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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

West Virginia's Monongahela National Forest

Classic eastern mountain scenery along West Virginia's skyline pathway.

by: Ad Crable

PAGE 1 2

Contact Information:

Monongahela National Forest Potomac Ranger District Route 3, Box 240 Petersburg, WV 26847 304/257-4488

Seneca Rocks Visitor Center Box 13 Seneca Rocks, WV 26884 304/567-2827

Location: The Monongahela National Forest is located in eastern West Virginia, 100 miles northeast of Charleston and 8 miles west of Franklin. For more information on the area, contact the Petersburg Chamber of Commerce at 304/257-2722.

Getting There: From Harrisonburg, Virginia, drive west on U.S. 33 to Franklin, West Virginia. The southern terminus of the trail is 9 miles west of Franklin at ridge crest on U.S. 33.

Seasonal Information: The recommended seasons are spring and fall. Summers are hot and dry with highs in the 90s. Winters can reach lows of 20 degrees F.

Wildlife: While walking from the trail to the cliffs, you might discover white-tailed bucks lying low in the thick mats of blueberry bushes. Grouse often thunder out of the brush, and turkey vultures soar overhead. There are wild goats that have been startling hikers for years.

Insects: Contact park office for information.

Plant Life: The narrow trail leads under maple and oak trees that shimmer red and yellow when backlit by the high sun. It's a place where such far-north species as aspen and white birch are treated to a little southern hospitality, and warmth-loving magnolias get a Yankee nod of approval for toughing it out so far north.

Like most national forests, these woods have been logged at various times, but the summit of North Fork Mountain was spared the axe. Here the trail passes through an ancient forest consisting of several oak species that are stunted and twisted by the wind. The trail is so isolated and rugged that in places, it's in danger of being overrun by the mountain laurel, vast fern beds, flaming azaleas, and grasses that line the route.

Blueberries and huckleberries can be found in the high alpine openings in the Spruce Knob area. Usually ripening from late June to early July, these morsels are delicious when eaten still warm from the sun. But be aware that snakes may be found in the same rocky locations as the berry bushes and bears are particularly found of berries.

Facilities: Campgrounds in the Seneca Rocks area include Big Bend, Seneca Shadows, and the privately-owned Yokums Private Vacationland. Sites typically include picnic tables, lantern posts, and fire rings. Piped water and flush toilets are available April through October.

Camping is allowed outside of designated areas, and there are cabin rentals in some areas.

The Seneca Rocks Visitor Center is open April 1 through October 31, 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily, and November 1 through March 31, weekends from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Parking: Information available from park office.

Permits: No permits are required. Fees for developed campgrounds range between $5 and $30.

Policies: Information available from park office.


  • There is no available water along the trail.
  • Only trained and experienced climbers should attempt to scale the rocks.
  • Weather in the area, especially on Spruce Knob, can be severe. Be prepared for rain throughout the year and snow in every season but summer. Ridgetop winds can be fierce.
  • Be aware that poisonous timber rattlers and copperhead snakes are found in the area.
  • Most of the forest roads are narrow and winding, surfaced with gravel, and are often very rough. Watch for other vehicles and use extreme caution when driving.
  • During hunting seasons, hikers are urged to dress in high visibility clothing.

Leave No Trace:

  • Stay on trail where possible to avoid trampling sensitive plants along the edges of the trail and near cliffs.
  • Respect areas of private land; the trail crosses private land in four areas.
  • Pack in, pack out.
All LNT guidelines apply.

Maps: Forest and trail maps are available from the National Forest office and Seneca Rocks Visitor Center.

"Monongahela National Forest Hiking Guide," a detailed guidebook that contains trail locations and topographic maps, is available for $12.95 from the visitor center and Petersburg Ranger District.

Other Trip Options:

  • Located northwest of the Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, Dolly Sods is comprised of a 10,215-acre wilderness and a 2,000-acre scenic area.
  • Flat Rock Roaring Plains offers 20 miles of hiking trails where you can escape the crowds.
  • A bird banding station is operated by West Virginia University and members of the Brooks Bird Club from mid-August to early October in the nearby Dolly Sods Scenic Area. You may observe the banders at work as they carefully band thousands of small songbirds.
  • George Washington National Forest lies to the east in Virginia.
  • Canaan Valley Resort and Blackwater Falls state parks lie to the north in West Virginia.
  • For state park information, call 800/CALL-WVA.

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Jan 28, 2010

"(By the way, if you're wondering how to pronounce Monongahela -- and who isn't? -- it's moh-NON-ga-HEE-la, with the accent on the second and fourth syllables.)"

It's Monon-ga-hell-a


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