Embrace the Wilderness: Top Routes for Hiking in Monongahela National Forest

Sunrise at Bear Rocks Preserve, in Dolly Sods Wilderness, Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia. | Jon Bilous

Monongahela National Forest is a gem tucked away in the Eastern United States, specifically in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia. This expansive forest reserve covers over 921,000 acres of protected forest, offering a rich, diverse landscape for outdoor recreation lovers, and especially for those who enjoy hiking. The forest is a vibrant tapestry of rolling hills, lush greenery, picturesque valleys, and a wide variety of flora and fauna.

In Monongahela National Forest, you will discover more than 800 miles of trails, each with varying degrees of difficulty and unique characteristics. The forest is home to some of the highest points in the state, including the Spruce Knob, which rises to an astonishing 4,863 feet. Such features make the forest an exciting destination for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts.

Why Choose Monongahela National Forest for Hiking?

Choosing Monongahela National Forest for hiking is an opportunity to immerse yourself in an environment that is both challenging and rewarding. The forest’s topography provides a diverse range of routes that cater to different skill levels. Whether you are a novice hiker seeking a gentle trail or an experienced adventurer looking for a strenuous climb, hiking in Monongahela National Forest has something for everyone.

Additionally, hiking in this forest allows you to experience its biological diversity firsthand. From the hardwood forests at lower elevations to the spruce and fir forests at higher altitudes, each hike presents a new exploration of the forest’s flora and fauna. The forest is home to an impressive array of wildlife, including white-tailed deer, black bears, and a variety of bird species, enhancing the overall hiking experience.

The Top Routes for Hiking in Monongahela National Forest

For those interested in hiking in Monongahela National Forest, there are numerous trails to consider. However, three routes stand out for their unique features and varying degrees of difficulty.

The first is the North Fork Mountain Trail, a challenging yet rewarding trail that offers panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. Second is the Seneca Creek Backcountry, a moderate trail that takes you through beautiful meadows and along a bubbling creek. Lastly, the gentle Greenbrier River Trail is perfect for beginners, offering a serene journey along the Greenbrier River.

Detailed Guide to Hiking Route #1: North Fork Mountain Trail

The North Fork Mountain Trail is a 24.2-mile point-to-point trail known for its stunning views and challenging terrain. The trail is rated as difficult, making it ideal for experienced hikers seeking a rigorous adventure. Despite its challenge, the trail rewards hikers with panoramic views of the surrounding landscape, including the Dolly Sods Wilderness and the South Branch Potomac River.

The trail begins at Smoke Hole Road and ends near the town of Circleville, with several access points along the way. The terrain varies from rocky outcrops to forested areas, with significant changes in elevation. It is recommended to bring adequate water and navigation tools due to the trail’s length and difficulty.

Detailed Guide to Hiking Route #2: Seneca Creek Backcountry

The Seneca Creek Backcountry trail is a 26.5-mile loop trail that offers a moderate challenge for hikers. The trail winds through beautiful meadows, alongside the bubbling Seneca Creek, and through dense forests. The trail also features several waterfalls, adding to its scenic charm.

The trailhead is located near the town of Riverton. The trail is well-marked and offers several camping spots along the route, making it a popular choice for overnight backpacking trips. Be sure to bring a camera to capture the stunning wildflowers and wildlife you may encounter along the way.

Detailed Guide to Hiking Route #3: Greenbrier River Trail

The Greenbrier River Trail is a 77-mile rail trail that offers a gentle hike suitable for beginners and families. The trail follows the course of the Greenbrier River, providing hikers with serene views of the water and the surrounding forest.

The trail is surfaced with crushed limestone, making it easy to navigate. The trail offers several access points, allowing hikers to choose the length and duration of their hike. Along the way, there are several picnic spots and rest areas, adding to the trail’s appeal for leisurely hikes.

Preparing for Your Hiking Adventure in Monongahela

Preparation is key when planning a hiking adventure in Monongahela National Forest. Start by choosing a trail that matches your skill level and physical fitness. Then, check the weather forecast to ensure suitable conditions for your hike.

Pack essential items such as water, snacks, a map, compass, first-aid kit, and a headlamp or flashlight. Dress in layers to accommodate changes in weather and temperature. And, don’t forget to inform someone of your hiking plans before you depart.

Safety Tips for Hiking in Monongahela National Forest

Hiking in Monongahela National Forest is an enjoyable activity, but it’s important to prioritize safety. Always stay on designated trails to protect the environment and avoid getting lost. Keep a safe distance from wildlife, and never attempt to feed or approach them.

In case of an emergency, have a plan in place. Know the location of the nearest ranger station and carry a whistle or other noise-making device to attract attention. Lastly, always leave no trace. Carry out all trash and respect the natural environment.

Lodging and Facilities near Monongahela National Forest

There are several lodging options and facilities near Monongahela National Forest. These range from campgrounds and cabins within the forest to hotels and bed and breakfasts in nearby towns. For those who prefer a more rustic experience, the forest offers several backcountry camping areas.

Additionally, nearby towns such as Elkins and Marlinton offer a variety of amenities including restaurants, grocery stores, and outdoor gear shops. These towns also provide opportunities to explore local culture and history beyond your hiking adventure.

Embrace the Wilderness

Hiking in Monongahela National Forest offers an unparalleled opportunity to embrace the wilderness. The diverse trails cater to hikers of all skill levels, and the stunning landscapes provide a rewarding experience. So, choose a route, prepare for your adventure, and step into the wilderness to discover the beauty of Monongahela National Forest.