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Exploring West Virginia’s Smoke Hole Canyon 

Smoke Hole Canyon, known to the locals as “The Smokes,” feels like a secret outdoor adventure hideaway. As you drive into Smoke Hole Canyon Recreation Area, you immediately get the sense of discovery as the 20-mile-long canyon walls rise up around you and the road winds with the South Branch of the Potomac River in a way that feels like the water is leading the way. 

Nestled within a 40 square mile area of the Monongahela National Forest and framed by North Fork Mountain and Cave Mountain, Smoke Hole Canyon is a mecca for hikers, bikers, climbers, fishermen, paddlers, tubers, and campers alike. Enter from Smoke Hole Road from State Route 220 in Pendleton County or from the north on State Route 55 from Grant County. Once you’ve found this hidden gem, here are some adventures to be had in Smoke Hole Canyon

Climbing the Canyon 

There are over 300 established climbs within Smoke Hole Canyon ranging from beginner-friendly to advanced sport climbs. Routes are well bolted with modern hardware and are spread out across the entire area, which makes finding them part of the adventure.  

Though there are many spots to choose from in The Smokes, a go-to area for climbers is Guide Wall. Offering a mix of trad and sport climbs between its two walls, Ninja and Sunshine, this climbing area has over 40 routes ranging from 5.5 to 5.11c graded routes. 

Hiking / Biking North Fork Mountain Trail 

There are many ways to spin your wheels in this area including some exciting mountain bike rides off of Smoke Road and scenic road rides starting from the Forman Center, all with various mileage and elevation gain. Out of all the biking options in the area, the North Fork Mountain Trail is the most adventurous. 

The North Fork Mountain Trail is a 24-mile stretch that travels along the western ridge of the canyon, offering one of the most dramatic views in West Virginia. There are a few different ways to ride this challenging trail—with the most daring riding the ridge south to north and descending to the North Fork Mountain trailhead on Smoke Hole Road. From there they either have a shuttle take them back to North Fork Mountain Fire Tower trailhead where they started, or they make a loop and ride back on Smoke Hole Road, adding 16 miles. 

There are two other trailheads near the northern end of the trail, Landis and Redman, that give riders the opportunity to shorten their rides while still offering a challenging and scenic experience. Starting at Landis trailhead traveling north creates a more approachable loop of roughly seven miles while keeping the butt-kicking climb aspect to the ride. 

North Fork Mountain Trail is also a popular hiking and backpacking area. Many hikers take on the challenging five-mile loop to Chimney Top near the north end of the trail, while backpackers will take around two days to hike the intense 24.7 miles. 

Fishing and Paddling the Potomac River

The South Branch of the Potomac River flows through Smoke Hole and is a classic fishing trip through the canyon. Stocked with rainbow and golden trout while homing an abundance of native trout, largemouth bass, and smallmouth bass this is a fantastic place to wet your line. Smoke Hole Outfitters, Harman’s, and Three Rivers Guiding are all fantastic nearby guiding services that offer lessons and guided fishing experiences. 

This 16-mile stretch of river is also a stunning area to paddle or float with dramatic canyon features and hot spots for viewing birds like bald eagles, ospreys, sandpipers, and kingfishers. The majority of the rapids on the route are class I-II with a few class II+ to be aware of. Water’s Edge Outfitters can help get you on the water with shuttle and guide services along with tube, kayak, and canoe rentals. 

Tubing Big Bend Campground

If you are looking for a one-stop shop for river fun and camping, you owe it to yourself to head to Big Bend Campground. Thanks to Mother Nature herself, this section of the river bends into a sharp horseshoe shape around the campground, creating the perfect tubing section for floaters. No shuttle required— put in on one side of the road, float around the bend, jump out on the other side and simply walk across the road back to where you originally put in to do it all again. It can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to float around the entire scenic bend and offers a full day’s worth of fun.  

Camping and Attractions

Along with Big Bend Campground, there are great camping/lodging options near and within Smoke Hole. Smoke Hole Caverns and Log Cabin Resort is a one stop destination for fun with beautiful Appalachian cabins and offering guided fishing and cavern tours, a huge gift shop, 9-hole putt-putt, and more. If you are looking to pitch a tent, Eagles Rocks Campground, Jess Judy Campground, and Shreve’s Campground are all excellent camping options in Smoke Hole Canyon. 

Shreve’s Country Store not only offers groceries, beer, drinks, ice, bait, fishing supplies, inner tubes, and anything else you may need on a camping trip, they also host live music shows on holiday weekends. It’s also a great place to snag some Wifi as it is limited throughout the canyon. 

Learn more about Smoke Hole Canyon and plan your trip here

Sponsored Content by: Shannon McGowan of Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine

All Photos and Video by Shannon McGowan

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