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West Virginia Mountain Hobnobbing

Birds and deer are your only companions on this stretch of the Allegheny Trail.

The lure of the wild runs especially deep in West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest, where well-known wilderness areas like Cranberry, Otter Creek, and Dolly Sods attract backpackers like honey does bees. Just as wild and significantly less crowded is the other 90 percent of “the Mon’s” 900,000 acres, a land known only to local nature lovers, some hunters, and a few solitude-hungry hikers. Consider the 12-mile portion of the Allegheny Trail from Gaudineer Scenic Area to High Falls in the vicinity of Durbin, for instance. Songbirds and white-tailed deer were our only company as my husband and I passed through stands of old-growth trees along the spine of Shavers Mountain.

We started at the Gaudineer Scenic Area, a 140-acre, mountain-top preserve, where we pitched our tent the first night beneath towering red spruce atop 4,309-foot Gaudineer Knob. From there we followed the yellow-blazed Allegheny Trail’s strenuous course north, alternating between 4,000-foot knobs and 3,000-foot saddlebacks a half dozen times.

At 11.7 miles, the Allegheny intersects with blue-blazed High Falls Trail. Two miles west are the falls of Shavers Fork, one of the state’s most beautiful streams. An east turn onto High Falls Trail leads to the West Fork Trail, an easy rail-trail along the west fork of the Greenbrier River. Another diverse habitat of wetlands, wildflowers, and field birds unfolds along this trail. In time, you pass through Wildell, a former logging town marked only by an eerie signpost.

At the end of West Fork Trail you can either have a car waiting, or take the flagged but as yet unfinished trail back to the Allegheny and go north to Gaudineer for a challenging 31-mile loop. To customize a shorter loop, take any of the connecting trails that lead from the Allegheny Trail east to the West Fork Trail.

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