Climbers, photographers, and adventurers alike have either traveled to West Virginia’s famous Seneca Rocks State Park or have it on their bucket list. The magnificent landmark is right to attract the amount of attention that it does, the awe-inspiring 900-foot formation creates peaks like no other—but there is so much more adventure to be had in the area. I packed my bike, paddle board, and camera and set out to explore Grant County, a neighboring adventure mecca of West Virginia.
Smoke Hole Canyon Recreation Area
Nestled within a 40 square mile area of the Monongahela National Forest and framed by North Fork Mountain and Cave Mountain, Smoke Hole Canyon Recreation Area is a mecca for hikers, bikers, climbers, fishermen, paddlers, tubers, and campers alike. From a seemingly magical tubing section that doesn’t require a shuttle to challenging bike routes like the North Fork Mountain Trail that offer dramatic views from high above, this area is a must-see.
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 of the best ways to experience Smoke Hole Canyon: Adventures in Smoke Hole Canyon
Hiking Spruce Knob, the Tallest Point in West Virginia
The perfect escape into West Virginia’s wilderness, Spruce Knob is the state’s highest peak at 4,863 feet above sea level. The stunning scenery is made up of grassy openings, forested ridges, the sites and smells of red spruce trees, and blueberry and huckleberry plants abound. This quickly became one of my favorite spots to relax and photograph nature.
I recommend venturing to this area to anyone—not only does it offer multiple trails for day hikes or backpacking, there are also easy-grade trails for those looking to simply take a stroll through nature. The Whispering Spruce Trail is a half-mile gravel trail that loops around the Spruce Knob Tower and offers views of the surrounding mountains, wind-blown rock formations, a thick spruce patch, and a field of blueberry plants and azalea bushes.
For those looking for a backcountry experience, there are nearly 60 miles of trails that wind through thick forests that offer shade in the summertime and brilliant colors in the fall. There are also two nearby campgrounds at Spruce Knob Lake and Gatewood Campground.
Climbing the Via Ferrata
You will be hard-pressed to find anything quite as spectacular as the Via Ferrata in not only our region but in the entire country. Italian for “by way of iron” the Via Ferrata is a fixed system of steel rungs and cables that allows climbers to travel up and over two towering rock fins with the help of a professional NROCKS guide. I had heard from many that the views were amazing, but once I made it over that first fin, any expectations I had were immediately exceeded.
This is no walk in the park—you definitely need to work while moving from one section to the next during this three-and-a-half to five-hour climb, but it is beyond worth it. You gain 1085 feet in elevation as you go, cross a suspension bridge that towers over full-grown trees, and reach exposed heights of 280 feet.
NROCKS also offers various top-rope climbing trips for those who are looking to try their hand at taking on natural rock. They also offer exhilarating zipline experiences through the North Fork Valley along with wild caving tours.
Tubing and Paddling the Potomac River
From splashy white water rapids to easy river floats, there are many ways to get on the water in Grant County. I reached out to Water’s Edge Outfitters for a guided stand-up paddleboard float down a class I section of the Potomac River. They offer all things river, from rentals and shuttle services to guided fishing and paddling trips. We put in at their private boat launch just west of downtown Petersburg and floated down to Oldfields Bridge River Access point after taking in views of dramatic canyon walls, bald eagle nests, and serene sections of river perfect for jumping in for a swim.
The North Fork of the South Branch of the Potomac, Hopeville Canyon, offers a four to five-mile class III run that offers views of the cliffs of North Fork Mountain. There are also nearby lakes, like South Mille Creek Lake and Spruce Knob Lake, that offer accessible and beautiful flatwater paddling.
The City of Petersburg
In between all of these adventures, I enjoyed heading back into town to explore some of the local shops and restaurants. One of my favorite places to grab a coffee and a snack was at The Grove Cafe and Bakery. Other local favorites include Cheetah B’s exquisite All-American casual dining, Twisted Pig BBQ and cajun cuisine, Family Traditions wholesome old-fashioned cooking, and Bambino’s Pizza & Italian Restaurant for when you get a craving for pasta.
Though there are plenty of fantastic camping options in the area, I chose to treat myself to a stay at the newly renovated Hermitage Inn and Tap House. Built in 1841 and converted to a hotel in 1881, The Hermitage is one of the oldest properties in Petersburg, West Virginia. After a local family bought the property in 2021, the hotel has been upgraded to the beautiful and cozy inn that it is today with its rich history preserved through the use of original doors, materials, and design throughout the buildings.
Open to the public and just a few feet from the rooms, the Hermitage Inn’s Tap House became my go-to for dinner. Featuring an upscale-casual menu sourced with fresh, local ingredients, I couldn’t imagine a better place to unwind after a day of exploring Grant County.
Other Nearby Gems
- Blackwater Falls State Park
- 20 miles of hiking trails, an incredible view of the 63-foot waterfall, a fun downtown area, and endless ways to get outside and explore.
- Snowshoe Mountain Resort
- With no off-season, Snowshoe offers endless outdoor adventure from 251 of skiable terrain, an exciting downhill bike park, and music and sporting events happening all year round.
- Reed’s Creek Climbing
- A small but fun sport climbing area with limestone cliffs and moderate-level climbs between Franklin and Petersburg.
- White Grass Ski Touring Center
- Locally owned and operated, this charming cross-country ski touring center has endless trails, rentals, lessons, warming huts, and a backcountry ski specialty shop.
- Dolly Sods
- Big rock formations, beautiful hikes that are great for family and pets, and incredible views. Just do it, trust me.
- Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge
- The 500th National Wildlife Refuge ever established in the country. The refuge encompasses nearly 17,000 acres preserving wetlands and higher elevation uplands of the Allegheny Mountains. Great place to take the family out in nature.
Sponsored Content by: Shannon McGowan of Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine.
All Photos and Video by Shannon McGowan