Spruce Knob, 4,861 feet at its summit and the highest point in West Virginia, is located in Pendleton County on Spruce Mountain. The mountain, a dominant feature of the West Virginia highlands which averages 4,500 feet for its 12-mile length, peaks at the knob.
Rocks at Spruce Knob are of Pottsville sandstone, dating from the Pennsylvanian age over 300 million years ago. This hard conglomerate rock is resistant to erosive weathering. Although glaciers did not reach West Virginia, the cold climate left its mark in high areas including Spruce Knob. Special rock patterns such as circles, stripes, and polygons, which are associated with cold weather freeze-thaw cycles, can still be found.
Spruce Knob was once covered with a dense forest of red spruce growing in a foot-thick layer of humus soil. Early settlers burned the original forest for pasture. Subsequent timbering and severe fires burned the rich soil and denuded the forest. In 1921, Spruce Knob was acquired by the U.S. Forest Service. The red spruce forest has grown back, but regeneration has been slow, perhaps due to soil loss and harsh climate.
Spruce Knob has a climate similar to that of Newfoundland. The high altitude and cold climate have affected the vegetation, which is the Appalachian extension of the boreal or northern coniferous forest. In some areas on Spruce Knob the weather is so harsh that trees grow only shrub-high. Some plants growing around Spruce Knob, including dwarf cornel, are similar to those growing in Canada. Wildflowers include bleeding heart and fireweed. The knob offers harsh conditions for wildlife, but red fox, snowshoe hare, bobcat, ruffed grouse, raven, dark-eyed junco, and other birds are found there.
The parking area at Spruce Knob has a half-mile Whispering Spruce Trail leading around the knob with its panoramic views. The observation tower on the trail provides spectacular views. Blueberry and huckleberry bushes are abundant. Spruce Knob Lake is a 20-minute drive from the knob. Constructed as a 25-acre fishing lake in 1952, it is the state’s highest lake. The lake is a good place to look for herons, kingfishers, and beavers.
Written by Norma Jean Kennedy-Venable
Venable, Norma Jean. Seneca Rocks and Spruce Knob. Morgantown: West Virginia University Extension Service, 1992.