Fall in love with nature in the Monongahela National Forest, starting at the Cranberry Nature Center

Falls of Hills Creek off Rt. 39, five miles west of the Cranberry Mountain Nature Center.

Laura Dean Bennett
Staff Writer

“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be.”
~ Anne Frank

Its wilderness quality, the lovely scenery, and the boundless flora and fauna make the Monongahela National Forest a natural adventure land.

This is truly getting away from it all – to where it’s not unusual to see deer, squirrels, wild turkeys, rabbit, grouse, foxes, black bears, hawks or eagles.

You will discover fields of wildflowers playing host to Monarch butterflies and rare orchids.

A stop at the Cranberry Nature Center is the ideal introduction to the vast world that exists within the Monongahela.

Nearby campgrounds and picnic areas offer rest and relaxation and hiking trails beckon with something beautiful around every bend.

The Cranberry Nature Center has something to offer the whole family.

It’s a wonderful place to pull over and take a rest during a road trip, enjoy a picnic, get information about hiking in the Monongahela Forest, wrap an educational interlude with fun, or all three.

The Mon Forest, the only national forest completely within the confines of West Virginia, was established by presidential proclamation in 1920.

It protects 921,000 acres of wilderness in 10 West Virginia counties and boasts elevations ranging from 1,000-to-4,863 feet.

The forest is managed by the U.S. Forest Service, which maintains tourist centers at Cranberry Glades and Seneca Rocks.

Photos courtesy of USFS
This photo offers a sense of peace and well-being in this particular time of self-quarantine and social distancing due to the COVID-19 Coronavirus. As spring comes to the mountains, and restrictions are lifted, the Cranberry Mountain Nature Center will be waiting to welcome visitors to once again breathe in the sights, scents and sounds that make this county unique.

Mon Forest encompasses three state parks – Watoga, Canaan Valley Resort and Blackwater Falls – and two state forests – Seneca and Calvin Price.

Situated where it is, the Cranberry Nature Center is a great starting place for nature lovers as they get ready to embark on a trek to the Cranberry Wilderness, Falls of Hills Creek or other adventures.

It’s a welcoming environment, staffed by friendly and knowledgeable folks who are always happy to talk with visitors about the many recreational opportunities that lie just steps outside its doors.

“Our staff really enjoys talking with our visitors and answering questions. They make everyone feel welcome,” Cranberry Nature Center Director Diana Stull said.

Besides a vast array of books about West Virginia’s flora and fauna and nature guides, the center has a delightful gift shop and houses a fascinating collection of live snakes native to West Virginia.

Interpretive signs and new pavilions have been added to the grounds surrounding the Cranberry Mountain Nature Center as well as along the trails.

What is it about timber rattlers and copperheads that makes them so engaging?

If you arrive “most” Sundays before 1 p.m., you’ll be able to enjoy the Snakes of West Virginia show, hosted by Roy Moose, featuring an educational and entertaining up-close look at several species of local snakes.

The popular native trout exhibit and aquarium is back in service this year.

“Visitors will want to come in to see the trout aquarium, featuring some of the most famous denizens of Pocahontas County’s creeks and rivers,” advised Stull.

The Center now has a revamped scat display, with a scat cart and replicas encased in the panel, for nature hounds on the hunt to identify the wide world of Pocahontas County animals.

After you’ve toured the inside of the Nature Center, you will want to discover all the fun to be had outside of it.

There’s a spacious new picnic pavilion at the edge of the parking lot, with eight picnic tables, offering the perfect spot for picnics, family gatherings, school group lunches or a relaxing place in the shade.

Nature lovers and bird watchers will enjoy taking a walk on the winding Cranberry Glades boardwalk to discover the tiny mountain orchids and plants growing in an honest-to-goodness cranberry bog.

The Nature Center’s handicap accessible garden attracts butterflies and pollinators, and has a bird bath and finch feeder. Interpretive signs offer interesting facts as tiny birds flit around.

Meander through the wildflower meadow and look for wild bergamot, columbine, phlox, wild geraniums and milkweed which is the food of the Monarch butterfly – the state butterfly of West Virginia.

Beyond the short hike to the overlook of Stamping Creek, a 2,000 foot trail leads to a vernal pool.

Intrepretive signs describe not only the flora and fauna, but the bugs, bees and bats one sees along the way.

They offer everything from a short hike to a challenging 22-miler for those who want to make a day of it, or maybe even camp in the Monongahela Forest.

Nature lovers and bird watchers will enjoy a walk on the nearby winding Cranberry Glades boardwalk to discover the tiny mountain orchids and plants growing in an honest-to-goodness cranberry bog.

The Cranberry Glades boardwalk is accessible, and is usually an easy outing for the whole family.

Those who enjoy a strenuous hike won’t want to miss the famous Falls of Hills Creek – three picturesque waterfalls nestled in the forest, which can be enjoyed as one takes a steep stairway down the side of the mountain and then struggles to come back up again!

You’ll definitely want to wear comfortable hiking clothes and bring your camera along for this trip down to the bottom of a densely wooded ravine.

The Nature Center is the place to pick up an audio tour CD about the Highland Scenic Highway – Route 150 – the entrance to which is located just across from the Center.

The Highland Scenic Highway is a glorious high elevation drive – one of the best “Sunday drives” you’ll ever take.
Plan to take it in on a clear day when you’ll have time to stop at overlooks, investigate trails and take lots of photos of its long-distance vistas.

Cranberry Mountain Nature Center

Scenic Drive Day is Sunday, June 21.

And antique car buffs will want to put that date on their calendars.

“Those who want to display their classic and antique cars are asked to be at the Center by 12:45 p.m. for viewing by the public,” Stull said.

“The live music starts around noon.

“We don’t do anything really organized, like folks gathering to drive up together. But everyone seems to enjoy looking at the antique cars and talking to their owners.

“It’s a great day for visiting.”

Come and experience some of what makes West Virginia so wild and wonderful, where the best things in life really are free.

The Cranberry Nature Center is currently planning to open for the season on April 16. Hours will be 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Thursdays through Mondays.

TAKE NOTE: Considering current events, schedules of activities may be subject to change.

Please check with the Monongahela National Forest website for further updates at fs.usda.gov/ main/mnf/home

The Cranberry Nature Center is located in Pocahontas County, 14 miles west of Marlinton, 23 miles east of Richwood at the junction of WV Routes 39/55 and Route 150 (the Highland Scenic Highway).

For more information about all of the adventures to be had in the Monongahela National Forest – at the Cranberry Nature Center, the Falls of Hills Creek, Cranberry Glades, or on the Highland Scenic Highway – call the Center at 304-653-4826, the Gauley Ranger Station at 304-846-2695 or contact the Cranberry Nature Center Director Diana Stull at diana.stull@usda.gov
Your springtime adventures await in the Monongahela National Forest.

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