Book Excerpt Below
Five Star Trails: West Virginia’s
Monongahela National Forest
The heart and soul of wild, wonderful West Virginia, the mighty Monongahela National Forest is within a day’s drive of one-third of the population of the United States. The best way to see and experience the stately forests and pristine waterfalls is by foot. Completely updated with five new hikes and a new design, Day and Overnight Hikes: West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest will guide visitors the entire way while exploring this national treasure. Picking the best of the best from the amazing trail system within the forest’s 900,000 acres is no easy task, but outdoor guru Johnny Molloy has answered the call with this new edition of his classic guide. With directions to over 40 day and overnight hikes that lead to sites of exceptional beauty and solitude, Day and Overnight Hikes: West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest will help hikers discover the best that the “Mon” has to offer.
Forks of Cranberry
(This is one of 44 hikes detailed in the book)
Key At-a-Glance Information
4.4 miles round-trip
unusual forest, views
The name Forks of Cranberry implies a watery hike. Actually this is a ridgetop walk to a rock outcrop with a view and many views along the way. The highland trail, located within the Cranberry Wilderness, is named Forks of Cranberry because it traces the ridge between the North and South Forks of the Cranberry River. A young forest, scattered among the rocks on Black Mountain, is the end result of a natural disaster long ago.
Leave the parking area, enter the woods and make a short climb past a trailside kiosk detailing the Cranberry Wilderness. Intersect an old road and walk up to a mountaintop field. The ridge of Kennison Mountain can be seen from the field. The path, however, skirts the right edge of the meadow, heads uphill and enters a rocky section of trail. The forest, mountain-ash, red maple, mountain holly and some red spruce, is low and seemingly stunted with an open canopy. Catawba rhododendron and mountain laurel crowd the trailside. The forest is still recovering from a devastating 1930s fire that burned the area to bare rock. After this fire, rains washed away what little soil was left. Leaving little earth for trees to grow. Soil accumulation has been slow, by human standards, through erosion, and wind and moisture deposition. Of course, Mother Nature takes her sweet time.
At .7 mile enter a rock plain, where the forest is even thinner. Rock piles, known as cairns, mark the path through this open area dotted with small trees. Here, the trail gets fairly close to the right side of the ridge, step that way and look north.
The forest becomes more grown up past the rock plain, and the trail descends. A scree slope on your left at mile 1.2 offers more views, this time to south. Watch for more views to your left in the next .2 mile. The forest becomes even larger and taller beyond the scree slope; beech becomes a major element of the now shady woodland.
Level out in a gap at 2.0 miles. Begin to climb up to an unnamed knob, swinging around its right flank. At mile 2.2, near the top of the 4,300 foot knob, the blue blazed Forks of Cranberry Trail veers right. Another unmarked path leads forward a short distance to a rock outcrop on your left. Take the path to the outcrop.
Up here, there are many views from the northeast to the southeast along the horizon, atop the sun bleached white boulder jumble. Be careful as you make your from rock to rock, as there are deep crevasses between these crags. Just as the forest is recovering all along this ridge, the spruce are growing here, and will eventually, on Mother Nature’s timetable, crowd out this good view.
From the Cranberry Visitor Center, 23 miles east of Richwood on WV 39/55, head north on WV 150, Highlands Scenic Highway, for 5.2 miles to the Forks of Cranberry parking area, on your left.