The West Virginia Road Trip: Low Miles, Big Adventure
Guide to the West Virginia Road Trip:
BRING: Mountain bike, climbing gear, water shoes
HIGHLIGHT: Long downhill on North Fork Mountain
SOUVENIR: Facebook status photo from the top of Seneca Rocks
The trip begins near the peak of North Fork Mountain, off Forest Road 79, where an 11.5-mile backcountry mountain bike adventure awaits. Pedal north on the North Fork Mountain Trail over lichen-covered boulders near the dramatic edge of North Fork Mountain, where juggy cliffs hang 2,000 feet over the river valley below. The tread is technical, but completely rideable, and after you make it through several miles of rolling terrain, you’ll finish with a constant three-mile downhill that drops 2,000 feet in a series of scree-covered switchbacks. Make sure you take time off the saddle to check out the views from the western rim of the mountain, including a short scramble to the top of Chimney Rock, a pillar of sandstone with a bomber 360-degree view just before the final descent. Bring two cars or arrange a shuttle with Eagle’s Nest Outfitters (304-257-2393).
Grab a site at the bottom of the North Fork Mountain in Smoke Hole Canyon Recreation Area ($20), which sits in the middle of a 20-mile-long gorge cut by the South Branch of the Potomac and offers excellent tubing and fishing from your campground.
Break down camp and head to the south end of the mountain, where Seneca Rocks rises 1,000 feet from the valley floor in a near-vertical sheet of sandstone. Seneca is one of those iconic climbing destinations that even non-climbers owe it to themselves to scrape their way up and over. You can hike to the north peak of Seneca, but the south peak can only be summited via technical rock climbing. There are easy 5.2 routes to the top, but if you’re not familiar with Seneca, your best bet is to hire a guide from Seneca Rocks Climbing School. A full day will cost you $225, but they’ll get you to the top via a route that suits your ability and make sure all your knots are tied right, which is priceless, really.
Camp at Seneca Shadows, the federally owned campground with tent sites that have views of the Rocks and clean showers for $20. There’s a trail that leads from the campground into town and the Front Porch, where the pizza is cheap (304-567-2555).
Take WV 32 toward Canaan Valley, then FS 19 to the 17,371-acre Dolly Sods, a federally designated Wilderness area stacked with high elevation bog and heath ecosystems, the kind of terrain you usually only find in Canada. You’re going to knock out an 8.5-mile loop that combines Red Creek Trail, Rocky Point Trail, and Big Stonecoal Trail, which serves as a mini-highlight reel of the Sods. Start at the Red Creek Trailhead off FS 19 and be prepared for pristine swimming holes, fields of reindeer moss and spruce groves. You’ll also enjoy long-range views from Lions Head, a series of flat outcroppings on Rocky Point, before you call it a day.
After the hike, head into tiny downtown Davis for a Shovelhead burrito (homemade pulled pork and horseradish slaw, $8) at Hellbender Burritos, then travel a bit farther into the even tinier town of Thomas for one (or three) pints of Almost Heaven Ale, an amber ale with a subtle and seductive caramel finish, at the uber-hip Mountain State Brewing Company.
Call it a night at Canaan Valley State Park, where $20 gets you a primo car-camping site with hiking and mountain biking trails spreading out from the campground.