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6 best hiking trails in West Virginia

The Endless Wall Trail The Endless Wall Trail is a moderate path leading to Diamond Point, a rock outcropping 1,000 feet above the New River Gorge. Along the way are ladders that climbers use to access the sheer cliff faces for which the trail is named. | Photo by West Virginia Department of Tourism

There’s the kind of walking you do because you know it’s good for you: think treadmills and mall marching. And then there are walks you’ll remember and yearn to repeat, like those waiting in the heights and hollows of West Virginia. You’ll never run out of trails or mountain-fresh air laced with scents of evergreen forests or fragrant wildflowers. There is endless beauty to discover, whether it’s a hidden waterfall, a grazing deer, a rose blooming in the remains of a mining camp, or a panorama of mountain ranges under a dome of blue sky.

West Virginia is home to hundreds of trails, ranging from smooth walking paths to steep, rocky terrain for hardcore hiking. Here’s a sampler of places (all of which allow leashed dogs) where you can choose to be easy or hard on yourself—and find rewards either way.

1. Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, Harpers Ferry

Jefferson Rock

Jefferson Rock, an iconic spot in historic Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, has a view of the steeple of St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church and the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. The Appalachian Trail passes by the church and Jefferson Rock. | Photo by West Virginia Department of Tourism

More than 20 miles of trails reveal Harpers Ferry’s tumultuous Civil War history and the natural beauty of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers as they converge. The 4-mile Lower Town Trail descends from the visitors center to the Shenandoah and follows the river past Civil War ruins to the firehouse where abolitionist John Brown was captured. Historic buildings that house museums, shops, restaurants, and inns line the steep, cobblestoned streets.

The route briefly joins the Appalachian Trail, leading up rough stone steps to Jefferson Rock, named for Thomas Jefferson. The nation’s third president said the view of mountains and rivers from this spot was worth a trip across the Atlantic. Other trails, some very difficult, lead to gun batteries, Union Army fortifications, and spectacular overlooks.

2. Coopers Rock State Forest, near Morgantown

Coopers Rock State Forest

The spectacular main overlook at Coopers Rock State Forest is an easy walk from the parking lot, but there are more great views of the Cheat River Canyon at other locations, including the Raven Rock Trail. | Photo by West Virginia Department of Tourism

There are 50 miles of marked trails, but one overlook at Coopers Rock State Forest is very close to the parking lot, and the ease of getting there doesn’t diminish its grand view of the Cheat River Canyon. If you’re up for a bit of exercise and some privacy, the Raven Rock Trail is equally rewarding, but rocky in some places. It’s 3 miles out and back through forests of hemlock and rhododendron to the lip of the gorge, where sandstone cliffs drop 1,100 feet to the river and lake, both visible from this vantage point. Coopers Rock is about 13 miles east of Morgantown, home of West Virginia University and the West Virginia Botanic Garden, a park with 9 pleasant walking paths.

Read more: 5 beautiful historic gardens in Virginia to visit now.

3. New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, Glen Jean

New River Gorge Bridge

For more than 25 years, the New River Gorge Bridge was the longest (3,000+ feet) single-span arch bridge in the world. It now ranks fifth. At 876 feet above the river, it is also one of the world’s highest vehicular bridges. | Photo by West Virginia Department of Tourism

In the nation’s newest national park, the New River Gorge was carved by one of the world’s oldest rivers. The longest, deepest river valley in the Appalachian Mountains is known for its whitewater rafting, rock climbing, and other recreational pursuits.

In the 1900s, the gorge was a prime source of timber and coal; remains of those industries are points of interest on some of the park’s 59 miles of trails. The Kaymoor Trail is a daunting trek with rocky switchbacks and a flight of 821 steps that descends to the ruins of a coal mine and town.

In contrast, the Endless Wall Trail is a moderate 2.4-mile loop that leads to Diamond Point, a rock outcropping with a vertiginous view of the New River almost 1,000 feet below and the New River Gorge Bridge in the distance. For a closer look at the famous bridge (for many years, it was the world’s longest single-span arch bridge), take the easy Canyon Rim Boardwalk Trail from the Canyon Rim Visitors Center to the first overlook. From there, 178 steps lead down to a photo-worthy view of the bridge and gorge.

4. Canaan Valley, Davis

Bald Knob Trail

The aptly named Bald Knob Trail overlooks the Canaan Valley from about 1,100 feet above the valley floor. The valley itself is one of the highest in the Allegheny Mountains. | Photo courtesy Mark Moody, Canaan Valley Resort

The highest valley in the eastern U.S., Canaan is home to 2 resort state parks with about 20 scenic trails each. At Blackwater Falls State Park, the falls (darkened by hemlock and spruce) cascade 57 feet down a cliff face. It’s less than a mile along the Lindy Point Trail to an overlook of the river canyon from 3,000 feet. For a close look at the falls, the Gentle Trail leads to a deck; the more difficult Freeland Boardwalk Trail has more than 200 wooden steps (and informative signage) to get you even closer.

Seven miles away in Canaan Valley Resort State Park, the popular Bald Knob Trail (5.2 miles out and back) climbs to 4,308 feet above sea level for a panoramic view of the valley and surrounding mountains. Cheat a little: Take the chairlift up (adults, $8) and walk down through fields of wildflowers.

5. Greenbrier River Trail, Marlinton

Sharp's Tunnel

Sharp’s Tunnel, built in 1899, is one of the iconic features on the historic Greenbrier River Trail. The wide, level pathway is open only to cyclists, horseback riders, and hikers (no motorized vehicles). | Photo by West Virginia Department of Tourism

A former railroad track with a gentle grade, the 78-mile-long Greenbrier River Trail is open to hikers, cyclists, and horseback riders. There are free campsites along the way, as well as small towns with B&Bs, restaurants, and outfitters who will shuttle you to access points on the trail. The river and wildlife are highlights, but the trail crosses 35 bridges and passes through 2 historic tunnels between Cass Scenic Railroad State Park and Caldwell, near Lewisburg.

A pair of notable trail features can be reached by an out-and-back walk of about 11 miles, starting at the old Clover Lick Depot just south of Cass. The trail disappears into the black hole of Sharp's Tunnel, built by hand in 1899, and emerges 511 feet later at the Greenbrier River Trail Bridge, a curving 229-foot-long structure built as a railroad bridge in 1900.

6. Cranberry Glades Botanical Area, Hillsboro

Cranberry Glades

The environmentally sensitive bogs of Cranberry Glades are accessible via a half-mile-long boardwalk. Many of the plants growing here are rare, more often found in the northern U.S. and Canada. | Photo West Virginia Department of Tourism

The deep peat bogs of Cranberry Glades are home to plants that originated from seeds deposited here by glaciers 10,000 years ago. Most are rarely found this far south in North America. And many are unique, like the carnivorous pitcher plant and sundew, which feed on insects. Designated a National Natural Landmark in 1974, the 750-acre refuge has a 0.5-mile-long boardwalk winding through the bogs. More than 60 miles of trails lie outside of the most fragile areas, including the 6-mile-long Cowpasture Trail, which borders the vast Cranberry Wilderness, another protected part of the Monongahela National Forest. The sanctuary is popular with birdwatchers because it’s the southernmost breeding ground of a variety of finches, thrushes, and warblers. Deer, black bears, and beavers also inhabit the area.

West Virginia resident Dale Ann Leatherman is a past president of the Society of American Travel Writers.

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AAA Travel Alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.

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