Hiking the hills of Pocahontas County

With an elevation of 4,501 feet, Cranberry Glades Overlook gives one a bird’s eye view of stunning fall colors and distant mountains. Photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service, Monongahela National Forest

Laura Dean Bennett
Staff Writer

As autumn paints our mountain vistas with the colors of fall, Pocahontas County visitors, and residents alike, will have no trouble finding adventures aplen-ty as they mosey along the highways and byways of the county.

When we say we’re “Nature’s Mountain Playground, we’re not foolin’!

If you’re willing to venture just a bit off the beaten path, you can walk an easy few hundred yards or climb an adventurous trail, stop to picnic or rest along a whispering stream or hike out to a million dollar view.

And, for those who are physically challenged or have little ones in tow, just know that there are plenty of “hikes” that are just a few hundred yards – and many are wheelchair accessible, too.

From bike paths and hiking trails to steep mountain ascents, the Greenbrier River Trail, our national forests, state parks, state forests, scenic overlooks and ski areas, Pocahontas County has everything one could ask for in outside enjoyment.

Besides historical sites, and geological extravaganzas galore, we have thousands of acres of forest, dozens of creeks and streams and more than 800 miles of trails just waiting to be explored.

If you’re into a little outdoor adventure, why not explore some of our more out-of-the-way spots in addition to the usual destinations?

By planning a few day trips, you can be assured of getting as much outdoors into your itinerary as possible.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service, Monongahela National Forest
The view, like above at Gaudineer Knob, that greets one after a walk through the woods to an overlook is the payoff for the effort it took to get there. If you’re planning to spend a day exploring the hiking trails of Pocahontas County, don’t forget to bring your camera and a picnic lunch.

Get up early, pack a picnic lunch and you’re all set for a day of adventure in the outdoors.

The Greenbrier River Trail has been named the Millennium Legacy Trail for West Virginia.

It is 78 miles of wide, winding, graveled and flat pathway which used to hold the railroad tracks for the train which carried logs and passengers from one end of the county to the other.

The GRT crosses 35 bridges, goes through two tunnels, and parallels the Greenbrier River, which is the longest free-flowing river in the east.

If you’re looking for a variety of scenery – you’ll find it along the Greenbrier River. From rocky shorelines to little sandy beaches, cow pastures, forests, swimming holes and fishing holes, the Greenbrier has it all.

No motorized vehicles are allowed, but you can hike, bike or horseback ride on the trail.

The trail can be accessed from several points, including the southern terminus in Greenbrier County near Caldwell and the northern terminus near Cass Scenic Railroad State Park and places in between.  

The West Fork Trail, located in northern Pocahontas County, follows the old railroad grade 22 miles along the West Fork of the Greenbrier River, from the south trailhead in Durbin north to Glady.

The trail has a gentle grade and is exceptionally scenic with beguiling fall vistas. It offers access to an even more remote section of the Greenbrier watershed and provides an excellent backcountry experience.

Photos courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service, Monongahela Forest
Glorious sunrise and sunset views reward those who get up early or stay late for their hiking and overlook adventures.

The Allegheny Trail was West Virginia’s first long-distance hiking trail.

In the north end of the county, it passes through the town of Durbin, winds past the Green Bank Observatory and brings you through the old logging town of Cass, Seneca State Forest and a portion of Watoga State Park.

The Allegheny Trail is great for serious hikers and backpackers – those who are really up for a good, long hike.

The Highland Scenic Highway offers 43 miles of easy travel, if you’re one who likes to stay on the road, but if you’re willing to get out of the car and step out onto a few paths, it also offers several hikes and overlooks that will be well worth your time.

Excellent views of rock formations are found on the High Rocks Trail. The trailhead is located on Rt. 150 – the Highland Scenic Highway.

Look for signs for Route 150 off of Route 219 at the top of Elk Mountain, just a few miles north of Marlinton, or off of Route 39 west of Marlinton across from the Cranberry Mountain Nature Center on Kennison Mountain.

Before you head up the Scenic Highway to discover all its trails and overlooks, stop in at the Nature Center, where the entrance to a nice family-friendly hike is just waiting to be discovered, right next to the center’s parking lot.

This trail is designed in a figure eight shape, with a left loop entrance and a right loop entrance and both paths are handicapped accessible, making these trails perfect for families traveling with little ones and grandparents, too.

The left loop is 880 feet in length and takes you past the Stamping Creek Overlook where you’ll want to pause and “sit a spell” on the rough-hewn log bench or enjoy your lunch at a picnic table. After you’ve enjoyed the view at the overlook, the trail continues past a pollinator garden where you’re liable to see butterflies, caterpillars and perhaps even a hummingbird moth.

The right loop winds along past the Vernal Pool and is a 1,200 foot walking path sure to please the eyes with bird sightings and the ears with the soft rustling of  breezes in the trees and birdsong. It also offers benches and picnic tables for those who want to stay just a bit longer.

Before you leave, be sure to visit the Cranberry Mountain Nature Center to peruse the vast collection of books, enjoy the West Virginia reptile collection and mammal diorama and maybe do a little shopping.

It’s a great place to pick up something special for the folks back home, and you won’t be disappointed by the hospitality of the knowledgeable staff.

They will be glad to offer advice about, and directions to, any hikes or outdoor adventures you may have in mind.

The Center is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and is only open through October 14. If you have any questions about visiting or hiking anywhere in the area, they are happy to take your call. 304-653-4826.

Just down the road, five miles west on Rt. 39, you’ll find the breathtaking Falls of Hills Creek, a triple waterfall, which is the second highest in the state. After all the rain we had this summer and early this fall, these waterfalls are really dramatic. Bring your camera, you’ll definitely want to get some pictures here. The upper falls are handicapped accessible.  Steps descend to the three waterfalls that cascade 25, 45 and 63 feet. It’s an easy climb down, but a bit of a challenge coming back up. The falls are beautiful in any season of the year.

From there, you are just a hop, skip and a jump from Cranberry Glades, a botanical area where a number of unusual plant species flourish.

A boardwalk encircles a portion of the glades area and makes for an easy and wheelchair accessible hike. Interpretive tours can be arranged through the Cranberry Mountain Visitors Center.

The Cranberry Wilderness Area, which straddles Pocahontas and Webster counties within the Monongahela National Forest, is one of the most unique and primitive areas in the region.

It has 60 miles of hiking trails tucked into 35,000 acres of dense evergreen forests, untamed mountains, charming valleys and clear mountain streams, which beckon you to stop, take off your shoes and socks and rest your feet in the chilly water.

And they don’t call it wilderness for nothing. You’re likely to encounter all kinds of birds and wildlife.

Like everywhere in Pocahontas County, there’s a rich variety of wildlife here: eagles, hawks, grouse, turkeys, squirrels, otters, bobcats, deer and gray and red foxes and even a black bear, if you’re lucky.

The forest features white and red oaks, maple, cherry and poplar trees.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service, Monongahela National Forest
Whatever your skill or energy level, blue skies and panoramic views, like above at Smoke Camp Overlook, greet those who answer the call of the wild and venture out on the hiking trails of Pocahontas County.

Hemlock and red spruce grow at the highest elevations, for instance, at the top of Black Mountain, where the 4,600 foot elevation offers spectacular views.

The Cranberry Wilderness Area is open to hikers and birders, but there’s no hunting. Horseback riding or mechanical travel is allowed on its trails.

Backtrack a little to Rt. 150 and head up the Highland Scenic Highway for more outdoor adventure.

There are several wonderful overlooks and hiking trails that branch off of the Scenic Highway.

If you’re heading up Rt. 150 from the Cranberry Nature Center, you’ll only travel four miles before you come to the trailhead of the High Rocks Trail.

High Rocks Trail is one of the most popular hiking trails in the area.

It’s a moderate, 1.5 mile hike which takes you to a spectacular overlook view of the Greenbrier River Valley.

This isn’t the easiest hike out there, but the view is well worth the effort, and it’s especially nice during the fall.

A little ways along the Scenic Highway, you’ll find the Glades Overlook, another perfect spot for picture taking.

A little farther along the drive you’ll come to Big Spruce Overlook then the Little Laurel Overlook and the Red Lick Overlook.

If these gorgeous views aren’t a sight for sore eyes, I don’t know what is.

While you’re at the Big Spruce Overlook, look for the Black Mountain Trail.

This trail takes you on a mountain path and then onto a portion of boardwalk with interpretive signs, followed by a little more rugged trail in a dense forest and then through the Cranberry Wilderness – which is more rugged still. There are no signs, just rock trail markers. This trail is for those intrepid adventurers looking for a real walk in the wilderness.

Located in the southern end of Pocahontas County is Beartown State Park.

If you haven’t been to Beartown, you haven’t experienced one of the most amazing sites in the county.

Beartown is a natural area of 107 acres, noted for its massive boulders, overhanging cliffs and unusual rock formations. It’s an easy hike down to the boardwalk which winds above and through the massive boulders which do look like they’d make an excellent home for bears.

Take Rt. 219 south toward Greenbrier County, and go not too far past Droop Mountain State Park. Just before you come to the Greenbrier County line, you’ll see signs to Beartown. The park is open April through October and, unfortunately, it is not handicapped accessible.

Photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service Recreation Staff
Williams River Valley Overlook is just one of the panoramic vistas which greets visitors on the Highland Scenic Drive of the Monongahela National Forest. Because of deep snow drifts, the road to this overlook is closed in winter, but during the rest of the year, this drive offers some of the best scenery in the county.

There are dozens more trails to explore in Pocahontas County – the Cow Pasture Trail, Honey Comb Rocks, Wyatt Nature Trail, Halfway Run and the miles and miles of trails in the Tea Creek Trail system.

And there are many more scenic overlooks, too – Gaudineer Overlook and picnic site, Mower Tract Overlook and Smoke Camp Knob Overlook.

I suggest you contact the Pocahontas Convention and Visitors Center at 304-799-4636  or visit them online at pocahontascounty.org or  call the Monongahela National Forest Service Greenbrier Ranger District at 304-799-4334 or the folks at the Cranberry Mountain Nature Center at 304-653-4826 or check them out on Facebook.

The staff at any of these offices are knowledgeable about hiking in the area and will be happy to tell you about trails and overlooks to help you plan your itinerary.

They can give you all the information you’ll need to make your outdoor hiking adventure safe and fun for your whole family.
Happy Trails!

Laura Dean Bennett may be contacted at ldb@pocahontastimes.com

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