Challenge: Take a hike in Southern West Virginia parks

Su Clauson-Wicker

A trail in Pipestem State Park is an ideal way to enjoy both scenery and exercise. (Su Clauson-Wicker)

There are trout streams, tram rides, moonlight hikes, battle reenactments, and golf courses that roll through the forest. The state parks of Southern West Virginia offer many enticements to encourage you to make the half-day drive from Washington, D.C. This month, pools open, park amphitheaters begin hosting entertainment, and naturalists offer a slew of activities to get families into the woods.

West Virginia State Parks chief Sam England wants his park visitors to take a hike. Lots of hikes. This year, he’s issued the Chief’s Challenge to hike 100 miles on West Virginia state park or state forest paths. Enrollees receive special stickers to honor their healthful goals.

Of course, no one needs to sign up for a formal challenge to enjoy the Mountain State’s natural beauty, but registration for the Chief’s Challenge may provide a little extra motivation to get moving and discover the parks’ natural wonders, England said. A Chief’s Challenge hiking log sheet is available to download at

With its 12 state parks and state forests, visitors to Southern West Virginia can take a variety of hikes — or they can hike their favorite trail multiple times.

Many of the trails in West Virginia’s state parks service both hikers and bikers. (Su Clauson-Wicker )

Guided hikes abound at several parks. Pipestem offers full moon hikes with naturalist Julie McQuade, June 9 and July 9, as well as a morning geology walk July 14 and birding expeditions throughout the year. On the first Saturday in June — National Trails Day — Moncove Lake State Park superintendent Todd Longanacre will give out bushcraft tips as he leads a four-hour hike in the hilly park.  


Hike on your own

Southern West Virginia’s state parks and forests feature some spectacular hikes that can be taken at any time. Consider clocking at least a mile on Greenbrier State Forest’s 18-hole disc golf course; you’ll get your cardio on the back nine. Or, like Julie Ames, walk the 78-mile linear Greenbrier River Trail State Park.

“I hike it or bike part of it every year,” said the Charlotte, N.C., resident.

For those who don’t want to walk the whole trail but enjoy a little relaxing leg-stretching, Riverwise Labyrinth at the trail’s southern terminus is the place to go. The twists and turns of the concrete pathway map the Greenbrier River, with the central path copying the entire river.

Those who want to do a significant portion of their miles in one day can hike the 8.5-mile Bluestone Turnpike Trail through Bluestone Gorge between Pipestem and Bluestone State Park. It’s a long, easy hike along a national scenic river.

The falls at Hawks Nest State Park stair-step down for a frothy show. (Su Clauson-Wicker)

Twin Falls State Park’s famed waterfalls lie along the moderately easy 1.3-mile Falls Trail.To begin Hawks Nest State Park’s 2-mile rail trail, start with a tram ride into New River Gorge. This easy gravel trail follows Mill Creek past a waterfall and the remains of a coal mine.

Camp Creek State Park and Forest is known for beautiful waterfalls, stocked trout streams, and great camping along its 33 miles of trails. Mountain biking is allowed on 27 miles of these trails. Little Beaver State Park, to the north, offers 18 mountain biking and hiking trails.

Insider tip: Babcock Lake’s iconic mill draws artists and photographers in all seasons, but Aug. 2– 6, this lovely park is known as “the place next to the Appalachian String Band Music Festival.” Camp Washington-Carver has hosted the renowned festival for 28 years, drawing participants from around the globe. The Washington-Carver complex was constructed by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, and is made of local stone and chestnut timber harvested from trees killed by the chestnut blight.

With towering rock formations and sweeping views into Virginia, Pinnacle Rock State Park is one of the most beautiful spots in coal country. Its 7 miles of trails leading to Jimmy Lewis Lake make it a popular spot for hiking and biking. The park is located at the edge of Bramwell, historic home of West Virginia’s coal barons and site of the June 10 Bramwell mansion tour.

This year, Carnifex Ferry Battlefield State Park reenacts its pivotal Civil War battle the second weekend in September. Union troops led by Brig. Gen. William Rosecrans forced Confederates to evacuate their entrenched position at the edge of the Gauley River and allowed West Virginia to proceed to statehood. A museum and trails commemorate this significant spot.


For more information

Southern W.Va. Tourism:

W.Va. State Parks:

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