7 hikes that are even better in winter
You might not think of winter as a prime hiking season in the Mountain State, but some of these trails are even more majestic in the winter.
Seeing the rhododendrons and beech trees of the Appalachian forests in a winter wonderland is a completely unique experience. Some of our famous waterfalls even freeze up into beautiful blue cascading pillars.
Take special care on the trails in the cold months! Be sure to know your route, plan to move slower, wear extra warm and waterproof clothes, and check the weather before you go!
Got that? Then get trekkin’:
1. Endless Wall Trail (New River Gorge National River)
USA Today voted Endless Wall “America’s #1 National Park Hike,” and it’s just as show-stopping (and manageable!) in winter. The loop is less than 3 miles long and mostly flat, plus it winds through old-growth forests on a very easy-to-follow trail. Because of the tree cover, it doesn’t accumulate too much snow, either.
Best of all, you’ll get amazing snowy views of the New River, its gorge, and the huge bridge that spans it all. Just take extra care around the sandstone overlooks, since the snow may be slippery.
2. Spruce Knob (Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area)
Any Mountain State adventurer needs to make the trek to the state’s highest point at Spruce Knob— a 4,861 foot peak with stunning views and an observation tower, tucked into one of most remote and wild corners of West Virginia.
The stark views of winter add to this wild experience, as long as you respect the windier conditions here. Make sure you’re prepared.
It’s not a long hike to the tower and other surrounding views (between a quarter- and half-mile, depending on which loops you take.) But make sure you check on the snow conditions for the forest service roads to the the peak.
3. Overlook Rock Trail (Kanawha State Forest)
Even the bustling capital city of Charleston is only a few minutes from amazing hiking and adventure.
The best views for a winter hike might be on the Overlook Rock Trail in Kanawha State Forest. There are a few steep and rocky spots, and you’ll want to pay close attention to the tree blazes that mark the trail, but the accessibility and views of this 1.5-mile loop make it well worth it.
4. Blackwater Falls State Park
West Virginia has no shortage of breathtaking waterfalls, but Blackwater Falls might just be the prettiest. And in the wintertime, when ice coats the surrounding cliffs of the Blackwater River Gorge, the falls eventually freeze, making the landscape are even more impressive.
It’s pretty easy to get to the falls year round, and for adventurous hikers, the state park has more than 20 miles of trails to explore. And if the snow is too deep to tromp through, don’t forget to check out the park’s cross-country ski center.
5. Cranberry Wilderness
Some of West Virginia’s largest and wildest landscapes are in the Cranberry region. If you want to try a hardcore multi-day ski or snowshoe expedition, this is the place to do it.
For day visitors, there’s also a more approachable winter excursion: the specially protected Cranberry Glades Botanical Area, which includes a series of swampy bogs that are more common in subarctic Canada than in West Virginia. The half-mile boardwalk through the bogs and glades is easy to follow, even in the winter.
6. Red Creek Trail (Dolly Sods Wilderness)
Dolly Sods is also in West Virginia’s high country, so backcountry hikers should watch out for serious winter conditions.
If you want a great out-and-back trail that gives you a sample of some of the open, wind-swept mountain meadows, check out the Red Creek trailhead off Forest Route 75. You’ll have to be extra careful about trail junctions and stream crossings in the winter, but the beauty of snow-covered meadows makes it worth it.
7. Ring in the new year with First Day Hikes
West Virginia state parks have a cool New Year’s tradition: First Day Hikes. Go on an organized, guided group hike through the winter wonderland of our state parks, like Bluestone, Cass Scenic Railroad, Pipestem Resort, Cacapon Resort and Beech Fork state parks.
All the routes for these treks are great winter hikes other days of the year, too! Call the individual parks to see where they take their first-day hikes, or where else they recommend exploring!
This post was last updated on October 18, 2017