The Greenbrier Valley and the Highland Scenic Highway
I’m buzzing along at better than 40 miles an hour and getting tired of the downhill! Now most down hills seem way too short- I’ve hardly caught my breath before I get another chance to blow up again on the next climb. But here on the Highland Scenic Highway in central West Virginia the fast parts of the ride may be excessive. You’ll have to watch your speed as rates of close to 50 mph are possible. This road has much to offer: a near perfect surface, beautiful scenery, and very little traffic.
Because the Forest Service doesn’t plow this road in the winter there are almost no blemishes or bumps. The crest reaches about 4500 ft. The hills and curves are gradual, allowing you to cruise with near abandon. The entire Highway is 43 miles, from Richwood to Rt. 219 north of Marlinton, but I find the best stretch to be the 22 miles from Rt. 39 north to 219. The complementary part from the Visitor Center to Richwood gets much more traffic.
There are, of course, a few “catches”. There are no real supplies and few services along the highway. You’ll need to carry all of your food and enough water to get you to the Cranberry Mountain Visitor Center on the south end of the route. I suggest an out and back ride. If you’re not sure how far you want to go, starting at the VC is probably your best bet. I recently rode the Highway and started at the north end, beside Rt. 219, so that I could use the VC to restore my fluids. There are no services along the ride except for odiferous pit toilets, so carry what you need. The Visitor Center is most helpful, with a few snacks, books, maps, knowledgeable staff and nice exhibits on local natural history, including one of the best collections of live snakes anywhere.
There are also innumerable opportunities for other activities in and around the Monongahela National Forest. The short but rigorous hike to the falls of Hills Creek is well worth the effort. I just tried the Cowpasture Trail for an hour plus, very damp mountain bike ride and enjoyed a long, gradual trail run on the Middle Fork Trail along the Williams River. Pocahontas County claims to be the birthplace of rivers, with eight rivers finding their headwaters there. There are beautiful spots to fish and camp along the rivers. Marlinton is a good place for a basecamp with its restaurants, lodging, and outfitters.
A short drive provides more options. The terrific Greenbrier River Trail goes a scenic and gradual 78 miles from Cass to North Caldwell. It has become my favorite rails-to-trails example. You can walk, bike, paddle, or horseback ride along this pathway. State parks like Beartown, Droop Mountain, and Watoga are all close and offer unusual geology, history, and recreation. If you want higher tech, try the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, with the largest movable radio telescope in the world. Lewisburg, to the south, was recently named the “Coolest Small Town in the U.S.” and offers unusual shopping and dining. My wife and I recently enjoyed live music beside Carnegie Hall in Lewisburg.