hiking (not driving) up Spruce Knob 10/05November 7 2005 at 2:36 AM
Response to Spruce Knob, West Virginia (4,863 feet)
The Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette
November 06, 2005
Getting high in W.Va.
Hike to Spruce Knob is both rewarding and grueling
By Jennifer Ginsberg
SPRUCE KNOB — The best place to get high in West Virginia is off a few windy roads in Pendleton County. The trip there involves a meandering drive through rolling farmland, little towns and bumpy gravel roads.
If you’re the type who likes to earn a view, it’s a lung- and leg-burning 11-mile hike that climbs and falls nearly 2,000 feet from beginning to end. Or you can just drive there.
At 4,863 feet above sea level, Spruce Knob is the highest point in West Virginia. It’s in the Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area and you can get there by car or by foot. The easier way involves a curvy, uphill 25-mile drive on a mix of paved and gravel roads.
The harder but more rewarding way involves starting at one of the many trails that feed into Huckleberry Trail, which leads to the summit. Nearly 70 miles of trails offer hikers an opportunity to get out and play in the Spruce Knob area. But, only Huckleberry Trail leads to the top of the state.
An ambitious hiker or backpacker can complete the hike, which begins at the Spring Ridge Trailhead (No. 561) on County Route 29 and ends at the observation tower, in a day. Outdoor enthusiasts searching for a less concentrated adventure can find several campsites along the trail to spend the night.
Trees adorned with blue diamond blazes let hikers know they’re on the right path. There are signs along the way pointing toward Spruce Knob. Some signs are more helpful than others. A bear’s hair and teeth marks the sign at the intersection of Spring Ridge and Allegheny Mountain trails.
The hike along Spring Ridge begins with a fairly intense climb on an old fire road that quickly takes hikers up and away from their cars. A tall rock cairn on the right of the trail marks the end of the initial climb. Spring Ridge climbs up the crest of Allegheny Mountain for about three miles and is wide enough to hike with a buddy on each side.
By the time you reach Allegheny Trail, you’ve huffed about three miles and climbed about 1,200 feet to elevation 4,100. A sign and a burning sensation in your legs mark the first trail intersection.
The trail then dips about 1,000 feet over the next mile as the trail becomes narrow, rocky and steep. Hikers watching their step should glimpse up for one of the first views through the foliage of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
The time of year can really influence the view. Hikers who brave the possibility of cold, wet weather in late-October are rewarded with a front row seat to Mother Nature’s finest art show. Views of the surrounding leaves, complete with the fiery reds, flaming oranges and vivid yellows offer inspiration on your trek to the summit.
Hikers eager to get outside in late spring can see the area’s lush greenery and broccoli-like mountaintops. A hike in July and August yields a plethora of wild blueberries and huckleberries, azaleas and wildflowers along the Spruce Mountain ridge crest.
A one-mile downhill section leads to a soggy crossing at Seneca Creek. Hikers must balance on rocks and logs to get across, or change into sandals to keep their hiking boots dry.
About five miles into the hike, chairs made of stone slabs, a waterfall view and a fire pit welcome weary hikers to a campsite a few hundred yards after the creek crossing.
The site offers enough room for several tents, which makes this spot ideal for ending the first day. If the weather is warm enough, or you’re especially daring in cold weather, take a dip in the pool under the waterfall or lounge in the sun on one of the flat rocks nearby.
After your night’s rest or siesta, Huckleberry Trail leads up and away from the creek.
Your legs begin to question why you’ve decided to hike to the state’s tallest point over the tough two miles straight uphill through steep meadows, pastures and several camping areas.
The hike’s final 4 1/2 miles leads along the Spruce Mountain ridge crest. Spruce trees and blueberry and huckleberry bushes begin to pop up along the trail. As the trail winds its way through spruce forests, it grows softer and springier because of its pine needle base. Hikers will encounter large rocks on the last few miles of the trail, which makes wearing boots with ample ankle support a must.
The spruce tree branches create a green tunnel enveloping hikers along the trail. Summit balds near the top give the feeling you’re approaching the top of the world.
The trail turns tame when finely crushed gravel and then asphalt replace the Earth’s natural floor less than a quarter mile from the top.
A quick walk across the parking lot and up to the Spruce Knob observation tower is all it takes to truly stand at the top of West Virginia.
The 360-degree view just might make the pain of the previous 11 miles melt away. If not, at least you have an interesting story to tell your co-workers when they ask why you’re walking funny on Monday.
How to get there: Take U.S. 33 west from Elkins to about one mile west of Harman. Travel south on Whitmer Road (County Route 29) for about 8 miles south through Job, Gandy and Whitmer. The Spring Ridge Trail head is on the left after the community of Horton.