Throughout West Virginia, abandoned railroad beds have been turned into a network of trails for use by hikers, bikers, and equestrians. The scenery is spectacular, and the tunnels provide a cool respite on a hot day. The rail-trails that follow rivers are often the only flat places to hike or ride for miles around.
The National Rails to Trails Conservancy was founded in 1986 as a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., with the goal of creating trails from former rail lines. The National Trail System Act of 1968 authorized creation of a national trail system comprised of National Recreation Trails, National Scenic Trails, and National Historic Trails. In West Virginia, there are three rail-trails that have been designated National Recreation Trails. The Monongahela River/Caperton/Deckers Creek Trail is a 50-mile trail system from Pricketts Fort State Park to Morgantown along the east side of the Monongahela River. The Ralph S. Larue/West Fork Trail is a 14.5-mile paved trail between Fairmont, Monongah, Everson, Worthington, and Hutchison in rural Marion and Harrison counties, featuring three bridges, river access, and beaches. The McTrail is a 2.5-mile, paved trail that leads from Pricketts Fort State Park to Fairmont that includes a 1,200-foot lighted tunnel and a rest area built to look like a train station.
There are dozens of other rail-trails as well, including the most well-known, the Greenbrier River Trail. The Greenbrier River Trail is West Virginia’s Millennium Legacy Trail, one of 50 such trails nationwide. The 77-mile trail follows the old Greenbrier Division of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway along the Greenbrier River, traveling from Cass in Pocahontas County to Caldwell, near Lewisburg.
There are several online lists with links to information about the rail-trails and information about nearby businesses. The West Virginia Rails to Trails Council, for example, lists 27 rail-trails. The West Virginia Department of Commerce lists 30. The Rails to Trails Conservancy lists 53. Many trails appear on more than one of the lists.
The longest of West Virginia’s rail-trials are:
- the 77-mile packed gravel Greenbrier River Trail
- the 72-mile packed gravel North Bend Rail-Trail from Parkersburg to Wolf Summit in Doddridge, Harrison, Ritchie, and Wood counties;
- the 29-mile Panhandle Rail-Trail from Weirton, Brooke County, through Washington and Allegheny counties in Pennsylvania to the Pittsburgh area;
- the 24.1-mile packed stone West Fork Trail from Durbin to Glady in Pocahontas and Randolph counties;
- the 23.6-mile packed sand Allegheny Highlands Trail from Elkins to Hendricks in Randolph and Tucker counties;
- the 17-mile packed sand West Fork River Rail-Trail from Shinnston to Fairmont in Harrison and Marion counties;
- the 16.5-mile packed stone Cranberry/Tri-Rivers Rail-Trail from Richwood to Allingdale in Nicholas County;
- the 13-mile asphalt Wheeling Heritage Rail-Trail from Wheeling to Elm Grove in Ohio County; and
- the 10.2-mile packed rock and soil Blackwater Canyon Rail-Trail from Hendricks to Thomas in Tucker County.
West Virginia rail-trails are rated on Trails.com, which is a project of the National Rails to Trails Conservancy. A selection of books about rails to trails in West Virginia can be found here. It lists bicycle touring trails throughout the United States, along with information about lodging and attractions.
Written by Jennifer Bundy