3 best backpacking trips in West Virginia
When it comes to finding seclusion in the great outdoors, there’s no better place than West Virginia.
Filled with gorgeous landscapes begging to be explored, West Virginia is a backpacker’s paradise. But with so many options, it can be hard to decide where to go. We’ve narrowed down some of the best of the best to help you choose.
1. Cranberry Wilderness
The Cranberry Wilderness has been called the crown jewel of the Monongahela National Forest, which covers more than 47,000 acres filled with rhododendron thickets, rushing streams, wide-open meadows and breathtaking views. The area also has plenty of spots that are perfect for backcountry camping, and you might even see a black bear or 2.
The best way to experience the wilderness is a combination of trails that form a 24 or 27-mile route. Beginning along the North Fork, climb up the Birch Log Trail and down along the Laurelly Branch Trail to the Middle Fork of the Williams River.
Then you have a decision to make: for the shorter trip, take a right to the Hell for Certain Branch camping area. For more mileage, go left and follow the path to the confluence of Big Beechy Trail and Big Beechy Run, where there are some good camping spots. Whichever way you decide to go, turn around and head back in the same direction you came when you leave.
2. Spruce Knob
Spruce Knob is unique because unlike the rest of its mountain range, it has a distinct alpine vibe to it, making it feel like you’re somewhere in New England. It’s the highest peak in the Allegheny Mountains and the highest point in West Virginia at 4,863 feet. It’s also the 13th most isolated peak in the contiguous U.S., so you’ll certainly find solitude here.
The 16.5-mile trek to the summit has been called one of the top 5 backpacking routes in the mid-Atlantic. The trail travels through spruce forest and meadows, with waterfalls along the way and, of course, panoramic views from Spruce Mountain.
Start by leaving your car at the Spruce Knob parking area and take the Huckleberry Trail for almost 5 miles to the Lumberjack Trail. After about 2 miles, make your way onto the High Meadows Trail to Seneca Creek Trail, and be prepared for a few creek crossings.
About a quarter mile before Judy Springs is a spot that is known as the most beautiful campsite in the entire Monongahela National Forest, along the banks of Seneca Creek with a rushing waterfall across the way. This is a lovely place to set up camp for the night before traveling the Judy Springs Trail, the steepest section of the entire trek.
After climbing up Spruce Mountain on the Judy Springs Trail, head back into the forest to take the Huckleberry Trail back to Lumberjack and down to the parking lot. This is a trip you’ll be telling everyone about for months to come.
3. Dolly Sods Wilderness
With its sandstone cliffs, red spruce trees and grass-filled meadows, the high-altitude plateau known as Dolly Sods is a backpacking beauty for the books. The area has more than 47 miles of trails in total, but the 15-mile hike through Dolly Sods North is particularly breathtaking. You’ll travel through dense woods and along grassy slopes, past bogs and through creeks, all to get up to a ridge with some of the best views around of Dolly Sods and the Canaan Valley.
After parking, take the Bear Rocks Trail to the Dobbin Grade Trail. Just after the 2nd mile, head onto the Raven Ridge Trail. Go through the intersection with Beaver View Trail and stay on Raven Ridge until you get to Rocky Ridge Trail, where you will find those scenic views. At mile 5.5, there’s a junction with the Dobbin Grade Trail, but stay on Rocky Ridge until Harmon Trail. In about 1.5 miles, there is a signpost, where you will turn left onto Blackbird Knob Trail. After crossing Red Creek, the path on your left leads to Red Spruce Grove, your campsite for the night.
Near the junction of Blackbird Knob and Red Creek Trails there is a waterfall and swimming hole (known as “The Forks”) if you want to take a dip to cool off. When you’re done splashing around, get on Blackbird again and take it to Upper Creek Trail. Turn left and follow the trail until you reach Dobbin Grade again. Turn right back onto Bear Rocks back to your car.
This post was last updated on July 27, 2020