It would be almost unthinkable to visit the Greenbrier Valley and not include a hike in your itinerary. There are so many options, we were hard-pressed to keep our list to five. Because we know not all hikers are looking for the road less traveled and no two trails offer the same experience, we’ve ranked a few of our favorites from easiest to most strenuous.
1. Easy Going with Spectacular Views.
The Greenbrier River Trail is a 78-mile rail-to-trail that begins in Caldwell, WV and ends in Cass. From its most southern point in Caldwell, between Lewisburg and White Sulphur Springs, this wide, virtually flat, former railroad bed follows the Greenbrier River upstream (north). Trail highlights include expansive views of the river along with rocky ledges, small waterfalls and rhododendron thickets. Despite the amount of foot and bike traffic this trail attracts, the chances of viewing wildlife are pretty high. Many animals cross the trail to access the river. Deer are common, and bears, while unlikely, aren’t unheard of along the path. Blue heron and bald eagles frequently skim the water for fish.
This trail is ideal for a short out-and-back excursion while some take on the entire 78 miles, stopping at B&Bs along the way.
2. Flat Single-Track with Fitness Options.
The Greenbrier State Forest boasts 16 miles of trails, ranging from easy to down-right ridiculous (we’ll get to that one soon enough). We’ve included the Y.C.C. Fitness Trail as the second easiest on this list. The trail is primarily flat and follows a figure-eight pattern through the forest lowlands and dry creek bed. Wildflowers, berry patches and thick vegetation followed by dense woodlands make it feel like you’ve wandered into the wilderness; in reality, you’re just across the street from the picnic area and restrooms.
While level, this trail has its challenges as some points are heavily rooted and require a bit more attention. It’s about a mile in length but offers the option to loop in different directions, creating an outing that remains varied even on a second pass. Fitting of its name, there are wooden placards with exercise recommendations for those who want to step up the challenge.
3. Moderate Climb in Solitude.
On Big Draft Road in White Sulphur Springs, there is a trailhead on the left side of the road -- about 5 miles north if you’re coming from White Sulphur Springs -- that invites hikers to climb into an area called Big Draft Wilderness in the Monongahela National Forest. The South Boundary Trail seems to be the Greenbrier Valley’s best-kept secret as it’s unlikely you’ll encounter other hikers. One local recommends it for those looking for solitude and the ability to let the dogs stretch their legs.
The trail begins with a rigorous climb then levels out and continues with ups and downs for close to 5 miles until it ends at Anthony Creek Trail. This trail is an out-and-back trip unless you’ve planned ahead with a vehicle staged at Blue Bend Recreation Area. If you do want to hike through, turn right onto Anthony Creek Trail. It’s about 2.5 miles before you reach the Blue Bend Loop Trail (#4 on our list).
4. You Have to Work for the Best Vistas.
We’re a bit preferential to loop trails. There’s something particularly satisfying about starting a hike in one spot and ending up at the beginning without doubling back. The Blue Bend Loop Trail is a diverse 5.5-mile hike that begins at the Blue Bend Recreation Area suspension bridge. At the onset, the trail is extremely narrow and drops off sharply to Anthony Creek. There are some lunging steps up and you may have to scramble, but rest assured, the hike smooths out as it heads away from the creek.
At about 2.5 miles, the trail follows a creek bed for a short distance. A highlight of the first half is the dense and weaving rhododendron groves. There is a camping structure at mile 3.
The second half of the loop starts with another intense incline; however, it’s followed by two magnificent vistas overlooking far-off mountains and farmland. After the second overlook, the trail begins to descend, making its way back to the trailhead. Depending on your knees, the descent may be the most challenging part of the hike! Allow at least three hours or more for this loop.
5. Keep Up the Training.
A local mountain biker calls Rocky Ridge Trail “a complete waste of gravity that could benefit from several switchbacks,” but if a challenging uphill climb is what you seek -- even on vacation -- this is the trail for you.
From the Greenbrier State Forest superintendent’s office, follow Rocky Ridge Harvest Road until it intersects with Rocky Ridge Trail. Appearing to be -- quite literally -- a “goat path” cutting up through the trees, you are in for a little more than 2 miles of full-on climbing. As you can guess by its name, the trail follows a ridgeline with the mountain gently dropping away on either side. On your ascent, don’t forget to look around. It's a good opportunity to "enjoy" the moment, hydrate and catch your breath.
The trail pops out on Kate’s Mountain Road where, if you take a right and follow the gravel road for 1.25 miles, it intersects with Young’s Nature Trail. There you can drop back onto single-track for an easier 1.5-mile descent to the base of the trail system. Be aware, if you take this route, there is a solid 1-mile hike along the State Forest road -- with no real walking berm -- to get back to your starting point. If you follow this route, expect your outing to take 2.5 hours at a good clip, up to 3.5 hours at a more leisurely pace.
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