WHY GO: Pocahontas County, in southeastern West Virginia, seems to have been created just for outdoor recreation. Home to some of the most beautiful land in this half of the country, this mountainous region is the birthplace of eight rivers and is almost engulfed by the Monongahela National Forest. Within this vast tract are more than 800 miles of trails and even more miles of intriguing back roads and waterways, all within a two-hour drive from the Summit Bechtel Reserve, home of the BSA’s fourth national high-adventure base and the 2013 National Scout Jamboree.
TRAIL DETAILS: The Greenbrier River Trail, a 78-mile, hike-and-bike route operated by West Virginia State Parks, traces the former route of the old Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad. Featuring some of the most spectacular pastoral and woodland scenery in West Virginia, it traverses 35 bridges and two tunnels as it parallels the longest free-flowing river in the east, the Greenbrier River. This highly successful rails-to-trails conversion has been ranked by Backpacker Magazine as one of the Top 10 hiking trails in the United States.
WHERE TO START: Try Clover Lick, a former train depot. Park your car at the trailhead near the edge of town and head south.
WHERE TO CAMP: Choose from 12 rustic camping areas (permits not required) at three- to nine-mile intervals along the trail, both north and south.
ON FOOT: Expect an eye-catching backdrop, because much of the Greenbrier River Trail runs adjacent to the rugged Monongahela National Forest and is flanked by summits of the Allegheny Mountains. The trail also offers more than its share of old water towers, depots, and trestles from the steam-driven locomotive period.
About five miles south of Clover Lick, look for Sharp’s Tunnel and bridge, built in 1900. At 511 feet long, the tunnel is dark and spooky inside (pack a flashlight), and the bridge—shown above—spans an impressive 229 feet and rises to some 20 feet above the Greenbrier River.
ON BIKE: Plan for a level trail with a hard‑packed to rough-gravel surface—good for cyclists of any ability. For a fun, 26-mile weekend ride, begin at the charming, historic logging town of Cass, located along WV 66 about 10 miles northeast of Clover Lick. Then, head south on the Greenbrier River Trail to Marlinton.
The hardwood forest makes spotting black bears, deer, bobcats, and wild turkeys a possible pastime. You’ll also skirt ghost towns from the big-timber era. For knobby-tire biking—beginner to extreme—there’s an extensive network of single-track trails and old logging roads in the surrounding national forest.
ON WATERCRAFT: The Greenbrier offers one of the state’s premier float streams for both canoes and kayaks. Deep pools in the river provide ample fishing opportunities for brown and rainbow trout and smallmouth bass.
LOCAL WISDOM: North to south hiking and biking is easier (slightly downhill). Spring is delightful, and because of the elevation, summers are relatively cool. Autumn, with its stunning foliage, is a favorite for many. But no matter when you go, crowds will rarely slow you down on these trails.
WORTH THE TRIP: In late September, Mayberry-size Marlinton holds its famous (or infamous) West Virginia RoadKill Cook-off and Autumn Harvest Festival. Gotta-try dishes include Teriyaki-Marinated Bear, Pothole Possum Stew, Fricasseed Wabbit Gumbo, Rattlesnake Hot Bites, and Smeared Hog with Groundhog Gravy. No kidding.
RESOURCES: For trail information, contact Greenbrier River Trail State Park at 304-799-7416 or greenbrierrailtrailstatepark.com (click on “Digital Brochure”). For bike routes, rentals, and assistance, contact the Elk River Touring Center in Slatyfork (16 miles north of Marlinton on US 219) at 866-572-3771 or ertc.com. For general travel information about the area, contact Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau at 800-336-7009 or pocahontascountywv.com).
Author LARRY RICE (Gathering Paradise: Alaska Wilderness Journeys) resides in Buena Vista, Colo., and is a former contributing editor for Backpacker Magazine.
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