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

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

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

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

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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;

Key Skills

Photograph fall colors

Most hikers agree: When it comes to visual beauty, fall is tops. So then why do so many come away with one-dimensional, less-than-satisfying images? Use this quick guide to keep your photo album dynamic—and elevate your pictures to posterworthy, no matter where you turn your lens.

Wide-angle scenic


Set the scene and establish a sense of place

Ideal conditions

Clear to partly cloudy sky


Keep the sun at your side and slightly behind you to show more depth. Use a polarizer to reduce midday glare and make the sky appear bluer.



Show texture, nuance, and detail

Ideal conditions

Overcast skies for soft and even light, and to reduce shadows


If conditions aren’t ideal, have a friend cast a shadow over a small area of the ground while you photograph within it.



Add energy and motion, and frame the trip as a story

Ideal conditions

Overcast skies help even out the light if you’re taking photos in the forest. Technique Step slightly off-trail, squat low, and shoot your partner walking toward you so the trail comes in from the side.

See This

Cranberry Glades

The Cranberry Glades Botanical Area comprises five small peat bogs created during the last glacial period, about 10,000 years ago. These damp areas contain acidic soil that supports plants typically only seen at higher latitudes in Canada. Ground-creeping cranberry vines (bright red and ripe in the fall) grow in the sphagnum moss which covers most of the glades. Identify these wild edibles by their fingernail-size oval leaves, but wait until after the first frost (typically mid- to late-October) for the sweetest berries. Respect LNT rules when foraging: Pick a few berries here and there, but avoid denuding an entire vine; you’ll help minimize the impact and leave the area looking pristine.

Locals Know

Ruins of the old Mill Point Federal Prison, a work camp that was built without walls, fences, or boundaries, sit along the Cowpasture Trail, about one mile before the boardwalk. The prison opened in the early 1930s and housed more than 6,000 inmates in its heyday. Prison officials thought the remote location was enough to prevent escapes—and they were right for the most park. But in one juxtaposition of criminal behavior and gentlemanly integrity, a group of inmates assigned to drive the garbage truck to nearby Richwood promised a guard they would return. They kept their word and parked the truck at the prison—then made a break for it. The prison closed in 1959 and only a small strip of pavement and a few informational placards remain.

On the Menu 

Breakfast 1

On the road

Lunches 1 & 2

Apple and cheddar sandwiches

Dinner 1

Cranberry Salmon

Breakfast 2

Glades Oats with Pecans


Trail mix, dates

Cranberry Salmon

Savory sweetness

2 6-ounce salmon pouches

¾ cup couscous

2 green bell peppers, diced

¼ cup cranberries (harvested or store-bought dried)

1 tablespoon olive oil

Boil water and add couscous, oil, cranberries, and diced green pepper. Cover, remove from heat, and let sit for five minutes, then stir. Pan fry salmon filets until warm, then place on top of couscous. Serves two.

Glades Oats with Pecans

The tartness is local.

1 cup instant oatmeal

1 teaspoon brown sugar

1 teaspoon pecans, crushed

½ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ cup cranberries (harvested or store-bought dried)

Stir oatmeal, brown sugar, pecans, cinnamon, and cranberries into one cup boiling water. Let stand until water is absorbed. Serves two.

Grocery List (Aisle # In nearest store below)

[ ] green bell peppers (produce)

[ ] apples (produce)

[ ] dried cranberries (register)

[ ] wheat bread (1)

[ ] salmon pouches (2)

[ ] instant oatmeal (2)

[ ] dates (2)

[ ] trail mix (3)

[ ] pecans (3)

[ ] cheddar (6)

Pack Couscous, brown sugar, cinnamon, olive oil

NEAREST GROCERY STORE Fas Check Supermarket 916 3rd Ave., Marlinton, WV(304) 799-6336

Drop by Dirtbean Ohana for the chicken and portabello wrap and a smoothie, and don’t forget an energy-dense super cookie for the road. 217 8th St., Marlinton, WV; (304) 799-4038;