Hiking & Backpacking

Explore the Headwaters

Whether you’re looking for an easy stroll to outstanding views or a rugged overnight in the deep forest, you’ll find it in abundance in the proposed Birthplace of Rivers National Monument area. Be sure to stop at the Cranberry Visitor Center for area maps and to learn about the incredible natural history of this special place.

Middle Fork, Big Beechy Trail Loop

This 16.75-mile loop offers the possibility of an overnight backpacking trip or a very long day hike in the long days of summer. It begins with a descent into the dark forest along the Middle Fork Williams River, amid red spruce and yellow birch and endless carpets of moss and fern. There are more waterfalls and cascades per mile of hiking than perhaps anywhere else in the Monongahela National Forest. The Middle Fork, Slick Rock Run, and the fancifully named Hell for Certain Branch all contribute to sights and sounds of water. There are campsites along the way, and despite the popularity of the area, finding your own quiet spot is not nearly so challenging as the long 8-mile, nearly 2,000-foot climb back up to the scenic highway. This makes a 2-day trip, but you’ll want to slow it down and add second night in the forest. Be warned: the hike up Big Beechy is big steepy.

At a glance: The hike begins and ends at the North-South Trail parking area off Route 150, the Scenic Highway, then follows the Middle Fork Trail downstream. At the junction with the Big Beechy Trail, turn right and enjoy the forest on you way back.

Black Mountain Loop

Here’s a perfect not-too-challenging hike to accompany a drive along the Scenic Highway. It departs and returns to the Williams River Overlook, offering astounding views from the Williams River and Big Spruce overlooks, and open skies as you wander through fields of fern. At 4.6 miles, the hike allows you to spend a few hours on foot atop the ridge while enjoying a drive from overlook to overlook. Couple this hike with a visit to the Cranberry Visitor Center.

At a glance: The hike begins at the Williams River Overlook on the Highland Scenic Highway, 6.3 miles north of the visitor center. There is a lot of up-and-down on the hike, but the overall elevation changes are modest, with the exception of a 200’ climb near the end.

Cranberry Glades Loop

This hike travels the mostly level Cowpasture Loop as it encircles the famed Cranberry Glades, the southernmost tundra environment in the U.S. In the warm months, this means a display of plants you typically don’t see south of Canada. Highlights include the quiet seclusion of the Cranberry Wilderness, long views of Kennison Mountain, a side trip to Cranberry Glades Botanical Area, crossings of the South Fork Cranberry River, and the shady tunnel of sugar maple and yellow birch.

You can turn this one into an overnight loop by incorporating a trip over Kennison Mountain, departing from the Cranberry Visitor Center on the Pocahontas Trail and skirting over Blue Knob down the Kennison Mountain Trail to the South Fork Trail. If you do, though, you’ll miss the Cranberry Glades Botanical Area; be sure to check it out.

At a glance: From the Cranberry Visitor Center, follow Rte. 39/55 west a quarter mile. Turn right onto FS 102, and follow it 1.2 miles to the of Cowpasture Trail head. Begin by heading southeast, or right, on the trail. You will emerge back onto FS 102 after about 5.5 miles, and return via the road, passing the Cranberry Glades Botanical Area where there are restrooms.

Tea Creek Mountain Loop

This rugged, scenic, 2-day hike presents solitude, swift moving water, spruce woods, and sheer adventure. There are few pure spruce forests like it. You’ll experience its glorious microclimate, full of bogs and wet rocks and mist, as well as secluded swimming holes and utter darkness at night. There are numerous stream crossings, some on bridges, some requiring rock hopping. It’s a strenuous 10-mile hike that a fit hiker with only a daypack can do in a day. For some alone time in the woods, though, bring a tent or plan to stay at the shelter at the confluence of Tea Creek and Right Fork—where you can rest your tired legs in a creek setting that no camera can give justice to.

At a glance: Entering the Scenic Highway from Marlinton, go south 5.7 miles to the Tea Creek Mountain/Right Fork trailhead (across from the Little Laurel Overlook). Follow Right Fork Trail and the babbling sounds of Right Fork 3.5 miles to North Face Trail. You can detour right along the Tea Creek Trail to a trail shelter and pools. Continue left on North Face Trail to Tea Creek Mountain Trail for the return. Plan for rests along the way.

Resources

There are several hiking guides to West Virginia that feature hikes and backpacking trips in the Cranberry area. Here are just a few.

For hiking in the Cranberry area (the proposed Birthplace of Rivers National Monument), here are a few sources: Hiking West Virginia by Mary Reed (Falcon Guides); Day & Overnight Hikes in West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest by Johnny Molloy (Menasha Ridge Press); and 50 Hikes in West Virginia by Leonard M. Adkins (The Countryman Press).

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