Only an hour and a half from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and three and a half hours from the Washington, D.C. area, Morgantown is the perfect gateway to West Virginia’s natural beauty. Within an hour and a half drive from the city, there are over 20 parks, forests, and recreation areas that offer everything from low-key walks to serious, multi-day hikes, all with spectacular views of the Allegheny Mountains.
The best time to go
With 78% of West Virginia covered by forests, fall is an amazing time to get out into the woods and view seas of leaves turning red, yellow, and orange. If you need a place to stay, you might want to book early since “leaf peepers” descend on the state. Mid to late summer is a great time to hike if you would like to get out of the heat of the city and enjoy cooler temperatures at the higher elevations in the mountains. Winter and early spring can be tricky months to plan a trip in advance due to the weather. While colder temperatures and snowfall might impede a comfortable hike, they are perfect for snowshoeing, which is available on almost any hiking trail with more than five inches of snow. No matter the season, make sure to wear layers. Temperatures can shift dramatically with elevation, and storms can move in quickly during the summer.
The best places to check out
Coopers Rock State Forest
Just half an hour outside Morgantown, Coopers Rock State Forest has over 50 miles (80 kilometers) of trails, with spectacular views of the Cheat River. The forest south of Interstate 68 is managed by the state, while the northern section is the responsibility of West Virginia University’s department of forestry.
Cathedral State Park
Approximately 100 years ago, most of the forests of West Virginia were clear-cut in massive logging operations. In Cathedral State Park, you’ll find the last stand of virgin hemlock trees and some of the oldest trees in the state. The park only has three miles (4.8 km) of trails, but they are the most unique in the area.
Monongahela National Forest
Are you looking for an out-and-back day hike with great views? The Mon has that. Or would you rather go on an overnight trek in the wilderness? The Mon has that too. The expansive Monongahela National Forest is broken up into six ranger districts with 800 miles (1,287 km) of trails. About two and a half hours from Morgantown, the Potomac Ranger District includes the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area and the Spruce Knob-Seneca Creek Backcountry.
And so many others
Be smart and safe!
No matter where you hike in the world, be smart and stay safe. Always take food and water with you and more than you might think you need. One thing worse than making a wrong turn is taking a wrong turn and being hungry. To avoid getting lost, always carry a map. If the map is on your phone, make sure you have enough power to get you through the hike, and remember that cold weather can decrease battery life quickly. If you’re going to parks and recreation areas, stay on the marked trails for your own safety, and be respectful of the plants and wildlife that make the landscape beautiful.