Welcome to Paria's “Hike of the Week” series. Each week, we hope to inspire you to get out there and experience the best backpacking trails in the U.S. Pictures and trail reports are great, but nothing beats seeing nature's beauty in person!
This week's focus is on the North Fork Mountain Trail in West Virginia.
Featured Photo: Seneca Rocks (photo by Random Michelle)
Why This Hike?
West Virginia is kind of the “hidden gem” of the eastern states. It actually offers a slew of outdoor activities. These include hiking, rock climbing, and water sports. This makes it a haven for outdoor lovers.
Today's trail is located in the beautiful Allegheny Mountains in the Monongahela National Forest. It meanders along the spine of North Fork Mountain. Naturally, the views and overlooks of the sweeping valleys and rolling mountains are endless.
- Distance: 23 miles
- Type: Point-to-point
- Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous
- Elevation gain: 3,150 feet
- Best time to visit: April - October
- The North Fork Mountain Trail (NFMT) is known by many as the most scenic trail in West Virginia.
- There are so many overlooks you'll probably lose count! Chimney Top, a few miles near the end, is arguably the best.
- Be sure to take the short side trails to the Seneca Rocks viewing point and Chimney Top lookout. The former is a towering 200 foot quartzite formation that juts out of the valley floor.
- Lots of unique wildlife and plant life awaits.
- Though there are some established campsites, dispersed camping is allowed too.
- North Fork Mountain is known as the driest mountain in the Appalachians. This means you won't have to worry about boggy or muddy areas.
- If you want to do some more exploring in the area, you're in luck. You can also find Dolly Sods Wilderness and Spruce Knob nearby. Both of these are also popular, scenic hiking areas.
- The trail is well-marked and kept in good condition.
- The trail has some short, steep climbs. But, this beats the precipitous climb you'd have starting from the northern end.
Before you pack your bags, keep the following in mind:
- The mountain is very dry. As such, there is very limited water. Stash some halfway through near the spring or be sure to carry extra. The spring is not always reliable, especially in summer.
- Mountain bike usage is also permitted on this trail.
- This trail requires a shuttle. Also, there is not much room for parking at the southern trailhead.
How Do I Get There?
If you will be flying to the area, Shenandoah Valley Regional is the closest major airport to the trailhead. From here, take Airport Road and turn left onto Weyers Cave Road. After 2.5 miles, turn right to merge onto I-81 N. Continue for a little over 7 miles before taking exit 243 to merge onto US-11 N. Turn left on Erickson Ave. Drive 3 miles before turning left onto US-33 W. Continue 38 miles. Turn right onto US-220 N followed shortly by a left turn onto US-33 W again. Drive 8.3 miles. Parking will be on your right. Total drive time is about 1 hour and 20 minutes.
Map of Recommended Route
The following map outlines our recommended route. Click the "Load Interactive Map" button to load the correct map. Once loaded, you can navigate along the route and view recommended campsites.
For even more detailed mapping, including being able to print a copy for yourself, click the "Open in CalTopo" button at the top of the map once it's loaded into view.
- Day 1 - Southern Trailhead to Spring Campsite (12 miles)
- Day 2 - Spring Campsite to Northern Trailhead (11 miles)
Day 1 - Southern Trailhead to Spring Campsite
The trail begins near the radio tower. Start in a quiet forest with a nice soft floor to walk on. The views begin a mere half-mile in. You'll also find all kinds of neat plant life. This includes pink lady slippers and even some blueberries in season.
The trail levels out for a couple of miles through the woods. You'll get east and west views under the large power lines that run over the mountain. The Seneca Rocks overview is breathtaking.
It's worth noting that the trail can get a bit brushy in summer. The thick carpet of large ferns is lovely, though. Plus, you never go long before coming across more great views of the mountains and rock formations.
Travel down a gravel road to get to the spring and your campsite for the night. After another radio tower, it is about 2 miles to the campsite. There is a gas pipeline crossing about one mile away from camp. There will be a parking area with the camping area adjacent. If you follow the small path through the clearing, it leads to the spring. A large fire pit at the campsite comes in handy for cooking or just relaxing after a long, but scenic, day.
Not crazy about camping next to the fire road? There is another campsite after the intersection of Redman Run Trail. And it has an awesome view! (Shortly past the 16-mile point.)
Day 2 - Spring Campsite to Northern Trailhead
The first proper lookout of the day is a mere half-mile from your campsite. It's spectacular enough you might want to eat your breakfast meal or snack there instead! Come across another overlook before reaching the intersection with the Redman Run Trail. The signage here can be a bit confusing, so make sure you or a hiking partner can read maps well!
Past here is the other awesome campsite with a view. As you continue, you'll come across an area thick in rhododendron, West Virginia's state flower. It will become harder to keep moving along the trail. There are numerous more overlooks over the next several miles. You'll also cross the Landis Trail and Table Rock Vista overlook.
Rocky outcroppings become more numerous as you approach the spur trail to Chimney Top. After taking in the incredible views here, including the weathered, behemoth rock itself, head down a very steep spur trail back to the main one. Take your time along here to stay safe. It's all downhill for the last couple of miles to the northern trailhead. Not surprisingly, with even more vistas scattered along the way.
What Will I Need?
Much of the trail is rocky with steep drops on either side. For this reason, you might want to take a tarp and a hammock. (If you plan on dispersed camping.) But, there are enough established campsites if you prefer your backpacking tent.
During the peak season, average lows are 39-61°F and average highs 61-81°F. Your sleep system affects your nighttime warmth the most. A quality down quilt and ultralight sleeping pad will keep you warm and comfortable.
A backpacking quilt is extremely versatile! It can go from an open blanket to a closed up, mummy-style sleeping bag. This versatility makes them them ideal for 3-season use on the North Fork Mountain Trail.
If there's anything else you need to complete your pack, visit our full line of high-quality, affordable backpacking gear.
Shop Backpacking Tents
Shop Ultralight Tarps
Shop Backpacking Quilts
Shop Down Sleeping Bags
Shop Insulated Sleeping Pads
Shop Backpacking Pillow
Shop Folding Trekking Poles
Shop Titanium Cookware
Shop Tent and Tarp Accessories
Finally, to make sure you don't forget something at home, use our Ultimate Backpacker's Packing List. It even includes a convenient printable checklist!
Do I Need a Permit?
No backcountry permits are required.
If you're looking for the most scenic backpacking trip West Virginia has to offer, look no further than the North Fork Mountain Trail. The countless vistas and breathtaking views will have you coming back for years to come!
Have you completed this or any of West Virginia's other popular backpacking routes? We'd love to hear about your experience in the comments section below!
If you're looking for more hike ideas, read our “Best Backpacking Trips in the Eastern U.S.” round-up post. Also, the following Hike of the Week articles cover other great trails in the region.
Hike of the Week: Pennsylvania Grand Canyon West Rim Trail
Hike of the Week: North Sterling Loop
Hike of the Week: Triple Crown Loop
For even more amazing backpacking trips visit The Trailhead, our interactive hike map. It contains a curated list of dozens of hikes, each with a detailed write-up like this one.
Finally, check out our comprehensive list of backpacking articles that cover just about everything there is to know about backpacking. If you're just starting out, our Backpacking 101 section covers all the basics. If you already have a few trips under your belt, you can find more advanced topics covered in our Expert Articles.