The scenic walk explores some of the highest peaks in W.Va.

The Yew Mountains rise to over 4,500 feet along the Highland Scenic Highway. (Photo: David T. Sibray)

MARLINTON, W.Va. — Traveling through a windswept landscape of spruce and cranberry trees, a scenic drive that explores some of West Virginia’s highest elevations is attracting more and more visitors.

The Highland Scenic Drive is now one of the most popular scenic drives in the Mountain State, and although it was dedicated in 1980, it is becoming more and more popular as a destination every year.

Cara Rose, Executive Director of Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureausays the increase is hardly surprising in light of the recent increase in tourism to the mountains.

“There are a lot more visitors coming to Pocahontas County,” Rose says, “and while I don’t have traffic counts specifically for the freeway, we’re seeing more motorcycles and more cars with bicycles and kayaks.

The increase has been bolstered by the covid pandemic, which has prompted tourists to avoid crowded beaches and turn to sparsely populated mountains. This has sparked renewed interest in the area.

Big Spruce Knob (elevation 4,671) dominates the view from the Big Spruce Knob Overlook.
Big Spruce Knob (elevation 4,671) dominates the view from the Big Spruce Knob Overlook. (Photo: D. Sibray)

“The hotel tax has increased by 18% in Pocahontas County, there are more visitors to the Greenbrier River Trail, there are more mountain bikers at Snowshoe Mountain, and there are generally more recreational enthusiasts from outdoors that come to the area,” Rose said.

Tina White, public affairs specialist for the Monongahela National Forest, says the 43-mile walk allows travelers to explore a landscape they might not otherwise experience. Many other high peaks in the Alleghenies are inaccessible except on foot.

The walk, which ascends into the Yew Mountains, a subset of the Allegheny Mountains, also allows visitors to explore a variety of mountainous environments without leaving the car: cranberry glades, spruce forests and most high state waterfall.

“It’s a scenic area,” White said. “It’s far away. I think at 43 miles it’s a short section of road to have such an abundance of scenery and opportunity to recreate.

For those who prefer to stay in the car, the Forest Service offers an audio tour that travelers can listen to while driving along the parkway.

Cranberry Mountain Nature Center

Ideal stop for a visit to the promenade, the nature center includes new exhibits and activities for children. The establishment is open daily from May to October, on weekends in April and November, and is closed from December to March.

Hill’s Creek Falls

Three scenic waterfalls tumble from the highlands as Hills Creek descends from the Yew Mountains to the lower levels of the Greenbrier Valley in Hillsboro. The three quarter mile trail down the creek and back will require some effort.

Cranberry glades

One of the state’s most popular natural areas, the Cranberry Glade Botanical Area features a wheelchair-accessible walkway that leads visitors through a cranberry bog inhabited by rare plants. Trails lead from the botanical area to the adjacent Cranberry Wilderness.

Panoramic views

Four lookouts line the highway. Big Spruce, Little Laurel, Williams River, and Red Lick lookouts provide scenic views of the boardwalk. These viewpoints also have restrooms, picnic areas, and information boards.

Other notable stops along the highway include summit lake and honeycomb rocks.

Lots to see and do on the Highland Scenic Highway

White says she likes to point out to visitors that the Highland Scenic Highway provides access to an array of activities that don’t require effort. However, the highway passes through extreme environments and trails that require experience.

Over 150 miles of trails are accessible from the boardwalk, including some trails that may be suitable for mountain biking or horseback riding.

“For a lot of people, it’s important to know that this is an area where there’s something for everyone,” White says. “People may feel that the hike is more difficult or too difficult for them. There are also great easy, gentle and beautiful trails along the highway.

David Sibray accompanies a group of young charges on a walk on the boardwalk in Cranberry Glades.
David Sibray accompanies a group of young charges on a walk on the boardwalk in Cranberry Glades.

One of White’s favorite trails is the Red Spruce Knob Trail, just under a mile and a half, with the titular red spruce and moss the state’s high elevations are famous for.

“It’s very magical. It’s a nice area to take a short walk,” she said.

The highway is also a popular destination for anglers. Summit Lake and the Cherry, Cranberry and Williams rivers provide fishing and are stocked with trout and other fish species.

Several backcountry areas along the highway, including Cranberry Backcountry, Cranberry Wilderness, and the Tea Creek region, are perfect for those looking for a hiking experience.

“Not everyone wants to go deep into the backcountry, but a lot of people do,” White said. “I love that there is so much diversity in terms of skill level.

“You can take a short hike with your family on one of the much shorter trails that are easier, but you also have longer backcountry trails for someone who wants to get on it and do hiking or staying longer. period and wanting something more strenuous.”

The elevation difference along the way is another source of adventure, says White. Some sections of the highway have cooler air, while low areas such as Cranberry Glades will feel warmer. The elevation along the route increases from 2,325 feet above sea level to over 4,500 feet.

Although the Highland Scenic Highway is beautiful year-round, especially as a fall-colored destination, White said the mountainous section of the highway (Forest Highway 150) is not maintained in winter and advises travelers to avoid this section.

“Although it’s a good place if we have a lot of snow to put your skis on for cross-country skiing, it might not be where you plan to drive,” she said. “So we definitely have alerts and warnings about that in the winter.”

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