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Hiking Through West Virginia

West Virginia

Hiking Through West Virginia

By: Amy Lynch

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  • States:
    West Virginia

With its boundless natural beauty, the state of West Virginia has long been a point of inspiration for country music artists.

From the oak hickory forests blanketing its mountaintops to the cypress trees lining the creek beds below, West Virginia's highways and byways slice through bountiful forests, mountains and creeks. For those who prefer to hoof it, West Virginia's eastern border in particular offers several great options for hiking, before heading toward the state's capital city of Charleston. Populated by raccoons, opossums, gray foxes, brown bats and dozens of other mammal species, the state's hiking trails hold plenty of opportunities to get up close and personal with the state's inhabitants. For visitors who want to enjoy a road trip filled with a variety of outdoor experiences, the following 400-kilometer excursion takes road warriors along a crescent-shaped route through the state's greener parts, offering an array of hiking stops ranging from easy, accessible forest pathways to rugged overnight camping for serious outdoor enthusiasts.

Up Top: High Knob

A moderately challenging hike to set the tone of a West Virginia adventure.

Perched high atop Pendleton County near the town of Brandywine, West Virginia, High Knob Trail ascends to an elevation of nearly 1,200 meters inside George Washington National Forest. To get to the trailhead, take State Road 33 to enjoy scenic views while driving up to the top of Shenandoah Mountain.

Hiking the Shenandoah Mountain Trail North for about 1.5 kilometers brings adventurers to the 4.5-kilometer High Knob Trail, shared among hikers, bikers and horseback riders alike. The trail isn't too challenging for casual hikers, but does offer some moderate challenges along the way. The views from the Fire Tower Lookout are payoff enough, as is the abundance of fresh mountain air.

Outdoor Education: Seneca Rocks Discovery Center

An accessible stroll above a river valley with breathtaking views below.

From High Knob, a one-hour drive northwest provides a quick leap from a lush national forest to an equally breathtaking natural wonder: Seneca Rocks State Forest, a particularly beautiful division of Monongahela National Forest. Home to two rock climbing schools and nearly 400 documented climbing routes, it's popular among climbers, but its onsite discovery center and hiking trails draw crowds from far and wide as well. It's also conveniently located near Spruce Knob, the highest point in West Virginia, where a vertiginous lookout point is easily accessed by car.

 Open April through mid-October, the Scenic Rocks Discovery Center offers an easy two-kilometer hike that ascends with the help of switchbacks and generous rest areas, making the route suitable even for beginning hikers. A lookout platform provides steep views of the North Fork River Valley below, and the discovery center delights guests with educational events and live music on weekends during the summer months.

Into the Wild: Dolly Sods Wilderness Area

Up to several days' worth of hiking for overnight adventurers.

For travelers who can't get enough of the Monongahela's pristine beauty, Dolly Sods Wilderness Area just 30 kilometers north of the discovery center offers almost 80 kilometers of hiking trails, making it an ideal spot for overnight camping between hikes. While many trails in the surrounding area take visitors on out-and-back excursions, the 20-kilometer Dolly Sods North trail is a one-way adventure through sky-high meadows with vista views worthy of their own postcards.  

For those staying under the stars, Red Creek Campground has a dozen campsites with fire rings, picnic areas and tent pads, perfect for a good night's rest after a long day's hike.

Stonewall Jackson Lake State Park

Lakeside respite and relaxation at a state park resort with an array of trails.

The inverse of Dolly Sods' rugged campgrounds can be found less than two hours west by car at the plush resort in the middle of Stonewall Jackson Lake State Park. Complete with three restaurants and a golf course, this Lewis County getaway provides a luxurious break from the rough-and-tumble wilderness of the region without taking away the view. 

Encompassing 770 hectares, the resort grounds hold 26 kilometers of hiking trails with varying degrees of difficulty to suit a range of visitors' ability levels. Zipline, kayak and canoe experiences are also available for those in the mood to give their feet a rest, and for the ultimate in relaxation, an onsite spa soothes tired hikers' muscles with a menu of massages, wraps and treatments designed to melt away stress.

Country in the city: Kanawha State Forest

One long last look at West Virginia's wilderness before returning to the city.

As roadtrippers wind through West Virginia's roads back toward civilization, one last stop just outside of Charleston — the state's largest city — provides a final fresh-air adventure before returning to the urban core. An easy, 2.5-kilometer hike along the Overlook Rock Trail in Kanawha State Forest offers a long last look at the state's foliage up close: Canopied by trees, covered in moss and punctuated with calming streams throughout the grounds, the trail concludes with sweeping views of Charleston's surrounding hills. 

The city's favorite oasis is as popular among locals as it is visitors from elsewhere thanks to its quiet allure and convenient locale. It's an ideal way to wind down an escape into nature, gently ushering travelers back into daily life refreshed and renewed by the call of the wild.

When you're ready to rest up after all that hiking, check out all the other activities the Mountain State has to offer.

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