Perched on yet another cliff tabletop, soaking up the autumn sunshine, I am on the verge of complete bliss. Then, with a jolt, I find myself eyeball to beak with an impressively taloned hawk. Before I can identify the species, it rockets out of sight.
Turns out my napping spot on North Fork Mountain is one of the best places in the East for seeing raptors. It's along a route that birds of prey follow during their fall migration.
From the lofty, rocky ramparts of the 24-mile North Fork Mountain Trail in Monongahela National Forest, hikers have a ringside seat as eight species of hawks, as well as golden and bald eagles, soar south.
The trail isn't just for the birds, though. For hikers who like sweeping vistas, it's heaven. A several-hundred-yard sidestep from almost anywhere along this mountaintop pathway puts you
on the edge of a precipice with panoramic views. There's also a rare virgin forest of deciduous trees and conifers containing the southernmost stands of white birch and red pines.
The southern trailhead (the best section for cliffs and hawk viewing) is 9 miles west of Franklin where US 33 crests North Fork Mountain.
Mid-September through October.
West Virginia Hiking Trails, by Allen de Hart (Appalachian Mountain Club, 617-523-0636; 16.95).
Monongahela National Forest, (304) 257-4488.