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Backpacker Magazine – October 2011

Rip & Go: Cranberry Loop - Monongahela National Forest, WV

Circle an upland swamp rich with views, solitude, and wild edibles.

by: Amy Reinink

Cranberry glades (Photo by Paul Rezendes)
Cranberry glades (Photo by Paul Rezendes)
Trailside ferns (Photo by Pat and Chuck Blackley)
Trailside ferns (Photo by Pat and Chuck Blackley)
Fall colors (Photo by Paul Rezendes)
Fall colors (Photo by Paul Rezendes)

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Do it

Hike among fern-lined forests and view highland bogs on a 15.7-mile loop along one of this area’s least-traveled paths. From the Cranberry Mountain Nature Center, head south on the blue-blazed Pocahontas Trail (1) into a grove of maple, beech, black cherry, and birch trees, which change into fall’s yellows, oranges, and purples in October. Reach the Blue Knob Trail junction (2) at mile 2.5, and turn right. Red spruce line the path, and a 50-foot spur near the top delivers you to the 4,383-foot summit (3), complete with a view of blue mountain ridges to the southeast. Return to the spur junction and continue northwest to join the Kennison Mountain Trail (4). Cross WV 39/55 at mile 3.7 (5), then turn north onto the South Fork Trail .5 mile later. Hike past 10-foot-tall, moss-covered sandstone outcroppings, then cross a series of wooden footbridges over a few creeks. After crossing FR 102 (6), head northeast on the Cowpasture Trail, which passes through rhododendron tunnels to open fields with waist-high grasses and goldenrod. A wooden viewing platform (7) at mile 6.9 offers an open glimpse of the wide, green expanse of the Cranberry Glades Botanical Area, an acidic highlands bog like those more commonly found in Canada (“See This”). Kennison Mountain (4,445 feet) stands to the west. Pick a few handfuls of cranberries, and camp in one of the flat, grassy areas on the left. Next day, hike 5.2 miles to a wayward piece of blacktop and a set of placards marking the former site of Mill Point Federal Prison (8) (“Locals Know”). Hit FR 102 again, and road-walk .1 mile north to the Cranberry Glade boardwalk (9). Retrace your steps on the Cowpasture Trail to the intersection with the Charles Creek Trail (10) and continue south on the grassy, meadow-side path. Pass a thick spruce forest on your right—Mill Creek prisoners may have planted it in the 1940s. Turn right on SR 150 and continue to the nature center.

Trip Planner

Get there From Charleston, WV, follow I-79 north for 57 miles to US 19 S. Go 21 miles and take WV 55 for 13 miles to the nature center parking lot.

Gear up Appalachian Sport, 3 Seneca Trail, Marlinton, WV. (304) 799-4050;

Permit Not required

Map Free; download at

Contact (304) 653-4826;

Trip data

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