West Virginia Outdoors....
THE GREENBRIER RIVER TRAIL:
80 MILES OF FAMILY FUN
The Greenbrier River Trail just may offer the perfect biking and hiking family adventure. It's not too long (80 miles), the terrain isn't difficult (a flat dirt trail follows the riverbed), and families can easily find a place to eat and sleep all along the way (camping or small inns/hotels).
One of the biggest problems for families searching for outdoors adventures is where to feed the kids during the day and get them to sleep at night. These problems don't exist on the Greenbrier River Trail. Happily, families can always find a place to eat and sleep somewhere nearby. This provides perfect flexibility for family hikers and bikers. If the kids are more into the equine set, horseback riding is also popular.
Starting just off I-64 and US 60, between Lewisburg and White Sulphur Springs, the trail heads north for 80 miles up to the historic town of Cass. In between, there's enough to keep families busy for one day of casual biking on convenient parts of the trail or many days of slower trail riding or hiking to complete the entire stretch.
Of course, easy access points all along the trail make shorter daytrips convenient for families with limited time or experience. A trail map shows and describes many of the easiest places to go for daytrips.
But to get the full benefit, it's best for families to bike or hike the whole thing (either direction is fine). In summer, weekdays are much less crowded than weekends, making the trail even more enjoyable.
Along with many local B&Bs and hotels, campers can stay at nearby Greenbrier State Forest (two miles from the trailhead) before tackling the trail. The first of many excellent campsites is at Mile Post 4.7. The early part of the trail (30 miles) passes through several small towns (like Hopper and Keister), as well larger towns like Anthony (Mile Post 14) and Horrock (Mile Post 29.6), where you can find supplies, commercial camping, and modern conveniences. Most of these areas are ideal for camping, if you plan to spend several days on the trail.
Just outside Horrock is Droop Mountain Tunnel, one of the major attractions of the trail. This 402-foot tunnel is an eerie reminder of early train days and the looming West Virginia mountains that the big steam engines needed to go through or over. Recent improvements all along the trail include trestle decking in the tunnel. Other welcome improvements include several freshwater wells and eight pit toilets interspersed evenly along the trail.
After exiting the tunnel, a plethora of places to eat and sleep awaits. There's camping at Mile Post 33.7 and the first of several great B&Bs (The Current) at Mile Post 38.5. Further along, at Mile Post 44, there's the Watoga State Park Riverside Campground. Seebert (Mile Post 45.8) offers typical town amenities, as well as accommodations at friendly Greenbrier River Cabins or Watoga State Park (cabins and camping). If you're doing the trail in two days (either way), any of these are ideal overnight points.
The ten-mile stretch from Seebert to Marlinton includes several trail access points, as well as public camping possibilities, water, and a few bridges leading over the Greenbrier River. Marlinton (Mile Post 56) is the largest town on the trail and is a great place to get information, restock supplies, visit the bike shop, spend the night, eat a meal, and enjoy many other small town conveniences. It's one of the top West Virginia outdoors-oriented towns in the state and a great base for Pocahontas County exploration on or off the trail.
About ten miles further (Mile Post 65.7), the 511-foot Sharp's Tunnel and accompanying 229-foot bridge make for a an interesting diversion. They were both built in 1900 and have served trains and trail enthusiasts ever since.
Along with the tunnel and bridge, the stretch from Marlinton to Clover Lick also includes several convenient trailside campsites. There's also the strange remains of a grease reservoir at Mile Post 70.3, which was part of a system to reduce friction between the wheel flanges and rails as the trail rounded the curve there.
Clover Lick (Mile Post 71.1) is a fun place to stop. The old C&O depot is currently being renovated, providing insight into turn-of-the-century Clover Lick. Nearby, old bridge piers can be seen leading to the old Raine Lumber Company band mill on the other side of the river. Also across the river, cabins and camping are available at sprawlingly beautiful Seneca State Forest.
The rest of the trail leads through more stunning scenery and major mountain vistas. The town of Stony Bottom (Mile Post 75) has a great little place to stay (Moore's Motel), as does Sitlington (Mile Post 77), with cabins at E&G Cabins. Both places allow you to sleep literally right next to the trail.
The end (or beginning) of the trail is Cass Scenic Railroad State Park. This historic attraction and train ride is also a great place for hikers and bikers to spend the night in one of 12 historic houses and to chow down on some serious buffet food. Whether you're celebrating the end of the trip or stoking up for the adventure ahead, Cass is one of the Greenbrier River Trail's highlights. It's a fun and fitting family-style ending (or beginning) to the family-friendly Greenbrier River Trail.
The Greenbrier River Trail is part of the incredible West Virginia State Parks system. It is overseen by Watoga State Park (Mile Post 45.8, 304/799-4087 or 800/CALL WVA). The Greater Greenbrier Chamber of Commerce (304/645-1000) and the Pocahontas County Tourism Commission (800/336-7009) can also help with specific planning, accommodations (including phone numbers for those mentioned in the article), and more. Several excellent outfitters can provide advice, shuttles, complete packages, and a wide variety of other area adventures: Allegheny Outdoor Center (888/PLAYWVA, website: www.alleghenyoutdoor.com) and Elk River Touring Center (304/572-3771, website: www.ertc.com) are both perfect picks.
OTHER LONG-DISTANCE TRAILS & TRAVAILS FOR FAMILIES
There are many other similar long-distance biking and hiking experiences available throughout the state. Most are great for families to enjoy the entire length or just parts. Call the state's tourism office (800/CALL WVA) for further information about difficulty, nearby accommodations and dining, and other critical details. Many state or national parks and forests also offer a wide range of hiking and biking trails.
Some of the best hiking (some offer biking) possibilities include: Allegheny Trail (330 miles across the entire state); American Discovery Trail (276 miles from Green Spring to Parkersburg); Appalachian National Scenic Trail (25 miles of the famed 'AT'); Cow Pasture Trail (8 miles in the Cranberry Wilderness); Flatrock Run Trial (10 miles in the Monongahela National Forest); Fork Mountain Trail (21 miles in the Monongahela National Forest); Kanawha Trace Trail (32 miles along the Kanawha River); Laurel Creek Trail (8 miles in the Monongahela National Forest); North Fork Mountain Trail (24 miles in the Monongahela National Forest); North-South Trail (22 miles in the Monongahela National Forest); Pocahontas Trail (20 miles in the Monongahela National Forest); Tea Creek Trail (13 miles in the Monongahela National Forest); and the Weston-Gauley Bridge Turnpike Trail (21 miles in the Burnsville Lake Project area).
Some of the best biking (and, of course, hiking) possibilities include: Blackwater Canyon Rail Trail (24 miles of old railroad bed from Thomas to Parsons); Cheat Mountain Trail (27 miles from Elkins to Bemis); Harrison County Rail Trail (14 miles from Clarksburg to Speller); North Bend Rail Trail (61 miles from Walker to Wilsonburg); Shinnston-Fairmont Rail Trail (28 miles from Shinnston to Fairmont); Southside Junction-Cunard Rail Trail (a challenging 12-mile section of the multi-use New River Gorge Rail Trails system); West Fork Rail Trail (50 miles from Bemis to Durbin); and Wheeling Rail Trail (11 miles in downtown Wheeling).
Lynn Seldon is a Virginia-based freelance travel writer and photographer. His West Virginia outdoors coverage credits include Blue Ridge Outdoors, SKI Magazine, Blue Ridge Country, and West Virginia Outdoors. His most recent book is Country Roads of West Virginia (NTC, 800/323-4900), which features many great road trips throughout the Mountaineer State.