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50 Hikes in West Virginia: From the Allegheny Mountains to the Ohio River

Leonard takes you on a hiking tour of his native state. With more than 400 miles of trails, the 50 hikes lead you to pathways beside crashing streams and waterfalls, into hidden mountain valleys, and onto miles of level rail-trails, windswept plains, and historic sites.

The shortest hike is 0.5-mile. the longest is a challenging, multiday padckpacking trek on the state's premier long-distance route, the Allegheny Trail.


Laurel Creek and Lockridge Mountain

Total distance (circuit): 8.8 miles
Hiking time: 4 hours, 45 minutes
Vertical rise: 900 feet
Maps: USGS 7 1/2” Minnehaha Springs

Sometimes there is the urge to go on a weekend hiking trip without having to put in big miles. Without having to huff and puff up steep hills or use navigational skills to negotiate a route that is ill-defined or poorly marked. You just want a trip that will take you away from the bothers of everyday life, that will simply let you enjoy being in the woods and not present new difficulties to overcome.

If that’s what you’re feeling like, then the Laurel Creek Trail {FS 466} is the place to be. Built by volunteers of the Older American Workers in 1975, the 8.8-mile hike makes for an easy weekend, with one short uphill and everything else level or just minor ups and downs. The few stream fords are narrow and, except in times of extremely high water, easy to do. Tentsites are numerous about two miles after leaving the trailhead, while a shelter sits on a breezy hillside above the pathway a little more than halfway into the trip. A few mountain bikers have discovered the trail, but chances are good you will walk in solitude all weekend.

The beginning of the hike may be reached by taking I-64 Exit 175 at White Sulphur Springs, turning right onto US60 East, driving 4.8 miles, turning left onto WV92 North, and continuing for another 31.5 miles. Make another left onto WV92 North/WV39 West and turn right into the forest service’s Rimel Picnic Area just 0.2 mile later. (The picnic area may also be reached by driving WV39 East for 13 miles from the US219/WV39 intersection in Marlinton.)

Enter the woods and turn right at the loop trail intersection on the blue-blazed Laurel Creek Trail. At 0.2 mile, cross FSR345 as you begin to gradually swing away from WV39 and walk upon superbly built sidehill trail with almost no change in elevation. Constructed in the 1990s, this pathway enables you to stay high and dry in comparison to the trail’s former route on the valley floor, which was wet and muddy much of the time. Weave in and out of a number of draws where footbridges take you across small water runs and hemlocks rise above a profusion of mushrooms and other fungi.

In days gone by, it was believed that fairies danced upon mushrooms and used the caps as umbrellas. We now know mushrooms and other fungi play a much more important role in the forest. Possessing no chlorophyll--the matter that gives plants their green color--the fungi gain nourishment by feeding upon nutrients found in dead wood, leaves, and other forest litter. As this material breaks down, much of it returns to the air in a gaseous form, while the remainder, now mostly humus, returns to and enriches the soil.

In addition, most plants have developed a relationship, known as mycorrhiza, with certain fungi in order to live. The fungi attach themselves to young plant roots and send hyphae, or fungal threads, into the soil, increasing the feeding capabilities of the root systems. Because the fungi are able to take in zinc and other important insoluble nutrients such as phosphorous, they allow the plants to survive in areas where these substances may be in short supply. In return, some of the carbohydrates the plant produces are transferred to the fungi--it’s a win-win situation for everybody involved.

Soon after crossing the fourth footbridge at 1.9 miles, swing left onto an old roadbed, turn right to cross a final bridge, descend for a few hundred yards, and bear left onto an old railroad grade to start walking upstream along Laurel Creek. Although none are established, there are numerous potential tentsites all along the route beside the creek. Pass through a small wildlife clearing at 2.5 miles, while the activity of beavers around 3.0 miles may flood the trail in times of high water.

On the positive side, this added moisture enables jewelweed and cardinal flower to thrive. In their book, Southern Wild Flowers and Trees, published in 1901, Alice Lounsberry and Mrs. Ellis Brown were so taken by the cardinal flower that they wrote, “Cardinal Flower is a wild flower about which the nation might feel a righteous pride, so intensely coloured and velvety in texture...defying the artist’s pigments to imitate them, and forming against their background of dark green and lustrous leaves a wild bit of colour almost without equal. Old men, urchins and little maids all seek it by the brook’s side.”

Bear right when you come to the Y intersection at 3.1 miles. If there have been recent heavy rains, the trail may become part of the creek for the next several hundred feet. In addition, you may need to cross several runs that are just parts of Laurel Creek overrunning its banks. Swing left at 3.6 miles to leave Laurel Creek and begin the very gradual ascent along Lockridge Run. Cross the stream six times (this is the last sure water source before the shelter) as the trail passes through tunnels of rhododendron and hemlock. At 4.6 miles, the ascent becomes progressively steeper in the narrow draw along the more southern fork of Lockridge Run, which may be dry in late summer.

However, the climb does not last long as the trail switchbacks out of the draw at 4.9 miles and onto a gradually ascending footpath to soon gain the top of a spur ridge. Once again, the builders of this trail did an excellent job in laying it out. Thanks to them, you get to cover the next several miles with almost no change in elevation.

At 5.2 miles, turn right to ascend 200 feet to the shelter sitting on top of the ridge and at the edge of a logged area, where tentsites abound on Lockridge Mountain’s broad, flat crest. This is a pleasant place to be whether you are taking a break or are here for the night; ever-present gentle breezes carry bird songs through the air to serenade you.

Return to the main trail and continue to stay just a few hundred feet below the top of the mountain, crossing one spur ridge after another with little change in elevation. White snakeroot thrives in areas where sunlight reaches the forest floor, while mountain laurel and blueberry bushes make up the understory in places where the forest canopy is more lush. You may also notice lots of acorns and squawroot. The acorns are here because of the many oak trees, but, so too is the squawroot. It is a parasitic plant with amazingly small yellow flowers that grows on the roots of trees, especially oaks. The flower will probably not be what first catches your eye. It will be the stem. The plant produces no chlorophyll, so its entire stem is sort of a yellowish brown.

The cries of pileated woodpeckers are often heard in the forest around 6.8 miles, while rattlesnake weed grows in large patches for the first time on the hike. Rattlesnake weed and rattlesnake plantain are sometimes mistaken for each other because they both have similar looking basal leaves. The telling difference is the rattlesnake weed’s reddish-purple leaf veins in contrast to the rattlesnake plantain’s white-veined leaves. In addition, the latter has stalks of tiny white flowers, while the rattlesnake weed’s blossoms look like little yellow dandelions.

Cross FSR345 at 8.2 miles and parallel it for several hundred yards before crossing a grassy woods road and descending quickly to your car at 8.8 miles.

The Hike at a Glance

0.2 cross FSR345
1.9 fourth footbridge
3.1 right at Y intersection
5.2 shelter
6.8 large patches of rattlesnake weed
8.2 cross FSR345
8.8 end