Laurel Fork Wilderness, West Virginia

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A hike in the Laurel Fork Wilderness east of Elkins, West Virginia, is for those looking for a challenge. Trail signs and blazes may be nonexistent, and budget constraints keep the forest service from maintaining the trails on a regular basis. Expect faint routes and overgrown pathways; be prepared to crash through shoulder high grasses, ford side streams, and search for the, possibly, obscure turnoff that ascends along Beaver Dam Run and out of the wilderness.

Nevertheless, the rewards are many. This is the state’s least-visited wilderness, so solitude is almost assured, wildflowers abound, and wildlife includes black bear, bobcat, mink, and beaver. Bring a fly rod to cast for native trout. Ferns are so abundant that you should carry a field guide. So far, I’ve identified Christmas, New York, cinnamon, bracken, hay-scented, interrupted, silvery glade, cutleaf grape, and sensitive ferns.

You could walk the entire wilderness as a long day hike, but I recommended you make this an overnighter. Campsites are plentiful along the stream, or you can stay in the forest service’s Laurel Fork Campground (not quite in the middle of the trek).

After successfully facing the rigors and confusions of the wilderness, you may reach the same conclusion I have. Sometimes it’s more interesting and gratifying to hike a route that requires navigational skills rather than one that coddles you with groomed treadways and manicured foliage.

Detailed information may be found in 50 Hikes in West Virginia and Monongahela National Forest Hiking Guide.

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