50 miles of trails, a botanic garden, a zoo, and a sunset

Vanessa Orr

The view from Coopers Rock is a panorama of West Virginia countryside.

If you take the opportunity to go hiking in the Morgantown, W.Va., area, you know why they call it “Wild, Wonderful West Virginia.” You’re barely off the beaten path before you become immersed in the wonders of nature, whether you’re climbing boulders in the Coopers Rock area, or wandering through fields of flowers at the West Virginia Botanic Garden.

The view from Coopers Rock is a panorama of West Virginia countryside.
The view from Coopers Rock is a panorama of West Virginia countryside.

With more than 50 miles of trails available at Coopers Rock State Forest, you can find something to suit every level of ability. I decided to take a roughly 40-minute walk on the Rattlesnake Trail, a moderate-difficulty hike that winds along the cliffs that parallel the rim of the Cheat River Canyon.

Within moments of leaving the parking lot, I was deep in the woods, ducking under rocky outcrops and scuttling over huge boulders. Though the trail was mostly shady, the humidity was high, so I was glad that the rocks provided a comfortable place to rest and rehydrate while watching squirrels and chipmunks playing in the brilliant, bright-green moss.

By the time I got to the Rock City shelter, I was ready to head back, so I chose to switch routes and travel along the Rock City Trail, an easy walk that meanders through a picnic area, forest, and shelters before meeting up with the Eagle Trail, which led me right up to the gift shop and concession stand.

 

View from Coopers Rock

You shouldn’t leave the area without actually going out onto Coopers Rock to see the view, which is breathtaking. There’s a boardwalk out to the overlook, which ends in a massive slab of stone surrounded by a railing. It’s a little intimidating at first to be perched so high above the forest, but if you’re willing to go a little beyond your comfort level, it’s well worth the effort. There is also an ADA-accessible ramp that offers the same view to those unable to traverse the rock.

The friendly giraffe at Hovatter’s Wildlife Zoo loves carrots.
The friendly giraffe at Hovatter’s Wildlife Zoo loves carrots.

Insider tip: A lot of the hiking around Morgantown is in the woods as well as wetland areas, so you’re going to want to slather on some bug stuff before you hit the trail. There are some open fields, too, so make sure to protect your skin from the sun.  

In addition to hiking, visitors to Coopers Rock can picnic, go fishing at a 6-acre lake, or spend a few days camping. For those who prefer not to rough it, the extremely comfortable Lakeview Golf Resort and Conference Center is fairly close by, so you could even slip in 18 holes between hiking trips.

Late spring is a beautiful time of year to visit the West Virginia Botanic Garden, the only botanic garden in the state. The hiking there is relatively easy. Well-marked trails meander through deciduous forest and old-growth hemlock, as well as a wetlands area. You can choose to visit the shade garden, butterfly garden, rhododendron garden, or other attractions; soon, a new welcome center will be open to provide an educational venue.

Remember, lots of wildlife is fond of the botanic garden, too, so watch out for the critters.

Speaking of animals, if you’d like to see more exotic species, stop by Hovatter’s Wildlife Zoo, located in Kingwood, W.Va. This 13-acre park is home to chimpanzees, lemurs, Bengal and white tigers, lions, and other species; you should definitely pick up some carrots at the admissions desk to hand-feed the giraffes. There’s nothing quite like the experience of having one of these gentle giants wrap its tongue around your hand as it daintily accepts its treats.

To top off my outdoor adventures, I stopped into the Lakehouse Restaurant for dinner, which is located beside the Sunset Beach Marina right on Cheat Lake. You can dine inside or out, but I highly advise sitting on the outdoor deck for a spectacular view of the sun setting over the water. It’s the perfect end to a perfect day in the Morgantown area.

 

For more information:

Morgantown Tourism: tourmorgantown.com

 

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