was Rosebay near the peak of its bloom.  So pretty! The air was thick, still, and heavy with humidity. It felt like walking through the jungle.  At one point, Kris said, “I feel like we might see monkeys!’

Meadows on the Rohrbaugh Trail
Walking through meadows. Below: Maia enjoys a shady pool under the rhododendrons; Walking across Rohrbaugh Cliffs; A nice spot for lunch!

Maia Enjoys a Shady Pool Arriving at Rohrbaugh Cliffs Lunch Stop

The trails in Dolly Sods are well-traveled but very lightly maintained.  There are no blazes.  The only wayfinding signs are at trail junctions.  There are lots of rocks, blowdowns, and mud pits to navigate. Even though the area is complete wilderness, the high traffic through the area keeps the trails apparent and fairly easy to follow.

We walked the Rohrbaugh Plains trail for about 2.5 miles before reaching the spectacular viewpoint off Rohrbaugh Cliffs.  The area is near and dear to my heart because it was one of the first places I ever camped in the backcountry. The cliffs offer great views across the valley to the Lions Head (another popular rocky outcropping in Dolly Sods) and down into the Red Creek basin.  Just past the cliffs, there is a patch of open forest with space for many tents.  It’s still one of the most beautiful campsites I’ve ever had the pleasure of staying at.

We decided to take a lunch break at the cliffs.  At first, the breeze across the open terrain felt nice.  Maybe the heat wasn’t so bad?  But after a few minutes of sitting in the direct sun, we were all pretty hot.  I could feel my shoulders starting to burn.  After lunch, we packed up and continued another .6 mile down the Rohrbaugh Plains Trail.  At 3.1 miles, we passed the junction with the Wildlife Trail.  We stayed to the left, continuing on the Rohrbaugh Plains trail.

We passed a small (mostly dry) waterfall and crossed over some extremely rocky footing. At 3.5 miles the Rohrbaugh Trail meets the Fisher Spring Run Trail.  We followed the Fisher Spring Trail to the left, beginning to descend for 1.2 miles.  At first the descent is smooth a gradual, but it becomes steeper and follows a couple switchbacks down to a rocky crossing of Fisher Spring Run.

Setting Up Camp
We set up camp at a large site along Red Creek. Below: Most of the trails in Dolly Sods are rocky; Crossing Fisher Springs Run before arriving at camp; Our campsite had a private swimming hole nearby.

Rocky Trail Crossing Fisher Spring Run Our Private Swimming Hole

After the crossing , the trail follows the stream on high ground.  There are several nice campsites at the bottom of extremely steep spur trails.  A few sections of this trail are quite eroded, leaving the trail narrow and precipitous.  Take your time and watch your footing, especially if you’re carrying a heavy pack.

At 4.7 miles the Fisher Spring Run Trail ends at the Red Creek Trail.  We took a right, following the trail down toward Red Creek.  In about three tenths of a mile, we passed the first of many stellar campsites.  At the very first one, I thought to myself, “That’s a really sweet campsite.  I wouldn’t mind sleeping here!’

Our group decided to take a break and discuss camping plans and how much of the route we wanted to cover on day one of our trip.  We all agreed that we were pretty hot, the campsite was ideal, and Red Creek looked really inviting.  We figured on day two, we could either hike 11 miles or hike out the way we came in and make our trip a short 10-mile out-and-back.

Adam and I explored several more campsites along the stream before agreeing that the very first site was the prettiest and most private.  There was easily space for four tents.  The ground was flat and clear.  We had easy access to water.  We even had a large fire pit with a stone couch someone had constructed. We all unpacked and set up camp. Maia, our friends’ German Shepherd, supervised the operations.  She was on her first backpacking trip ever, and she took to it like a pro!

Red Creek
Red Creek is a beautiful place to camp and swim.  Below:  Fun in the water and fun at camp!

Swimming in Red Creek Swimming in Red Creek Swimming in Red Creek
Swimming in Red Creek Enjoying Red Creek red creek 18

It was only around 2:30, so most of us spent the entire afternoon swimming and playing in Red Creek. The water was so cold and refreshing. The small rapids and waterfalls felt like hydrotherapy for our hot, tired muscles. Adam opted to restock everyone’s water and read a book at camp, but even he enjoyed splashing in the cold water near camp.

Around 5:00 we decided to get dinner started.  Everyone brought their own dinner, but Christy and Brian brought a shared dessert – Rocky Road pudding.  Kris contributed a two-bottle capacity bag of wine to the feast.  After dinner we played cards and sat around our campfire.  Even at 9:00 p.m., it was still 75 degrees.  That’s unusually warm for Dolly Sods at night!

Around 10:00 we let the fire die down, and everyone started retreating to their tents.  Adam and I opted to leave the rain fly off in hopes that it would keep us cooler.  Honestly, it didn’t really cool off until sometime around 3:00 a.m.  It was a steamy night and I was very glad to have left my sleeping bag home in favor of a light summer quilt.  I enjoyed falling asleep to the sound of the running stream.  Any time I woke up during the night, I took a moment to marvel at the brilliance and magnitude of the stars in the sky.  It’s such a gift to be able to visit places like this and have good friends to share the experience. I felt so fortunate that night in my tent.

Day Two…

The next morning we awoke at daybreak.  We thought Maia would have woken up the group, but she was a perfect camp companion and let us get up when we wanted.  We enjoyed some of Christine’s homemade granola with Nido and then made our way back to the car.  With a warm night and temperatures climbing quickly in the morning, we decided to get an early start to get back to our cars before the temperatures peaked in the afternoon.  It is always uncomfortable when you feel like you never had a chance to cool down, so everyone felt hot within a few minutes back on the trail.

Camp Dog
Maia did great on her first backpacking trip. Below: Hiking back out the way we came in!

Hiking Out Hot and Humid More Rocks to Cross

We climbed back up the steep Red Creek Trail and Fisher Spring Run trail very slowly as we were all quickly drenched with sweat.  We got back to the junction with the Rohrbaugh Trail in about 1.5 miles and we knew our toughest work was behind us.  In another .4 miles, we reached the junction with the Wildlife Trail and took a right to make our way to the Rohrbaugh Cliffs again.  We paused for a snack and some more pictures from Rohrbaugh Cliffs, which is probably my favorite spot in Dolly Sods.  Looking over the creek and seeing nothing but mountains around you is a scene that begs you to pause and appreciate nature.

Rohrbaugh Cliffs
Taking in the view from Rohrbaugh Cliffs. Below: The small waterfall along the Rohrbaugh Trail was running very low; Climbing on the rocks of Rohrbaugh Cliffs; Back to the Forest Road.

Small Waterfall Rohrbaugh Cliffs The End

With the strong sun beating down, we decided to press on and continue our journey back to the car.  We made our way back fairly quickly, passing by a group of about 10 women that were enjoying the weekend as well.  We got back to our car just a bit before lunch and carpooled Christy, Brian, and Maia back to their car.  We had a great adventure together and we were really glad to share this amazing piece of wilderness.  We parted ways with Christy and Brian, and Christine, Kris, and I headed to Lost River Brewing Company in Wardensville, WV for some celebratory beers and food.  It was a great trip, but we vowed to return when it isn’t the hottest weekend of the year to do the traverse across Dolly Sods like we originally planned.

If you are looking for a hike or overnight trip that combines majestic views, creeks with a waterfall and swimming possibilities, and great overnight camping, this may be a perfect one to experience.

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 10 miles
    (Check out the stats from Map My Hike [Day One] [Day Two])*
  • Elevation Change –  1480 feet
  • Difficulty – 3.  The elevation gain/loss is moderate, but the rugged nature of the footing adds difficulty to this route.
  • Trail Conditions –  2.  Trails are unblazed.  Be prepared for mud, blowdowns, and lots of rocks.
  • Views – 5.  The view from Rohrbaugh Cliffs is pretty spectacular!
  • Waterfalls/streams – 5.  You will want to spend all day enjoying the beautiful rapids and waterfalls along Red Creek.  This is some of the best stream swimming in West Virginia.
  • Wildlife – 2.  We saw a white tail doe with two fawns on the drive in, but generally the woods were quiet and we didn’t feel like there was much wildlife in the camping area.
  • Ease to Navigate – 2.  There are no blazes, but junctions were marked, and the trail was generally easy to follow.  Navigation gets trickier near Red Creek where you depend on cairns to mark stream crossings.
  • Solitude – 3.  This is tough to call!  We saw almost nobody on the trail when we were hiking, but there were many people camped along Red Creek.

MapMyHike is not necessarily accurate, as the GPS signal fades in and out – but it still provides some fun and interesting information.

Download a trail map (PDF)

Directions to trailhead:  GPS Coordinates for Parking are 38.962019, -79.355024. From Seneca Rocks, go North on WV 28 for 12 miles.  Take a left on Jordan Run Road.  Go one mile up Jordan Run Road and take a left on to Forest Road 19.  In 6 miles, Forest Road 19 comes to a T on to Forest Road 75.  Take a right, heading north on Forest Road 75.  Drive for about eight miles until you reach the Dolly Sods Picnic Area. The Rohrbaugh Plains Trailhead will be across the road from the picnic area.

Table Rock (WV)

The drive to the trailhead is probably tougher than the actual hike, but this 2.4 mile out-and-back in the Canaan Backcountry has spectacular views and is well worth the bumpy ride to get to the trail’s start!

Christine on Table Rock
Table Rock has great views of the valley. Below: When the weather has been wet, there are several muddy sections to cross (it was quite dry when we visited); Later this summer, the rocks will be covered with blueberries.

Muddy Crossing Blueberry Blooms

Adam Says…

This hike was definitely one of those pleasant surprises you find once in a while.  We have been going to Canaan Valley for years (my wife has been going since she was a kid) and we never knew about this great place for hiking that was just a short distance from where we always stay.  I’ve driven by the Canaan Loop Road and thought to myself, “I wonder where that road goes.”  If I had known earlier that it led to this area of hiking, we would have tried this out a long time ago.

We had picked up the Day & Overnight Hikes: West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest book a couple of years ago and have done a few of the hikes before.  This one led us right to the Canaan Loop Road for this great out-and-back hike.  When we started on the road, we passed by a few houses on the gravel, pothole-laden road and then quickly came upon a school bus parked in the middle of the road, blocking any traffic.  I thought this was odd (and possibly a little like the start to a horror movie), but I didn’t see anyone inside.  I walked up and saw a man about halfway down the bus that was straightening some things up.  I asked if he was moving and he darted up front, started the bus, and gunned it down the road.  We followed the bus for a while, but it was quickly leaving us in the dust kicked up from the gravel road.  After a few miles, we came upon the bus again as it was parking for a scouting group that looked like they were packing up after a large picnic.  We continued past the group on a very bumpy and narrow road that has some precarious edges that you just pray that another car doesn’t come the other way.  We only came across one other vehicle on the road, but I would warn you to be cautious as you make your way along the road and drive slowly.

Thick Rhododendron
The rhododendron along this trail was thick and jungle-like. There were lots of buds, so it should be a pretty bloom this year! Below: Trails are not typically well-marked in the Canaan backcountry; Adam walks through open forest; Crossing another muddy section.

Trailhead Sign Open Forest Mucky

After driving for exactly 10 miles on the Canaan Loop Road, we came to the parking area to the left for Table Rock.  We started down the trail.  The trail is technically blue-blazed, but you will likely only see a few of these blazes on the trees.  The trail is fairly obvious, but I can imagine after the leaves first fall, it could be a little tough to find your way.  The trail starts almost in a jungle of rhododendron, but that quickly opens up to an open forest of larger beech, maple, and birch trees.  The trail stays relatively flat the entire way and there are a few areas of mucky ground or pools.  Rocks and logs have been placed over in some of these to help you traverse, but in some areas after a good rain, you will likely need to get your shoes wet.  After about 1.1 miles, you come across a campsite.  Just ahead is Table Rock.

The outcropping has phenomenal views.  The rocks have crevasses that can be quite deep, so watch where you are stepping and be careful around the edges since there are huge drops below.  Since this place isn’t visited often except by locals, this will be a great off-the-beaten path hike that you can likely enjoy the views all by yourself.  The spruce-covered mountain across the gorge is Green Mountain.   Since this trail is flat, almost anyone could enjoy this hike.

It was quite breezy at the top and I had to hold my hat a few times as the wind picked up.  You can tell that this area does get a lot of wind that funnels quickly through the gorge.  We look forward to coming back to this area sometime soon and visit some of the other trails that crisscross around the Canaan Loop Road.

Christine Says…

Normally when we visit the Canaan Valley area, it’s all about hiking and nature and waterfalls!  This visit was all about… cleaning.  Adam and I agreed to take care of the annual spring cleaning of my parents’ rental property in the area.  In the three days we were there, we scrubbed, scoured, swept and probably did more than 20 loads of laundry.  It wasn’t a fun trip, but we did manage to get out for one short, nearby hike.

I have no idea how the trails off the Canaan Loop Road escaped our notice.  I guess when you’re close to Dolly Sods, Seneca Rocks, and Spruce Knob, other trails fall a bit by the wayside.  But, I’m really glad we took the time to drive the ten bumpy miles to this trailhead.

Greening Up
I love watching green creep up the mountainsides each spring. Below: Lovely trillium, A couple views of Table Rock.

Trillium Table Rock Table Rock

The hike to Table Rock was short, but had a spectacular payoff in terms of views and solitude.  The path led through gorgeous forest, alternating between dense stands of rhododendron and open, mossy forest.  The whole route is flat and easy, so in about 20-30 minutes, you’re already at the overlook.  The rocky shelf stands over a magnificent, undeveloped valley.  When we visited in mid-spring, the emergence of leaves created the effect of green creeping up the mountainsides.  So beautiful!  There were tons of blooming blueberry bushes in the area, too. It would be nice to visit in August and pick berries!

I also enjoyed the Painted Trillium along the trail.  Most of the trillium I see along the trails in Shenandoah is plain white or pink, so seeing a different variety was a nice change of pace.  We were there a little too early to see the rhododendron bloom, but most of the plants were abundant with buds.  It should be really pretty when they finally open!

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 2.4 miles
    (Check out the stats from MapMyHike)*
  • Elevation Change –  195 ft
  • Difficulty – 1. This trail is very flat, so just about anyone could enjoy it.
  • Trail Conditions – 3.5.  The trail isn’t that well-used, but it was still a worn path.  You may have to do a little rock-hopping to make it across some of the larger puddles.
  • Views4. Breathtaking views are clear from this point.  We enjoy not being able to see houses from great viewpoints and you shouldn’t see many signs of civilization from this outcropping.
  • Waterfalls/streams – 0. Non-existent.
  • Wildlife – 2. Other than a few birds, we didn’t see anything on the trail. 
  • Ease to Navigate – 3. There is only one trail on this hike, so there shouldn’t be any confusion.  The only reason to downgrade this is because it is not blazed often at all and in the fall it could be a little challenging to follow the path.
  • Solitude – 5.  We didn’t see anyone on a beautiful weekend day in the afternoon. 

Directions to trailhead:

From Davis, WV, head south on WV 32.  In 3.2 miles, turn right on to Canaan Loop Road (Forest Service Road 13).  Follow the road for exactly 10 miles.  The parking area is on the left and there is a wooden sign that shows the beginning of the trailhead.

* MapMyHike is not necessarily accurate, as the GPS signal fades in and out – but it still provides some fun and interesting information.

Blackbird Knob – Dolly Sods (WV)

This 5.8 mile out-and-back hike along the Blackbird Knob trail gives you a sampling of many of the beauties offered by the Dolly Sods Wilderness area. While you don’t get any high-up, panoramic vistas, you still get amazing views across the high plateau.

Adam and Wookie in Dolly Sods
Dolly Sods is spectacular in the Fall. Below: Trailhead along the forest road; Off to a chilly start! The morning was breezy and in the 30s; Dolly Sods is famous for turning crimson in the fall.

Forest Road Off to a Chilly Start Berry Bushes Turn Crimson

Adam Says…

Fall is here!  At least it has arrived in Dolly Sods.  For those that haven’t been to visit out this wilderness area on the eastern side of West Virginia, you will be impressed by the terrain.  I have read many times that the terrain and climate up here is more similar to Canada than the surrounding areas of West Virginia and Virginia.  You will quickly notice that the vegetation is just different here – you’ll see spruce and conifers in one direction and blueberry bushes and boggy areas in another.

After hyper-extending my knee on our last backpacking trip, I was thinking another trip the next weekend would be a little too much of a re-injury risk.  But, we wanted to do something fun since it was Christine’s birthday, so I suggested that we spend the weekend in Canaan Valley to enjoy some of the early fall color.  The last weekend of September is usually the Leaf Peepers Festival in Canaan Valley, but we were hoping for some fall color the week before and we weren’t disappointed.

Wilderness Wookie Enjoys Dolly Sods
Wookie rests on a warm rock in the sun. Below: Christine checks out a trail marker.  There are very few signs and no blazes in Dolly Sods; Fall color is starting to pop; Walking past a colorful maple.

Trail Sign Fall is Starting Walking Past the Maples

I feel it is necessary to put out a few warnings about Dolly Sods.  First, the trails are not well-marked.  They typically will have some trails marked at intersections, but there are no blazes on the trails and if you wander off on something that looks like a trail, you could become lost.  Second, the road to get to and through Dolly Sods is very rough.  You won’t see many Toyota Prius-like cars on this road.  We approached it from Canaan Valley and there are some scary roads to drive up.  You are on a road barely able to fit two cars with a large drop-off on the side.  We were almost hit by some locals barreling down a blind curve on the road and they only missed hitting us by a couple of inches.  The road through Dolly Sods is also extremely rough and filled with potholes.  We’ve gotten a flat tire up here before and hope to never experience that again.  You’ll need to drive very slowly and steer away from any potholes or sharp rocks sticking up.  Four-wheel drive is not completely necessary, but it may give you ease of mind.  Third, good maps are hard to find.  As I mentioned on our Rohrbaugh Plains post, probably the best maps are available online.  If you are looking for printed maps, we’ve bought quadrant maps of the Dolly Sods area from the nearby Seneca Rocks Discovery Center, but I’ve found some flaws with these marking trails properly (the quad for Blackbird Knob showed the knob on the wrong side of the trail).  The online maps area also from 2006 and the quads are mostly from 1995.

For the hike to Blackbird Knob, we parked on the eastern side of the road just north of the Red Creek Campground area.  You should see the large trailhead sign on the western side of the road just past the campground area.  You quickly cross a boardwalk over a boggy area and then you will pass a large open area of pine forest to the right.  In .3 miles, you will come to a grey sign that shows the trail goes to the left deeper into the woods.  You may not see a trail to the left, but follow the sign and you will begin to see cairns that will lead you back to where the trail is more apparent.  At .5 miles, the trail opens up to a larger field with nice views around you.  The trail begins to descend at this point, but you will still see some views as you are walking through an open field.  At mile 1.1, you reach Alder Run, which requires a small rock-hop to get across.  You will then go slightly uphill through the forest again, but it will soon open up to more views.  The trail then goes back into the woods and you will arrive at Red Creek at 1.6 miles.  You will need to do more substantial rock-hopping to get across, but we didn’t have any trouble.  The trail goes steeply uphill at this point.  At 1.8 miles, the trail again opens up to spectacular views.  You will shortly come across a junction with the Upper Red Creek Trail at 1.9 miles.  Stay straight on the trail and you’ll duck back into forest.  At 2.1 miles, you’ll reach another junction with the Red Creek Trail, which leads back to the campground.  Stay straight again and it will finally open up to spectacular views.  You are then making your way along the circumference of Blackbird Knob.  Gorgeous fields with ridge views to the left give you many options to take in the sites.  There are boulders on the hillside that seem to be placed by nature as auditorium seats to enjoy this area of wilderness.  We continued along the trail until about 2.9 miles, when the trail was going to continue back into the woods.  We turned back and returned the way we came.

Berry Bushes
Color everywhere! Below: Fall foliage scenery along the Blackbird Knob Trail. Below: Enjoying the fall color.

Dolly Sods is Spectacular in the Fall Fall Color in Dolly Sods Maple

Time for a few confessions.  We had packed our bags fairly quickly to head out for our hike.  I forgot to pack the lunch that we were going to eat on the hike.  All that I brought with us was a small bag of nut-heavy trail mix.  Christine has a mild nut allergy, so we were a little concerned about food.  I remembered that I left some Combos in the car, so we were saved with that.  But, I need to learn to be a little better prepared when going into this area.  As I mentioned before, maps of Dolly Sods are hard to find and trails are not marked very well.  We were surprised how many people just came out here and were hiking without maps.  We ran into a few guys that were unsure of where they were going.  I showed them where we were on our map and they said they would just go on ahead and hope they can catch a trail that will eventually loop them back to where they were.  Not the smartest strategy.

We really enjoyed our trip to Dolly Sods to explore this area.  Since we hadn’t received much fall color yet in Virginia, it felt like we had a private advanced screening of the color that we’ll experience here in a few weeks.

Christine Says…

Dolly Sods is somewhat of a phoenix that has risen from the ashes.  Its rugged beauty is actually a mask that belies years of abuse and damage.  Until 1930, Dolly Sods was heavily logged.  Entire mountainsides were stripped bare of their pristine, old-growth forest.  The largest tree ever harvested in West Virginia came from this area – a magnificent white oak – about 1000 years old and nearly as big as a Giant Sequoia.  Once the hillsides were barren, woodchips, fallen pine needles and small trees dried in the sun and became perfect fodder for catastrophic fires.  Flames consumed more than 24,000 acres, scorching the earth down to bare rock.  After the logging industry closed up, the government purchased the land.  In the 1940s, Dolly Sods was used as a training range for the military.  As recently as 2006, a significant amount of unexploded ordnance was still being found along trails.

Red Creek
Red Creek gets its red color from tannins.  Below: Adam and Wookie cross; Fall color and a rocky stream bed; Trail marker in Dolly Sods.

Stream Crossing Fall Along the Creek Trail Sign

Despite all the damage the land has endured, it is still one of the most breathtaking places in the entire mid-Atlantic.  I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that there is nothing else like it.  We were lucky enough to visit this fall on one of those perfect, technicolor, early fall days.  The sunshine was sparkling, the sky was crystal clear and deep blue.  Already, maples were turning to flame-color and entire hillsides of fern were glowing and golden.  While Dolly Sods is rugged as a whole, the Blackbird Knob Trail is gentle and without much change in elevation.  Because it was an easy hike, we decided to bring Wookie along.  He was so excited to finally be on a hike!

We started out along a clear path through the woods, but at the first trail sign, we became a little confused.  The obvious, worn path led in the opposite direction of the directional marker on the trail sign.  We sat and pondered for a moment.  We consulted a map.  We didn’t see any sign at all of a trail leading in the arrow’s direction, so we assumed a prankster had turned the sign.  We took the trail a short way uphill before it dead-ended in a thicket of laurels.  We backtracked and followed the arrow’s direction.  For a short while, we were just walking through the woods, but eventually we spotted the cairn and then finally we were back on worn trail.  This is very typical of Dolly Sods!

The first open view came shortly after our brief detour.  From a pile of rocks, we could see all across the high plateau.  Distant hillsides were already covered with red foliage.  The open meadows were covered with crimson berry bushes and tall, tawny grass.  We all stopped to enjoy the perfect fall day –  I snapped photos and Wookie stretched out on a warm rock.  After a brief stop, we continued along.  A few minutes later, we passed a pair of backpackers.  Then we passed three more.  Then we passed five more.  Passing backpackers became pretty much the ‘norm’ for the rest of the hike.  All in all, I’m sure we saw thirty or more people out for the weekend. Typically,  I think of Dolly Sods as being rather remote and isolated.  On this particular weekend, it was not the case.  People were everywhere!

Ferns and Fall Color
It was a technicolor day in Dolly Sods.  Below: Adam hikes across the open terrain; Fall color all along the hillside; Christine enjoys the fall color.

Hiking Along Fall Color in Dolly Sods Christine Enjoying the View

Throughout the hike, the trail passed in and out of trees and open spaces.  We crossed Alder Creek and Red Creek.  Both were running, but on the low side.  I’ve heard that streams are often uncrossable in Dolly Sods in the spring.  It’s hard to imagine that when you see them running so meagerly in the early fall.  Red Creek was especially lovely.  Tannins give the water a rich, reddish color.  I suppose the name ‘Red Creek’ is very well-suited for this body of water!

When we reached the end-point of the hike, we stopped for a snack.  As Adam mentioned, he forgot our lunches.  So, he ate peanuts and cashews, while I picked all of the remaining M&Ms out of the trail mix.  It was enough to tide me over for the walk back to the car.  Honestly, it was such an easy hike that it really didn’t require that much energy.  It also left me nice and hungry for an early dinner at Hellbender Burritos.  For a tiny town, Davis, WV has two very good restaurants (the other is Sirianni’s Pizza Cafe).  At Hellbender, I got my favorite Gendarme burrito.  It’s basically a steak and cheese in a bowl – medium rare chunks of steak, smothered with grilled onions and peppers and then doused with queso.  Yum! And even better (or worse… depends on how I look at it), I discovered Harpoon Pumpkin Cider.  I’m a very picky beer person, but I really like most hard cider, and this seasonal pumpkin cider might be the best thing I’ve ever had to drink!  Sadly, it’s very, very hard to find in our area.  Even the local beverage shop can’t special order it and it’s nowhere to be found in stores.

Wookie Says...Wookie Says…

Sometimes the tail says it all.  What I mean by that is that on this hike for most of the way, my tail stayed nice and curled.  When I get tired, it tends to start drooping like a flag slowly being brought down the pole.  But I really enjoyed myself in Dolly Sods Wilderness.  This was my first trip out there.  Christine and Adam often call me, “Wilderness Wookie”, but this was the first time I have been in true designated wilderness area.

Wookie Crossing Red Creek
Wookie crosses the stream. Below: Adam and Wookie hike on the return leg of the out-and-back; Adam enjoys fall color; Don’t miss a visit to Bear Rocks when you’re in Dolly Sods.

Wookie and Adam Hike Hillside of Color in Dolly Sods Don't Miss a Visit to Bear Rock

My highlights of the trip were when first reached the open field around .5 miles.  I spread out on a nice rock, sniffed the brisk, fall air and enjoyed the views.  I also really enjoyed eating a few cashews from the base of Blackbird Knob.  Christine poured a little rock in a natural bowl in the rock and Adam gave me some nuts to help me re-energize for the return trip.

My lowlights of the trip were crossing Red Creek and the initial boardwalk.  The boardwalk made me a little uncomfortable since there were spaces where my paws could have slipped through.  Crossing Red Creek was a little more troublesome.  I really don’t like getting my feet wet.  But, I took a wrong step and got my front paws wet.  I jumped back away from the water and then made a successful second pass.  My tail immediately went down to let Adam and Christine know that I didn’t like getting wet.  I don’t mind mud as much and my feet did get quite muddy along the trail.  But by the time that we got back to the car, most of the mud had come off.

Going almost six miles is a little taxing for a pug.  For some reason, I don’t see a lot of other hiking pugs out there.  When we got to the car, I immediately fell asleep and was snoring loudly by the time that we got moving.  Of course, when we got back home I had to strut my stuff and tell my brothers, Yoda and Mojo, that I went on a great hike.  I’m glad it’s finally getting a little cooler again so I can get back on the trails.  Wilderness Wookie is ready to do some more fall hiking!

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 5.8 miles.
    (Check out the stats from MapMyHike)*
  • Elevation Change –  440 feet
  • Difficulty – 1.5. The trail is not that steep at all, so most people should be able to handle it.
  • Trail Conditions – 3.  The trail was in decent condition and was not overly rocky or muddy today.  I do think mud could be a problem after larger rainfalls though. 
  • Views3.  While you don’t get views from a big overlook, the scenery along the way is quite gorgeous.  Open fields and views of mountain ridges in the distance give you a lot to see.
  • Waterfalls/streams – 4. Red Creek gives you a reliable water source and picturesque stream views.  There are plenty of backcountry campsites near the stream if you are planning an overnight backpack trip.
  • Wildlife – 3. While we didn’t see any large wildlife on this trip, the area has plenty of wildlife.
  • Ease to Navigate –2.5. As we’ve mentioned, trails are not blazed and only some junctions are marked with signage. 
  • Solitude –2.  We saw over 30 people on the trail.  Most of these were backpacking groups.  If you go on a nice weekend from Spring-Fall, expect to see others.

Directions to trailhead: From Seneca Rocks, go North on WV 28 for 12 miles.  Take a left on Jordan Run Road.  Go one mile up Jordan Run Road and take a left on to Forest Road 19.  In 6 miles, Forest Road 19 comes to a T on to Forest Road 75.  Take a right, heading north on the gravel Forest Road 75.  Drive for five miles until you pass the Red Creek Campground parking on the left.  Park on the opposite side of the road where the grey trailhead marker is located.

* MapMyHike is not necessarily accurate, as the GPS signal fades in and out – but it still provides some fun and interesting information.

A Birthday on North Fork Mountain

We initially intended Adam’s birthday hike on North Fork Mountain (West Virginia) to be the subject of a standard blog post. However, once we finished the hike, reviewed a couple maps and discussed the post, we decided that we’re going to hike it again in the next month or so with a different (and better!) route in mind.  To tide everyone over for the time being, please enjoy a couple photos of the views along the hike.  Trust us… these are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to scenery!

Adam Enjoys the View
Adam enjoys his birthday view!
Tuscorora Cliff
Tuscarora quartzite makes up the cliffs along the crest of North Fork Mountain.

Fisher Springs Run/Rohrbaugh Plains – Dolly Sods (WV)

The Fisher Springs Run – Rohrbaugh Plains hike is a five mile out-and-back that leads to spectacular wilderness views from a cliffside.

Rohrbaugh Cliffs at Sunset
Rohrbaugh Cliffs at Sunset. Below: Gearing up at the car before starting the hike;  Making the short walk down Forest Road 75; Adam points out our route on the trail sign.

Gearing Up Forest Road 75 Trail Sign

Christine and Adam Say…

For this particular post, we decided to team up and write one massive post, instead of the normal ‘He Says, She Says’ versions. Enjoy!)

Last year, we participated in a Potomac Appalachian Trail Club workshop called Backpacking 101 (read part one, part two, and part three).  Initially, we were scheduled to do an overnight trip to the Dolly Sods Wilderness as a ‘graduation’ from our class.  Sadly, we ended up missing that trip because Christine’s ankle sprain still hadn’t healed enough for the rigors of backpacking.  While the make-up trip we eventually did to Hazel Mountain in Shenandoah National Park was great, we still wanted to do an overnight trip in Dolly Sods.

Dolly Sods is such a unique area for the mid-Atlantic region. It’s the only area close to us with a sub-Arctic tundra climate – loaded with heath barrens, blueberry bushes, acidic bogs and coniferous forest.  You feel like you’re somewhere far north of West Virginia when you visit this wilderness area.

The route we chose through Dolly Sods was of a length and difficulty we would typically choose for an easy day hike.  (5 miles with 900 feet of elevation change)  But we decided it would be fun to do an easy hike and enjoy camping at one of the most beautiful sites in the entire Monongahela National Forest’s wilderness area.

We also were lucky to have some awesome company for this trip.  In Backpacking 101, we met a nice couple – Suzanne and Anthony.  We enjoyed hanging out with them on our class trip to Hazel Mountain and had stayed in touch with them ever since.  We tried planning trips together a couple times, but until this trip our schedules just hadn’t matched up.  We were thrilled when plans finally came together for this Fourth of July weekend trip.

Day One:

Suzanne and Anthony drove down to our house on Friday night so we would have time to go through all our gear before getting an early(ish) start on Saturday morning.  We spent most of the evening fiddling with our packs, splitting up shared gear and contemplating how many Clif bars we truly needed to survive our expedition. That evening, it looked like an REI store exploded in our basement.  We laughed about how much stuff we had to pack for just one night of camping.  We ran through our checklist to make sure we had everything – stove, tent, sleeping bag, clothes, food, emergency kit, etc.

On Saturday, we had a big breakfast and were out the door a little after 9:30.  We didn’t make it to the trailhead until after 1:00.  We made a stop at Seneca Rocks Visitor’s Center and ended up buying another trail guide and a new map for West Virginia hiking.  (Not for use on this trip, but just to have for the future.) We also stopped at the Subway in Franklin, WV to grab sandwiches to have for lunch on the trail.

When we got to the Fisher Springs Run trailhead, the parking lot was overflowing with cars.  A couple people had decided to park sideways in the lot instead of straight-on, so they took up space that could have accommodated five or six more cars.  It was a little annoying and worrisome – would we get out to Rohrbaugh Cliffs and find all the prime campsites already occupied?  We ended up parking a short distance down Forest Road 75, in a patch of dirt just wide enough to get our car off the road.

Sea of Ferns
The forest floor was a sea of ferns.  Below: Adam hikes along the Fisher Springs Run Trail; The trail junction of Fisher Springs and Rohrbaugh Plains; Subway for lunch;  Our huge pile of packs; Adam traverses a rocky section of trail, Suzanne crosses a small stream.

Adam hiking Junction of Fisher Springs Run and Rohrbaugh Plains Trails
Lunch break
Stack of packs Rocky trail Crossing the stream

We found space to shove the sandwiches into Suzanne’s pack, slathered ourselves with sunscreen and bug spray, and got to the business of walking.  Almost immediately after stepping off the dusty, gravel forest road onto the trail, we found ourselves ensconced in a cool, lush, green forest.  Ferns spread across the ground for as far as the eye could see.  The trail descended gradually, occasionally crossing small, mostly dry streams.  The trail got rockier as we followed it for a little over a mile to its junction with the Rohrbaugh Plains trail.  We stopped at the trail junction and ate our lunch.  We chatted with a passing backpacker who was doing a 19-mile loop through Dolly Sods.  She was on a solo trip and told us she was headed down into the Red Creek basin.  We asked her if she had noticed many camps set up near the cliffs.  She said she hadn’t seen anyone, so we took that as a hopeful sign.

After lunch, we took a left onto the Rohrbaugh Plains trail.  The trail at this point was all rocks.  They almost looked fitted together like a jigsaw puzzle.  Almost immediately after the rocky patch, we dipped deeply into a ravine with a pretty flowing stream.  It was a perfect water source for backpacking. We figured that in the worst case scenario, we could hike back to this point to fetch water for cooking and cleaning at camp.

The last 1.2 miles to our campsite ascended ever so slightly, winding past giant mossy boulders and through dense thickets of rhododendron.  With about a half mile to go, we passed another trail junction with the Wildlife Trail.  Taking the Wildlife Trail to the Rohrbaugh Plains trail is probably the most popular route for day hikers to reach Rohrbaugh Cliffs.  After this trail junction, we crossed a swampy, muddy area and walked across a grassy meadow.  A couple tenths of a mile past the meadow, we came to a beautiful clearing where we ended up making camp.

Crossing the meadow
Crossing the meadow. Below:  Christine and Adam’s camp; Adam collects water for cooking and cleaning; Anthony and Suzanne’s camp.

Camp Anderson Fetching water Camp Suzanne and Anthony

There were so many soft, flat spots that were perfect for our tents!  We chose a couple spots located out of sight of the trail.  We had a fire pit, a nice place for cooking, a view and shady trees.  It was nothing short of perfect.

It felt great to shed our packs and get to work setting up camp.  Our Mountain Hardwear tent (the Drifter 3) is super-simple and was pitched in just a few moments.  While Adam worked on staking the tent, Christine inflated our Big Agnes pads.  We put them in the tent along with our sleeping bags, so they’d have some time to re-fluff after being compressed in stuff sacks all day.

On this backpacking trip, we had a few new and exciting ‘creature comforts’.  Since our last backpacking trip, we acquired Alite camp chairs.  They’re so comfortable and lightweight!  We also both got the large Thermarest pillows.  They’re really bulky and take up a ton of pack space, but they’re very lightweight and make a world’s difference for getting comfortable at night.  Christine also brought a fitted sheet for her sleeping pad.  Even though the sheet is made by Thermarest, it fits the Big Agnes pad perfectly.  A sheet is not a necessity, but it definitely improves the texture and breathability of your sleeping pad.  Christine especially hates feeling clammy or slippery when she’s trying to sleep, so having the sheet made a huge difference.  Neither of us actually sleep inside our sleeping bag unless it’s freezing cold.  We prefer to open our bags up and use them like quilts.

After we finished setting up our tent, we carried our cooking stuff down to our kitchen area.  We also pulled out all our ‘smellables’ and set them aside so they could easily be stowed away in our hanging bear bag.  Christine found a couple branch stubs to hang our trekking poles and our packs. We both covered our packs with garbage bags in case it rained overnight.

Anthony and Suzanne were still working on getting there camp set up, so we decided to go on a water run.  We hadn’t passed a better water source after the stream near the trail junction, so we took our collapsible bucket and headed back down the trail.  Filling up was easy, but getting two gallons of water in a soft-sided bucket back to camp without spilling anything over a 1.2 mile distance was substantially trickier!  We were very thankful we went as a pair to get water, because it was nice to trade off carrying the bucket. We joked that it was like being in a challenge on some adventure reality show.  We made it back without much spillage at all!  (Note: We hiked this trail as a dayhike in 2014 and found a closer water source just a few hundred yards past where we stopped to camp… so you don’t have to hike back like we did!)

When we got back, Anthony and Suzanne were all set up, so we decided to walk a few hundred feet further down the trail to explore the cliffs.  Rohrbaugh Cliffs were spectacular.  The view into the valley below was all wilderness – not a single road or farm or house – just mountains and streams for as far as the eye could see.

Adam on rohrbaugh cliffs
Adam on Rohrbaugh Cliffs. Below: Wild, ripe blueberries; A cute frog that visited our camp; Rosebay Rhododendron were in bloom; Our group on Rohrbaugh Cliffs; A couple more views of the cliffside.

Wild blueberries Frog Rosebay rhododendron
The groupView from Rohrbaugh Cliffs Cliffside

We visited the area at a truly beautiful time of year.  The Rosebay Rhododendrons were just starting to bloom.  The mountain laurel was a bit past peak, but there were still plenty of flowers to enjoy.  And best of all WILD BLUEBERRIES were everywhere along the cliffs!  Suzanne and Christine were significantly more excited about the berries than the guys and spent a lot of time searching for ripe berries tucked into the bushes.

Most of the late afternoon was spent relaxing near camp and getting dinner ready.  Around 5:30, Adam got out the JetBoil and boiled water for all of our dinners.  We had wanted to come up with some homemade backpacking recipes, but never got our act together.  Adam and Christine ended up eating Backpacker’s Pantry Chicken Risotto with Mocha Mousse Pie for dessert.  It was satisfying and very filling!  Anthony and Suzanne had macaroni and cheese and blueberry cobbler from some backpacking meal company (AlpineAire) none of us had heard of before.  They were pretty happy with their dinner, too.

Chef adam
Chef Adam filters and boils water for dinner. Below: Chicken Risotto for dinner; Anthony and Suzanne relax after dinner; Playing Monopoly on the cliffs; Hanging our bear bag.

Chicken risotto Relaxing after dinner and dessert Monopoly Bear Hang

We cleaned up our dishes, brushed our teeth (We love Colgate Wisps for backpacking) and hoisted our bear bag into the highest, safest tree we could find.  We decided to play cards and watch sunset from the cliffs.  We found a big flat rock near the edge and played the card version of Monopoly. The game took a long time, and Adam eventually won.  The sky turned to hues of pink and soft purple and the sun dipped down behind the mountains.  It was so beautiful!

Shortly before full dark, a couple more groups of backpackers showed up – maybe five people and two dogs.  They set up their camps down the trail from us.  So even though we weren’t the only people up there, we still felt like we had a good measure of solitude.  It definitely was not the situation we feared when we saw the packed parking lot at the trailhead. We’re guessing most of the other backpackers ended up along Red Creek.

Once the sun was down, we all retreated to our tents.  Christine listened to a book on her iPod for a while.  By the light of his headlamp, Adam enjoyed reading some of his book by John Muir.  He’s been reading this book exclusively on backpacking trips.  It’s a nice tribute to read something by the ultimate outdoorsman while having our own experience with nature.

Christine started getting really sleepy, so she stowed her iPod away and dozed off, only to be woken almost immediately by the sound of fireworks in the valley below.  We think we heard fireworks shows from three different locations, because there were definitely three distinct grand finales.  The booming sounds and bursts of light in the sky came from different directions, too.  We contemplated leaving our tent and going back out to the cliffs to see if we could see the fireworks from above, but we ended up staying put. Christine didn’t feel like getting dressed again. When all was said and done, we kind of regretted not going back out to see the fireworks.

Eventually the fireworks drew to a close, and Christine drifted back to sleep.  Unfortunately, Adam did not sleep that well on this trip.  He was physically comfortable, but he just wasn’t tired enough to sleep soundly.  Going to bed shortly after sunset just isn’t what his body is used to, so he did a lot of tossing and turning during the night.

Our sunset card game
Our sunset card game.  Below:  Layers of mountains frame the Red Creek Valley; We had a pretty sunset; Suzanne takes a few final photos of the evening sky.

Mountain Layers Dramatic sky Taking one last photo

Around 2:30 a.m., Adam shook Christine awake to close the rainfly on the tent – a storm was approaching.  Christine stumbled and grumbled and totally failed at closing the fly.  Adam had to crawl over her to get both sides of the tent closed.  Christine completely lacks dexterity when she’s half asleep. The storm never really materialized beyond some lightning and wind.  We both fell back to sleep and didn’t wake up again until about 6:15.  Christine said it was the best night of sleep she’s ever had in a tent.

Day Two

Shortly after sunrise, we got out of the tent and took a walk over to the cliffs.  Christine thought there might be some pretty morning light, but it was completely cloudy.  Back at camp, we started breaking down our tent, deflating our sleeping pads and re-stuffing our sleeping bags.  We got the bear bag down and got everything ready to cook breakfast.

Christine tried Starbuck’s instant coffee, Via, for the first time.  It was surprisingly delicious.  Once she added sweetener and powdered Coffeemate, it tasted almost identical to a cup of brewed coffee.  In addition to coffee, we had boxes of apple-grape juice and instant maple-brown sugar oatmeal.  We figured that would be plenty of food to give us energy for the short hike out.

After everyone was done with breakfast, we finished packing up and cleaning up our camp area.  We were back on the trail by 8:45.  Our exit route simply retraced the trail we had hiked in.  We were back at the car by 10:15.

Breaking camp
Breaking camp in the morning.  Below:  Fat Boy’s Pork Palace for lunch!

Fat Boys Pork Palace

On the way home, we stopped at Fat Boy’s Pork Palace (now permanently closed) for lunch.  With a name like that, you know it’s going to have perfect options for a post-backpacking calorie splurge!  We enjoyed BBQ sandwiches with coleslaw and French fries.  Suzanne got breakfast and Anthony got a burger.  It was all delicious!

Once we were back at our house, we split up our group gear and saw Anthony and Suzanne on their way.  Christine said her post-backpacking shower might have been one of the best showers of her entire life.  It always feels awesome to wash away DEET, sunscreen and sweat!

We all had a great time on the trip. We’re already trying to plan our next backpacking adventure for some time in September!  Although, it’s going to be hard to top the scenery at Dolly Sods!

Trail Notes

  • Distance 5.2 miles total
  • Elevation Change – 900 feet.  The Fisher Springs Run trail descends about 500 feet and the Rohraugh Plains ascends about 400 feet.
  • Difficulty – 2.  The hike was not that difficult, even with 35 pounds on my back.
  • Trail Conditions –2.5The Fisher Spring Run trail was well-maintained, but there are lots of rocky spots on the Rohrbaugh trail where you could turn your ankle.
  • Views –5.  The views from Rohrbaugh cliffs were quite spectacular and it was nice to see the sun disappear over the mountains.
  • Wildlife – 1.  We were expecting to see some wildlife up here, but we didn’t see anything other than squirrels, frogs and some birds.  We did wake up to the sounds of dark-eyed juncos in the morning.
  • Ease to Navigate – 3.5.  There are not any blazes on trails at Dolly Sods, but the trails are very well-defined and signs are in place to mark junctions.  Stay on the trail as much as possible and you won’t have any trouble.  I can imagine that when leaves fall and cover the trail in the fall, it would be more challenging to find the trail.
  • Solitude –4.  On a nice day, you may see some people at the overlook. 

Directions to trailhead:  From Seneca Rocks, go North on WV 28 for 12 miles.  Take a left on Jordan Run Road.  Go one mile up Jordan Run Road and take a left on to Forest Road 19.  In 6 miles, Forest Road 19 comes to a T on to Forest Road 75.  Take a right, heading north on Forest Road 75.  Drive for three miles until reaching the small parking lot and the trailhead for Fisher Springs Run.

Greenbrier River Trail – Cass to Marlinton (WV)

The Greenbrier River Trail is a rails-to-trails bike path that meanders 78 miles along the Greenbrier River in West Virginia. This portion we biked was about 25 miles from Cass to the little town of Marlinton.

Biking the Greenbrier River Trail
Adam crosses Sharps Bridge on the Greenbrier River Trail. Below:  Due to drought conditions, the Greenbrier River was very low;  Trail signs mark each entry to the trail; The Clover Lick Depot is one of the old train stops you’ll pass on the trail.

Adam on the River Greenbrier River Trail Sign with Bike Clover Lick Depot

Adam Says…

Our main reason for staying around the Marlinton, WV area was to do some biking on the Greenbrier River trail.  A few friends of mine that had done the Virginia Creeper Trail told me that we should do the Greenbrier River Trail sometime.  The trail was very similar to the Virginia Creeper.  They are both rails-to-trails biking trails and don’t take a ton of cardio effort or biking skills to complete.  The scenery may have been a little nicer along the Virginia Creeper; with mountain views and lots of bridges and trestles. However, the Greenbrier trail lacks the dense crowds that you find on the Virginia Creeper.  You’ll have lots of solitude on this trail, but there are also fewer amenities along the way (other than occasional restrooms at campsites).  Christine and I really enjoy the solitude more than anything, so it was great to get away for a nice, quiet, long bike ride.

We started our day with a car shuttle up to the northern terminus of the trail near Cass, WV.  We arranged the shuttle through Appalachian Sport.  We were the only people signed up for the shuttle, so we were able to arrange our own time.  It was nice to talk to our driver (wish we caught his name) about his impressions of the trail.  He was actually the one that gave us the news that JMU beat Virginia Tech in football.  We had been completely “off the grid” for a few days without any cellphone service, TV, or internet. We actually thought he was joking the first time he told us that JMU won.

Low Water Levels on the Greenbrier River
Water levels were very low on the Greenbrier River.  Below:  The trail follows the river for almost all of its 78 miles; Adam bikes along the crushed stone trail; A view of the lovely river.

The Greenbrier River Trail follows the river. Biking Along the Trail Greenbrier River Scenery

He frequently runs on the trail and told us about his goal to organize a Greenbrier River Challenge t0 raise funds with sponsorships for people to run the entire length of the trail.  A friend of mine from work is one of the few known people to run the entire trail in a single effort (I think he and a couple friends did all 78 miles in a little over 16 hours).  Our shuttle driver also told us that many people find the area between Cass and Marlinton to be the prettiest, but he thinks the entire trail is nice (with the exception of the more populated area between Marlinton and Seebert).

After being dropped off in the parking lot at the Northern Terminus of Slabtown (.5 miles from the town of Cass, WV), we got our gear together and headed down the trail.  Mile markers are posted along the way to help you plan your distance along the trail.  There are also slabs with the letter “W” along the trail, which were used by railroad engineers to know when to blow the whistle when they were approaching road crossings.  The first notable stop along the way is about 9.4 miles in when you reach the Clover Lick Depot.  This depot was built in the early 1900s and was recently renovated.  At mile 14.6, you will reach the Sharp’s tunnel and bridge.  The tunnel is 511 feet long and the bridge immediately after the tunnel is 229 feet long.  If you’re interested in parking your bike for a brief rest, right before the entrance to the tunnel there is a path to the left that leads down to the riverside. There is also a steep, slippery path up to the top of the tunnel for the more adventurous.  At mile 23.9, you will reach the water tank on the outskirts of Marlinton.  Shortly after you pass the water tank , you will reach the Marlinton Depot at mile 24.3.  The depot burned to the ground in 2008 and there are plans to have it rebuilt.  You can then bike a short distance back to where you left your vehicle.

Sharps Tunnel
The Sharps Tunnel is dark and deep!  Below:  Adam stands atop the tunnel entry;  By mid-day, big puffy clouds breezed into the sky.

Adam on top the Tunnel Entry Pretty Clouds Over the Greenbrier River

If you are interested in doing any geoaching along the bike trail, you can find a few along the way:

We definitely enjoyed our ride on the trail and I hope to come back at some point to try out some other sections of this trail.

Christine Says…

We had a great bike ride along the Greenbrier River Trail (GRT)!  I already can’t wait to go back and bike the remaining 53 miles.  Rails-to-trails riding is so pleasant and leisurely.  I love not having to worry about cars running me off the road.

If you’re going to bike a segment of the GRT, definitely look into arranging a shuttle. Typically, you leave your car at the end point, and the shuttle ferries you and your bikes to your start point. This allows you to bike a long section without having to retrace the trail to get back to your car.  You can also take your time exploring because you don’t have a set time to meet your ride at the end of your trip.  Shuttle companies are also a great source for trail tips – where to camp, where to eat, places to stop for water, etc.  We used Appalachian Sport, but there are several other shuttle companies in the area.

A View of Sharps Bridge
A View of Sharps Bridge.  Can you spot Christine on the trestle?  Below: A primitive campsite along the trail; Adam drives the old wagon; A few early hints of fall were evident in the trees along the trail.

Campsite Along the Trail Adam Driving the Old Wagon Biking Along

We met our shuttle at 8:30, loaded up our bikes and headed off on our 45-minute van ride to Cass.  The morning was still cool with thick mist lifting off the river.  Fall is definitely in the air!  We passed through Cass Scenic Railroad State Park on our way to the northern end of the GRT. Cass is near Snowshoe Mountain.  The area offers so many options for outdoor fun – skiing, mountain biking, canoeing, scenic railroads, fishing, hiking, etc.

By 9:30, we were off and pedaling along the trail.  For several miles, we followed along the river – no sign of roads, people or houses.  It was wonderful!  The river was really low, but it was still gorgeous.  Every now and then, a deer would bound across the trail or go splashing across the river.  The fog burned off and opened up to crystalline clear blue skies – not a cloud in site.  Early splashes of fall color were already evident in the trees along the trail.

We passed a couple trailside campsites.  The GRT is also popular with equestrians, so campsites all included hitching posts. If I still had my horse, this would definitely be a dream ride!  Several of the campsites even had privies.

Occasionally, the trail passes by developed areas.  But “development” in this section of West Virginia usually means a few houses clustered along a quiet country road.  We passed a barn with equestrian services advertised on the building side.  They also had an old horse cart that Adam couldn’t resist.  We passed the Clover Lick Depot.  I think this area was probably a lot busier when the train was still running.  The depot building was really cute and had recently been restored.  Sadly, it’s not being used for anything.  I bet it would make a great trailside gift and snack shop, but I also bet it would be nearly impossible for a shop to stay in business along the GRT.  In the entire 25 miles we biked, I think we saw 6 people all day long.  With such low traffic, amenities will never spring up along this trail like they have along the Virginia Creeper.

One of my favorite things we passed along – or shall I say through – was the old Sharps Tunnel.  When we arrived at the tunnel opening, Adam scrambled up the hill to the top of the tunnel opening.  You can smell the inside of the mountain emanating from the tunnel.  It’s a hard smell to describe – the best I can describe is like a cool wind carrying the scent of tar, dampness and earth.  The tunnel is over 500 feet long and follows a curve.  This means that there is a section in the middle where there is absolutely no ambient light.  It is 100% completely pitch black and eerie as the grave.  For a few moments, I lost all sense of up, down, forward and backward.  It was like biking in space!  I shrieked with a mix of fear and giddiness until my bike hit light again.  It was really fun, but if you’re afraid of the dark or an uncertain biker, you might want to have a light on your bike or carry a headlamp in your bag.

There were a bunch of state park employees eating lunch on the other side of the tunnel.  I think they all heard me screaming in the tunnel, because they looked at me oddly.  Oh well…  I hope they were entertained.  As soon as you come out of the tunnel, you pass over the Sharps Bridge, which crosses the Greenbrier River on a tall trestle.

Baby Chipmunk
We spotted a couple of frightened baby chipmunks along the trail.  Below: Another view of Sharps Bridge; the Greenbrier River; The other baby chipmunk we spotted.  I hope they survived.

Another look at the trestle and Sharps Bridge Greenbrier River View The other chipmunk

Shortly after crossing the bridge, I saw a tiny animal dart across the trail – barely missing Adam’s bike wheels.  It was as small as a field mouse.  I braked when I saw the tiny creature still sitting along the trailside.  It turned out to be a tiny baby chipmunk.  It was too young to be away from the nest, and the mother chipmunk was nowhere in site.  We made sure the little guy was safely off the trail and headed on our way.  As Adam was walking back to his bike, he almost stepped on another baby chipmunk.  This one was sitting in the middle of the trail, trembling in fear.  We made sure the other chipmunk was safely off the trail and nestled under some leaves before we biked on.  I hope those little chipmunks somehow found some way to survive.  😦

Chipmunks and deer were not the only wildlife we saw along the way.  We also saw a couple different kinds of snakes.  One snake was the largest black snake I’ve ever seen!  He was lying half on and half off the trail, clearly in a state of torpor from the chilly weather.  At first, I thought it was a toy rubber snake that someone had tossed along the trail.  It didn’t move at all when I nudged it with a stick.  I pushed it again, and I noticed the body slowly constricting.  The stick I had was an old fallen tree branch – about eight feet long.  I pushed the snake again to get it off the trail, but this time the snake completely coiled up; raising its upper body off the ground and flicking its tongue at me.  He was still really slow and stiff, but definitely awake! Adam, who was sitting on his bike 50 feet away, wanted nothing to do with the snake at all.  Finally, I managed to push the snake completely off the trail into the grass.  Hopefully, he slithered away when the sunshine of the day warmed him up.  Later in the day, we saw another snake basking in the sun in the middle of the trail, but he moved out of the way really quickly.

Huge Black Snake
We saw this sleepy (but angry) black snake on the trail. Below:  Near Marlinton, we saw old farm buildings and fields; The old water tank;  The burned Marlinton depot; Adam checks out the inside of the train.

Old Farm Building Water Tank near Marlinton
Burned Marlinton Depot Adam Checks out the Train

The last few miles of the trail passed through more open terrain.  We saw fields and old abandoned farm buildings.  Shortly thereafter, we passed a huge water tank – the only one left standing along the trail.  Trains used to stop at this spot to fill up.  By the time you get to the water tank, the GRT switches from a crushed stone surface to paved.  The paved section is about five miles long.

In a few minutes, we were back in Marlinton at the old train depot.  The depot used to be the town visitor’s center, but as Adam mentioned, it burned down a few years ago.  We took a few minutes to climb aboard the old train car at the depot before heading back to our car.

After loading up, we had a delicious lunch at the Greenbrier Grille.  They had great sandwiches (I recommend the Steak & Mozzarella!) and a lovely deck overlooking the river.  We ate lunch to the sound of honking ducks in the river below.  The restaurant has a large menu of homemade desserts, but we were too full from the sandwiches.

The next day, we were on our way back to Virginia, but we’ll definitely be visiting Pocahontas County again!

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 24.3 miles
  • Elevation Change – Negligible.  Hardly any elevation change.
  • Difficulty – 2. While the biking is not difficult, the distance might be a little much for some people.  Hiking or biking it should be fairly easy.
  • Trail Conditions – 4.5 The trail is very well-maintained.
  • Views3.  The trail is scenic through most of the trail with views of the river most of the time.
  • Waterfalls/streams – 2. The path runs along Wilson Creek for part of the trip and the Greenbrier River for most of the trip.
  • Wildlife – 2.5 We saw deer a few times on the trail and in the river.  We also spotted some baby chipmunks, a blue heron, a couple snakes and some geese.
  • Ease to Navigate – 4.5. Just stay on the bike trail.  A few spots run parallel with other driveways/roads, but you shouldn’t have trouble if you stay on the trail.
  • Solitude – 3.  We were surprised with how few people were on the trail biking.  I think we only saw 6 people biking on the trail the entire day.

Directions to trailhead: The actual trailhead is located off Route 66/Back Mountain Road near Cass, WV.  There are clear signs to direct you to the trail.

View a Google Map of the Route

Thomas Reserve – Cowpasture – Cranberry Glades Loop (WV)

This nine-mile loop offers glimpses of area history, great views of the tundra and peeks at distant mountains.

Meadow on the Cowpasture Trail
The trail offered many beautiful meadow views.  Below: Adam checks out the sign at the entry to the Cranberry Glades boardwalk; The old Mill Point Federal Prison used to sit along the present-day Cowpasture Trail; The Thomas Reserve Trail is lined with ferns; A view of the Glades boardwalk.

Entry to the Cranberry Glades Boardwalk
Thomas Reserve Trail The Glades Boardwalk

Christine Says…

The morning did not start well.  We drove into Marlinton, WV before our hike to make some reservations for a bike shuttle.  Once we were in town, we learned that Verizon wireless was not available anywhere in the area (and I really needed to check in on a family emergency).  We couldn’t find anyone that sold pre-paid phone cards in all of Marlinton.  When we did find a phone card, we couldn’t find a pay phone that worked. Apparently, the only pay phone that works in all of Pocahontas County is at the hospital.  After filling up at a BP station, the “service engine” light came on in our car and the gas gauge stopped working.  (Can I blame BP for that?)  Finally, to top everything off, we couldn’t find the trailhead for this hike.  In the end, it all turned out OK, as it usually does.  We ended up hiking a couple extra miles, but on a beautiful, cool, blue-sky day… that’s not a bad thing!

Our original plan was to hike the 7.1 mile Cowpasture Loop which encircles the entire Cranberry Glades Botanical Area and crosses into the beautiful, wild Cranberry Wilderness.  But, the trailhead was not marked and the map we had did have enough detail to indicate the exact location.  We ended up parking at the Thomas Reserve trailhead, instead.  We knew this trail would intersect the Cowpasture Loop after about a mile or so.

This rock ledge along the Thomas Reserve Trail is probably a pretty waterfall when the stream isn’t dry. Below: The trailhead for the Thomas Reserve trail; Trails were adequately marked.

Thomas Reserve Trail Trail Sign

I’m really glad we went this way, because the Thomas Reserve Trail took us past some beautiful and interesting scenery.  There were ruins that looked like some kind of old pool or water treatment facility.  The concrete basin and pillars were still intact, along with several large pipes with wheels attached.  I did a quick Google search to try and figure out exactly what the ruins are, but I didn’t have much luck.  From that point, the trail passes through beautiful fern-carpeted forest and past a dry stream.  The stream has an interesting rock ledge/cave that I think probably makes a lovely, small waterfall when water is actually running.  Eventually, the path intersects an old road that is part of the Cowpasture Loop.

After a short walk along the old road, the trail opens up into a gorgeous open meadow with views of the mountains in the distance.  This is the site of the old Mill Point Federal Prison.  Even though the buildings were all torn down in the late 1950s and early 1960s, you can still see some leftover signs of the site – there are bits of road left, abandoned stairs to nowhere, an old well.   There is also a series of informational signs that include old photos and talk about life at the prison.  Apparently, it was a prison without walls or gates.  Prisoners were treated to weekly movies and could spend their afternoons hiking in the area.  I guess you could say it was very low security! We stayed at the prison site long enough to read the signs and enjoy the meadow view.

After the meadow, the trail climbed back into the forest, following rolling ups and downs for a couple miles.  We saw lots of bear scat and several deer leaping across the trail.  We crossed a small dry stream shortly before passing out into another wide open area.  The meadows along this trail were really overgrown.  The ragweed and other plants were shoulder-height and constantly batted me in the face as I walked the trail.  Even so, the meadow areas of this hike were spectacular!  This section in particular offered beautiful views of Kennison Mountain.

Beaver Dam on the Cranberry River
We got a nice view of a beaver dam on the Cranberry River. Below; The bridge over the Cranberry River.

Bridge over the Cranberry River

The trail dips down to the South Fork of the Cranberry River.  This crossing had a pretty arched bridge and a great look at an active beaver dam.  There were crabapple trees everywhere – so I was really wondering if we’d eventually see a bear.  We never did – just the deer and a very angry red squirrel.

From the river, the trail ascends to a ridge and follows a series of gentle ups and downs.  We passed several beaver ponds and got nice looks at the bogs and glades the area is known for.  One pond even has an elevated wooden platform to view the area.  Because of the dry months we’ve had lately, the ground was much dryer than it should be.  The ponds were so low, I wondered if the resident beavers were able to swim at all.  While we were passing one of the ponds, we heard a huge tree come crashing to the ground someplace nearby.  It must have been a monster tree – it sounded like gunshots as it splintered and fell to the ground with a huge KABOOM.

Just before coming out on FS Road 102, the trail passes over another pretty arched bridge.  The walk along 102 is completely level and pretty uneventful.  You’ll pass a gate and the board marking the entry to Cranberry Wilderness.  The area looks fantastic for backpacking – lots of loops and shelter options.  We’re already talking about making a three day trip sometime in the spring.

After crossing the chain gate, the walk is along the developed portion of 102.  Cars passed by and the walking was really boring.  When we got to the Cranberry Glades Boardwalk, we decided to add the .6 mile loop onto our larger loop.  The boardwalks pass through a beautiful open bog area.  If you visit the right time of year, you can even see carnivorous pitcher plants.

After the quick turn along the boardwalk, we walked the last mile along the paved road back to our car. By the time we got back, I was pretty tired and hungry and was looking forward to making homemade pizza for dinner back at our Watoga State Park cabin.  Although the day got off to an inauspicious start, it really turned out to be perfect.

Adam says…

Christine had suggested this hike to me when we were planning our trip to Watoga State Park and I’m so glad that she suggested it.  This hike is one of my favorites that we’ve done this year.  It has some interesting history and the open views of tundra are nothing short of beautiful.

Ruins on the Thomas Reserve Trail
We saw these mysterious ruins along the Thomas Reserve Trail.  Below: The Thomas Reserve trail begins; An old well at the prison ruins site.

Thomas Reserve trailsign Old well at the prison ruins

We had trouble finding the start of the hike, since the trailhead for the start of the Cowpasture Loop was not marked.  We saw a sign for the Thomas Reserve trail and I could tell from our map that it hooked up with the Cowpasture Loop.  The Thomas Reserve Trail starts bisecting a field, but quickly moves into woods.  At about .6 miles, we saw the pillars of the old “pool” that Christine mentioned off to the right of the trail.  The trail continues for another .4 miles through the woods until it comes to a sign.

Take a right here to get on to the Cowpasture Loop.  The trail is quite level at this point as you move through a field with great views of the tundra around you.  Here, and in some places throughout the entire loop, there may be tall plants that you have to push aside, but you shouldn’t need to bushwhack.  As you’re passing through the tundra area, you may notice several bluebird boxes.  The trail begins to turn towards the left and then opens up to more of a clearing.  You will see posts that give information about the Mill Point Federal Prison camp and life for the inmates.  You will then come to a sign around mile 1.5.  Take a left here to stay on the Cowpasture Loop.  This will loop back around the tundra, paralleling Charlies Creek, and then goes back into the woods.    You will start to reach some footbridges around the two mile mark that take you above some marshy areas.

A view of the Glades Boardwalk
The glades boardwalk is a pleasant .6 mile walk around the bog. Below: The walk along the forest road wasn’t that exciting; Once we got back to the paved portion of 102, there were some pretty scenes along the road.

Forest Service Road 102 The walk back to the car

After this point, you will begin to climb slightly up.  At the height of this gradual hill, you will begin to see views of Kennison Mountain.  At mile 3.5, the trail then takes a sharp left (marked by an arrow on a sign) and descends again.  This area was quite overgrown, but the trail was still clearly visible.  The trail tends to alternate at this point from going through areas of marshy glades to trails through the woods with slight ups and downs in elevation.  At mile 5.7, you will see a destroyed sign where there is a side path of about 100 yards to an observation deck.  This would be an excellent spot for birding.  At mile 6.4, the trail connects again to FS 102.  Take a left on the fire road until you reach the gate at mile 6.6.  At mile 7.3, you will reach the parking lot for the Cranberry Glades Boardwalk loop.  This loop is only about .5 miles and I would highly recommend it.  There are interpretive signs along the boardwalk and it does give some more wonderful views throughout the loop.  Once you complete the loop, just walk back up FS 102 to reach your car.

There are also a few geocaches along this loop:

Trail Notes

  • Distance –9 mile loop
  • Elevation Change – 200 feet
  • Difficulty 3. This is really an easy hike, but we’ll give it a 3 due to the longer length.
  • Trail Conditions 2.5. The trail was largely passable, but very overgrown.  Several bridges over streams were broken and rotted through.
  • Views –3. You get some nice views of the mountains and great views of the glades/tundra.
  • Waterfalls/streams 3. In times with normal to higher precipitation, this trail has great views of streams, ponds and the Cranberry River.
  • Wildlife 4.  We saw deer, signs of bears, active beaver dams, red squirrels and many kinds of birds.
  • Ease to Navigate 3.  Once you find the trailhead, the trail is relatively easy to follow.
  • Solitude 4.  Outside the popular boardwalk area, you probably won’t see a soul!

Directions to trailhead: From Mill Point, WV head west of WV 39/55.  After about 7 miles, you will find a sign for the Cranberry Glades area on your right (FS 102).  Head down this road for one mile until you reach the trailhead for the Thomas Reserve trailhead.

Falls of Hills Creek (WV)

The Falls of Hills Creek is a popular trail that (should) give you views of three plunging waterfalls in a short distance.  The trail is in need of some serious maintenance, as the lower – and most impressive – falls are completely inaccessible due to a collapsed boardwalk (as of fall 2010).

Bridge Over Hills Creek
While the waterfalls were practically non-existent due to very little rain for the past few months, the trail was still pretty. Below: We climbed many stairs and saw very little waterfall action; the Middle Falls were practically dry – the Upper Falls were completely dry and we didn’t even bother with photos; The path was scattered with fall leaves.

Many Stairs Middle Falls Path

Adam Says…

In planning our trip down to West Virginia, we had seen great pictures of the Falls of Hills Creek and thought it would be worth checking out.

The trail starts from the parking lot on a paved path and begins to descend.  The trail winds around while it descends.  At .3 miles, you come to your first overlook of the 25 foot Upper Falls.  You can’t really get great looks of the falls from the overlook, but we could tell there was not a lot of water flowing.  After this overlook, the trail continues on crushed gravel.  At .5 miles, you will come to an overlook that gives you nice views of the 45 foot Middle Falls from above.

Metal Steps
Many metal stairs lead to the lower viewing point for the middle falls. Below: Benches are available along the way if you need a rest; We saw a newt on the damp pathway; BUMMER!  The trail is closed off before we even get a view of the waterfall.

Bench Newt Bummer!

After you leave the platform, you will descend a metal stairwell that goes down several flights.  At the bottom of the stairwell, the trail continues on a boardwalk.  To the right is a short boardwalk path that gives you nice views of the Middle Falls from the bottom of the falls.  Go back up the boardwalk and take the path straight ahead that leads to the view to the Lower Falls.  Unfortunately, there has been some damage from last year’s winter storm on this last section of the trail, so the boardwalk was closed.  Even though the Lower Falls are supposed to be the most impressive with a 63 feet drop, we weren’t able to get to a place to see them.  Return the way that you came to complete the 1.8 mile out-and-back.  The way back includes a lot of stair climbing, so you will get a workout.

There are two geocaches located here:

The dry summer for the last month really hurt our ability to see these falls at the most impressive.  I’m guessing that the work on the Lower Falls will not be completed until the spring/summer of 2011 (at the earliest), so I would wait until this is done to visit this series.  The Lower Falls are considered the second highest cataract falls in West Virginia.

Christine Says…

I’m a little ambivalent about including this hike on our blog because I don’t feel like we saw what the hike really has to offer. It’s hard to be enthusiastic and share information about a waterfall hike when the waterfalls are mostly dry, and one is not even accessible.  But, the Falls of Hills Creek seem to be perennially popular, even in its diminished state.

We did this hike the afternoon we arrived in Pocohontas County.  It was a cloudy, dreary, drizzly day.  I figured if there were any water left in the falls, this weather would be ideal for taking long exposure shots of the water.  Even though the photos didn’t work out, the trail was still quite pretty.  I enjoyed the cool, damp day and walking though the lush green of the woods.  We got some good exercise in climbing the many stairs along the trail.

Signs of Fall
Signs of fall were all along the trail. Below:  Tiny wildflowers along the trail; The foreboding sign that made us carry 40 pounds of camera gear.

Wildflowers Threatening Sign

The one thing I found mildly disconcerting were the “thief alert” signs we found along the trail.  When we walked down, I had all my camera gear and laptop in the car (unusual for me!)  After I saw the sign, I took the route of paranoia and decided to carry everything with us.  Adam carried the big backpack with the laptop and I carried the cameras and the tripod.  It was kind of a shame, because we hardly used any of the gear we carried.

I would love to see the Falls of Hills Creek again sometime when the water is flowing and the lower falls are open.  Until then, I’ll reserve final judgment on this hike.

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 1.8 miles out and back
  • Elevation Change – 600 feet
  • Difficulty 2.  Just due to the stair-master quality of the hike, it’s not for everyone.
  • Trail Conditions 4.5. The trail is paved, then crushed gravel, and some boardwalk areas.
  • Views –0. Not really any views other than waterfalls.
  • Waterfalls/streams 3.5 There wasn’t any water in the falls, but normally this would be great for waterfalls.
  • Wildlife 0.  The trail is too populous to really attract wildlife.
  • Ease to Navigate 5.  Just straight down a paved path and back.
  • Solitude 1.  You should see people along this trail.

Directions to trailhead: From Mill Point, WV head west of WV 39/55.  After about 12 miles, you will find a sign for the Falls of Hills Creek scenic area on your left that leads to a parking lot.  The trail takes off from the left side of the parking lot.

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.

Short and Scenic West Virginia Walks

Last Saturday, we made a quick trip over the mountains into West Virginia.  The foliage in the Canaan Valley (Tucker County) area is always way ahead of the color change in Virginia.  We set out from home at 5:00 a.m. and made stops at Blackwater Falls State Park, Canaan Valley State Park, Douglas Falls and Dolly Sods Wilderness.  Our whirlwind trip got us thinking about how many short walks in that area have major scenic payoffs.

Let’s start off with a few beautiful spots in Blackwater Falls State Park.  All of the spots listed below are clearly marked on the park’s trail map. Pick up a copy at the lodge.

Lindy Point

The view from Lindy Point looks down into the Blackwater Canyon.
The view from Lindy Point looks down into the Blackwater Canyon.

The walk out to Lindy Point is no more than a third of a mile along a relatively level path.  The trail passes through dense rhododendron and can be quite muddy if there has been rain.  At the end of the trail, you’ll come out to a platform built onto the side of the rocky cliff.   The point offers a spectacular view of the Blackwater Canyon.   If you sit quietly, chances are good that you’ll hear the river rushing through the chasm below.  The view is made even more unique due to the enormous free-standing rock “chimneys” that surround the platform.  There are several places that you can crawl through the rhododendron to stand directly on the rocks for a better view.  Despite the spot’s beauty, Christine has not had great luck photographing this spot, but it’s all been a matter of timing.  We’ve just never been lucky enough to hit the point on a day with nice “photo skies.”   The photo included really doesn’t do the place justice.

Elakala Falls

There are several "falls of Elakala" along Shays Run.
There are several “falls of Elakala” along Shays Run.


This pretty waterfall is accessed by a short trail starting out from the park’s main lodge.  The falls are less than a quarter mile down the trail.   You’ll know you have reached the waterfall when you come to a wooden footbridge over Shays Run.  The falls cascade directly under your feet at this point.  The trail really doesn’t give you a good look at the waterfall, so take the time to follow the “unofficial” foot path down the ravine to the base of the falls.  Elakala is prettiest in times of heavy waterflow.  The stream leaving the base of the falls takes  a beautiful swirling path across the moss-greened rocks.  Don’t miss climbing a little farther down the ravine to see a couple other pretty waterfalls on Shays Run.  The stream actually cascades all the way down to the bottom of the Blackwater Canyon, but it’s not really safe to go much beyond the second or third cascade.  Last winter we were lucky enough to see Elakala falls completely frozen over.   The sound of the water running under the ice was magical that day.

Blackwater Falls

The main attraction in Blackwater Falls State Park
The main attraction in Blackwater Falls State Park

This 62 foot cascade is park’s namesake and #1 attraction.  You’ll have a couple options for accessing the waterfall.  The park road that heads toward the main lodge has a paved, wheelchair-accessible path to a viewing platform far above the waterfall.  The road that heads toward the picnic ground has a longer “staircase-path” that leads to several wooden viewing platforms.  This path puts you a lot closer to the waterfall and offers a much prettier view.   We’ve always liked visiting Blackwater Falls as soon as the sun comes up.  At dawn, the path is deserted and the falls are often shrouded in a thin veil of fog.  During more normal times, the area is extremely crowded with tourists.

And now a couple favorites outside the park.

Douglas Falls – Thomas, WV

The colors of Douglas Falls are amazing!
The colors of Douglas Falls are amazing!

Blackwater Falls might be the area’s best-known waterfall, but we think Douglas Falls is the most beautiful.   The rocks are brilliant red and the water is vivid green, making for a wonderfully photogenic color contrast.  The color of the rocks is sadly unnatural, created by acid drainage from the mines and coke ovens in the area.  It’s amazing that pollution could create something so pretty.  The ride out to the falls is extremely rugged and potholed.  You should plan on walking a mile or two if you don’t have a 4WD vehicle.   The footpath down to the falls is very short, but very steep. Once you get down to the base of the falls, there is a path that follows the stream for a couple hundred yards.  The whole area is worth exploring, but take extreme caution on the slippery rocks.  The rocks around the stream are coated with slick, clear algae.  We always move “crab-style” along the rocks to keep from falling.

Bear Rocks – Dolly Sods Wilderness

The landscape of Dolly Sods reminds us of Maine.
The landscape of Dolly Sods reminds us of Maine.

bear rocks

Another place to visit in the area is Bear Rocks in the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area.  The overlook is surrounded by a vast plain of huckleberry and blueberry bushes that turn blaze red in the autumn.  It’s a great place to spot migrating hawks.  The rocky cliff is endlessly fun to scramble around on and provides beautiful views of the valley below.  The plains framing the cliff are patterned with pathways through the berry bushes and punctuated with monolithic white rocks that have been sculpted by time and the elements.  Whenever we visit Dolly Sods, we feel like we’re someplace far north of the Mid-Atlantic region.  It feels more like Maine or Canada. There are several routes into Dolly Sods.  We recommend the route from WV32 onto Laneville Road as the most passable and scenic.  You might even see a black bear along the road if you’re lucky.