Tuesday, August 3, 2021

West Virginia's Best Kept Secret: The Highland Scenic Highway



The Highland Scenic Highway -- WV 150 / WV 39-WV 55 -- runs 43 miles through the Monongahela National Forest, meandering along the mountain ridges, reaching an elevation of more than 4500 feet. 

Along the northeastern part of the scenic highway -- where it's more a parkway than a highway.



Like its more famous sisters to the east, the Skyline Drive and Blueridge Parkway, this is a road specifically designed to be driven by those wishing to experience the beautiful views of a mountain range, in this case, the mountains of the Monongahela National Forest. The speed limit is 45 miles per hour in the parkway portion (WV 150), and all commercial traffic is banned. 

The view from the Big Spruce Overlook.



We decided on a whim to drive the northeastern neck of the scenic road, after having visited the Cranberry Glades Wilderness Region, as we had time to spare and not much desire to head back to the cabin by 2 p.m. -- but after a 6-mile hike in the morning, neither were we particularly looking to do more hiking. A scenic drive seemed to fill the bill.

On our way up to the Cranberry Glades Overlook, we noticed this pretty bluegray lichen.



A cloudy, sometimes rainy day, the fog seemed determined to roll in as we headed up the mountain from Cranberry Glades Botanica Area. 

The Cranberry Glades Overlook -- you can reach this viewpoint via a short hike from the road.



We joked that a scenic drive is only scenic when you can actually view the scenes as we cautiously rolled through some heavy fog. Despite the fog, when we passed the Cranberry Glades Overlook Trail, we decided to hike the quarter-mile trail up the side of the mountain to the overlook, having just explored the boardwalk trail through the cranberry bogs and to our surprise, were rewarded with a bit of a view. 

Map from https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/byways/byways/2460/maps



By the time we were back at the car (a scant 45 minutes later), the sky was brightening up and the fog lifting, giving us some gorgeous scenic views, despite the cloudy day.



Along the way you'll find a variety of overlooks -- the road is favorably compared with the Skyline Drive and Blueridge Parkway to the east -- and a variety of trailheads. There are excellent pull-off spots for hiking as well as photo opportunities. The four scenic overlooks provide spectacular views of the Allegheny Highlands. This would be a spectacular drive during the fall autumn foliage season!



The northeast part of the parkway provides several scenic overlooks of Cranberry Glades and the Cranberry Wilderness to the west, and of the ridge and valley Appalachians to the east. In fact, the 3/4 mile hike to the Cranberry Glades Overlook is well worth the forty minutes or so it took out of our day.

Each overlook offered accessible picnic tables and rustic bathrooms.
I didn't take a photo of the bathrooms. You're welcome.



We also took note of two other hikes that will bring us back: the High Rocks Trail, a 3-mile easy hike (with minimal elevation change) out to a rock outcropping, and the very short (and apparently accessible) Honeycomb Rocks Trail, which brings you to an unusual geologic formation. In fact, there are more than 150 miles of trails off of the Highland Scenic Highway. For more about the trails along the Highland Scenic Highway, click here.

Along the southwestern section of the scenic highway.



In addition, a must stop for the serious sight-seer is the Big Spruce Overlook, at which you'll not only encounter a beautiful scenic view, but also an educational boardwalk, which will only take about 20 minutes of your time, and which explains how irresponsible timbering practices led to an ecological disaster -- one that led to the Monongahela National Forest to be established.




Despite the fog, we decided to take the chance and hike up to the Cranberry Glades Overlook, a scant three-quarter of a mile hike; we spent about 45 minutes (it felt like a lot of elevation gain). You could drive the whole scenic highway easily in one day, even with stops.



The following day we were back to check out the southwestern section, which follows WV 39 and WV northwest of Mill Point, WV. This section is not as nice as the northeastern part of the parkway -- trucks are prevalent (in fact, we followed a sluggish loaded dump truck up the mountain), but as the road curls around the mountains, it affords splendid views of the mountainside and the Cherry River. 



But it's also worth the drive, because you'll come across places like the Falls of Hills Creek, which you should allow an hour to explore.



Please note: WV 150 (the northeastern section of the scenic highway) is not plowed during the winter and typically, there are significant snow accumulations at its highest elevations, often making the road impassable or dangerous November through April. If you do go during the winter months, be on the lookout for snowmobilers and cross-country skiers, who take advantage of the often 100-inches plus snow on the road for both of those sports.

One of the spectacular Falls of Hills Creek, easily
accessible via a short hike from the scenic parkway.


Know before you go: there are accessible, rustic bathroom facilities and picnic tables at every overlook.

Getting there: The road runs north to south-ish: you can pick up the northern-most terminous at U.S. 219 and WV 55 north of Edray, near Marlinton or the southern terminous of WV 150 at WV 39 and WV 55 northwest of Mill Point. For the southwestern section of the Highland Scenic Highway, you'll follow WV 39/WV 55 north.

Website: https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/regions/eastern/HighlandScenicHighway/index.shtml



Check out other interesting things to see and do in Pocahontas County:


Looking for more to explore in West Virginia? Check out West Virginia Daytrip Destinations


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