Monongahela National Forest

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Monongahela National Forest Overview

Mo-non-ga-he-la—it's fun just to say. But it's more fun to go there. This national forest is located within a day's drive of much of the east coast, but it remains secluded and quiet, with ample opportunities for the visitor to escape crowds. Country roads are often gravel and encourage slow driving. Restaurants, motels, and other services are found in the many scattered, small communities throughout the forest.

The Allegheny Front of the Appalachian Mountains shapes the character of the forest. The moist, western side of the Front supports northern hardwoods such as cherry and maple, mixed with oak on the drier ridges and yellow poplar in the coves. The drier eastern side contains oak, cedar, and even cactus.

Strong though they are, the mountains themselves are shaped by another common feature of the forest—moving water. The Monongahela is home to the headwaters of five major river systems and hundreds of miles of smaller streams. The rivers and streams support a cold-water fishery that includes native and stocked trout. In the spring, during high water, whitewater enthusiasts may run some of the rivers. The lower summer flow is more suitable for lazy float trips or canoeing through scenic valleys. Some of the best rivers to visit include Shaver's Fork of the Cheat, the south branch of the Potomac, Cranberry River, the Greenbrier River below Durbin, and Dry Fork.

Other Monongahela adventures include hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding on the more than 500 miles of mixed-use trails; camping (primitive and developed); bird watching; rock climbing; cross-country skiing; and caving. There are several wonderful wilderness areas within the forest; among them are the North and South Laurel Forks Wilderness, the Dolly Sods Wilderness (10,215 acres), Otter Creek, and the Cranberry Wilderness areas. And finally, beyond its natural treasures, the Monongahela is also rich in Civil War historical sites.

Mountain Biking around Slatyfork
Tucked in amidst the deep forests of the Allegheny Mountains in eastern West Virginia, just beside the Elk River, the tiny town of Slatyfork (population 448) serves as a hub for some of the East's best biking. Locals boast that they've got 200 miles of trails just outside their doors, and innumerable others twist through the forest as a whole. It's diverse territory, too. Technical singletrack lies just minutes away from a more gentle rails-to-trails route. A couple of resorts, the Elk River Touring Center and Snowshoe Mountain, offer guided tours and shuttles uphill. All in all, there's no reason to stay away from these gorgeous, green mountains for too long. Our personal favorite? The Gauley Mountain Ride (Trail #438), which runs along an old logging-era railroad grade and takes riders through stands of red spruce and hardwoods. It's a ten-mile out-and-back, on a relatively smooth and narrow dirt trail.

Hike the Dolly Sods Wilderness
Well known for its extensive rocky plains, upland bogs, and sweeping vistas, the Dolly Sods Wilderness is an anomaly left behind by retreating glaciers—its vegetation resembles that of northern Canada. This unique "island" of wild country and its unusual plant communities—Sphagnum bogs, groves of wind-stunted, one-sided red spruce and twisted yellow birch, heath barrens, grassy sods, cranberries, and sundews—are traversed by a number of fine hiking trails. One such is the six-mile Boar's Nest-South Prong Loop Trail, which can be hiked in either direction and gains a rocky 1,500 feet in elevation. Another is the short Northland Loop Trail, which meanders through the heath barrens to a bog and circles back to the road passing through a spruce/hemlock stand. The tread is very rocky and surrounded by dense rhododendron and laurel thickets.

More on hiking in Monongahela National Forest

Run the Rivers
The Monongahela's rivers offer an extraordinary diversity of whitewater experiences. Some flow through near wilderness areas, while others are close to roads and development. Some provide cutting-edge expert whitewater, while others are suitable for families and beginners. Red Creek, Otter Creek, Seneca Creek, and the Upper Blackwater (from Blackwater Falls to the junction with the North Fork) offer expert quality whitewater, among the most challenging in the U.S. Below the confluence with the North Fork, more moderate Class V whitewater continues on the Lower Blackwater. The Shaver's Fork also hosts difficult whitewater that is less intimidating as the streams listed above. The Laurel Fork, Dry Fork, and Glady Fork are spectacularly beautiful Class II-IV runs, streams that offers solitude and wilderness. The Williams River is also an outstanding Class IV run in a wilderness setting. The Smoke Hole Canyon of the South Branch Potomac and Hopeville Canyon of the North Fork South Branch Potomac are very popular Class III runs, offering excellent learning opportunities for kayakers and canoeists. And finally, the North Fork of the Cherry is a good technical Class III river that currently sees very little recreational use. A dozen rivers, all outstanding whitewater runs, and each with its own character and notable features—that's what makes the flowing water of this forest one of its natural and recreational treasures.

Drive the Civil War Auto Tour
The Civil War Auto Tour on the Monongahela National Forest takes you through the landmarks of the mountainous land where bushwackers, or, depending on your point of view, partisans, fought 130 years ago. It offers an in-depth exploration of the area's Civil War legacy, with lots of great scenery besides. Two of the notable stops on the tour are Fort Summit and Camp Allegheny. 

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