MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia’s outdoor assets are a hidden gem, barely scratched by the general public.
Sure, there are groups of us – rock climbers, hikers, bikers, paddlers, hunters and anglers – that know these special places. I’d wager most of us don’t want more people utilizing them. My concern with more use is that this will invite more littering, recklessness and, in some cases, defamation of these assets. Still, a larger part of me wants to see more people enjoying our outdoor assets considering they have real economic development potential.
With that, I give you my three favorite hiking trails for winter jaunts. Get out there and explore these places before the snow begins to melt!
1. Raven Rock, Coopers Rock
This one is probably a given, as a lot of folks know about Raven Rock. It’s a short trail popular with college kids and photographers, those two typically not mutually exclusive. In fact, I fell in love with this trail and the views it gives of the Cheat River my sophomore year of college. Since then, I’ve taken many trips out to the peaceful rock either alone or with my girlfriend and dog to escape the business of everyday life.
Only 1.3 miles one way, Raven Rock trail is an easy-moderate trail. Going out is the easy part, only gaining 130 feet (the section up to the overlook) while descending 319 feet. This is, of course, reversed on the return trip. It can be rough in the heat, but during the winter it gets much easier. If you get winded, there are plenty of places to hop off the trail and rest. Be careful in the winter, though, as during days like these when the main access road is closed, ice is quite prevalent.
You can access the Raven Rock trailhead via the main access road, or by the Grand Loop trail. If you want to do a longer trip in, the roadside trail runs on the other side road, and you can walk across to the trailhead or you can take the Scott Run trail to the McCollum camping area access road, then jump on the Grand Loop trail.
2. Virgin Hemlock, Coopers Rock
I discovered the Virgin Hemlock trail when I moved back to Morgantown following college. Originally scouting out areas to fish, I came upon the trailhead marker along Old Rt.73 and decided to check it out. The trail runs along Laurel Run, which in all seasons is a beautiful stream. In the warmer months, I love to sit on the rocks off the many access points along the trail in the stream and relax.
That being said, in the winter the Virgin Hemlock trail transforms into a beautiful wonderland. The right side of the loop which runs alongside Laurel Run is narrow with hemlock trees towering above you on both sides, shading you even when not needed. As you round the corner of the loop, you’re met with access points to both the Ken’s Run trail and the Interpretive Trail. If you decide to stay on your original path, though, you’ll climb a small hill to an opening in the grove. As you trek through a cutout on the hill, you’re still greeted by sites of beautiful hemlock trees and the sounds of the bubbling stream just below you, hidden by those conifers that contained you on the way in.
The trail is an easy one, with minor inclines and only stretching 1.2 miles. There is a small parking area at the trailhead for those who wish to tackle it.
3. Mon River Rail-Trail System, Various
OK, so this isn’t truly a “hiking” trail, but the Mon River Rail-Trail system is a great asset that gives the user the choice of how far they want to go.
Because of user choice, I rank this as an incredibly easy trail to hit. The winter scenes along the trail can be beautiful, especially if the trains are running during your jaunt. Further, the trail offers plenty of space for small families, bikers and others to share the space. There are many access points along the trail, which can be found here: https://montrails.org/rail-trail-maps/
The Mon River North segment, topped with compacted limestone, runs 6 miles from the West Virginia-Pennsylvania border and bleeds into the Caperton section in the northern part of Star City. From there, the Caperton Trail, which is paved, runs along the Star City Riverfront, past the WVU Coliseum, Core Arboretum and Seneca Center and down through Hazel Ruby McQuain and White parks. This segment is 5 miles and bleeds into the Mon River South trail, another limestone-topped section, which runs 17 miles by Uffington, Little Falls and Opekiska in Monongalia County before crossing into Marion County where it connects with McTrail at Prickett’s Fort State Park. McTrail runs a short 2.5 miles to Fairmont city limits.
In total, the 29-mile trail has provided wonderful access to locals and visitors alike, allowing small businesses to settle along the trail. Key local businesses include bike shops, restaurants and breweries. Not to mention, the trail system was just inducted into the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Hall of Fame in 2020. It was the 34th rail-trail to receive the honor.
No matter where you hike in the winter, if you have awesome photos from your journeys be sure to email them to ASpellman@DominionPost.com to be featured on our outdoors Instagram account, @theDPoutdoors