About this Itinerary
The North Bend Rail-Trail (NBRT) is a scenic excursion along part of the 5,500-mile, coast-to-coast American Discovery Trail. Stretching nearly 72 miles in northern West Virginia, the trail travels from Parkersburg (Cedar Grove) to Wolf Summit, through 13 tunnels (10 passable), over 36 bridges and runs nearby the North Bend State Park. Though it is easily accessible from Interstates 77 and 79, and parallels US Route 50, the path meanders through wild and natural areas as well as farmland and many small, rural communities that grew up along the old Baltimore and Ohio Railroad corridor. The North Bend Rail-Trail's many points of interest include the former Stage Coach Inn in Pennsboro, marble factories and the legend of the ghost of tunnel 19, the Silver Run tunnel.
We suggest allowing a minimum of two days to bike from the western trail head to the eastern terminus, and there are a several considerations to keep in mind when you are planning your trip. For a one-way ride, you will need to arrange your own shuttle with family or friends as there are no shuttle services in the area. Also, the Country Trail Bike Shop and River Run Campground in Cairo are currently the only places near the trail to rent bicycles. An alternative to riding the 72 miles from west to east is to make your home-base in the park and take day rides from there: one day ride west and the next day ride east.
Mountain bikes are recommended as the surface is predominately gravel and dirt (sometimes grass, mowed and un-mowed) and can be very rough and mucky in spots. The western section of the trail is in the best shape so if it has been particularly rainy before your arrival, consider riding just the segment west of Ellenboro. If you are looking for a consistently well-maintained trail, this may not be the one for you. The NBRT Foundation’s website is a good place to check for current trail conditions and updates.
In addition to your regular touring gear, make sure to bring: a head lamp or flashlight so you can safely navigate the long tunnels; plenty of water as there are long stretches where no safe drinking water is available (a water filter might not be a bad idea); and a tire and tube repair kit. If you are riding this rail-trail you will want to be prepared for the inevitable encounter with dogs; many cyclists report having to outrun dogs on several occasions during their ride and have appreciated having pepper spray handy. Finally, the foundation’s detailed trail descriptions will give you a sense of what to expect nearly every mile along the way.
Parkersburg offers history-buffs plenty of opportunities to uncover layer upon layer of cultural heritage. The state of West Virginia formed during the American Civil War by seceding from the Confederate state of Virginia. Parkersburg became an important strategic military town during the war, largely due to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O), and later became a major transportation hub for the oil and gas industry. The history is rich and deep and some online research during your trip planning may be quite helpful in narrowing down what you will attempt to take in while there. The Greater Parkersburg Visitors Center has produced downloadable maps and brochures of the West Virginia’s Oil, Gas & Civil War Heritage District and provides detailed descriptions of the numerous historic landmarks, districts and museums in the area. The self-guided walking tours of downtown Parkersburg and the Julia-Ann Square Historic District encompass most all of these historical highlights.
To stay fully immersed in the region’s cultural heritage, consider staying overnight at the elegant and historic Blennerhassett Hotel. From here, you will be well placed for your explorations around town or you could opt to stay in, relax in the lounge or dine at the hotel’s Spats Restaurant, patio or courtyard. If you are walking the town, you may work up a thirst and appreciate the local brews at the North End Tavern & Brewery. Also keep an eye out for Third Street Deli and Catering as you may want to return here tomorrow on your way to the trailhead; it is a good idea to bring a picnic lunch and plenty of snacks for the day’s ride as there are no eateries until Cairo.
Day 1: Parkersburg – Cairo/North Bend State Park (28.7 miles)
The western trailhead is located 5.5 miles southeast of downtown Parkersburg (Happy Valley Road). The trail soon begins to follow the path of the Little Kanawha River. Houses and cabins line the river banks and you may encounter boaters, anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts. Eventually you parallel and cross River Road for a short stretch before the trail goes under a Route 47 overpass and changes course to loosely follow Walker Creek. From here to Cairo (approximately 19 miles), there is little to remind you of human civilization beyond the tunnels and the numerous bridges that carry you over creeks. The surrounding area is a mixture of forests and wetlands, and you can expect to enjoy a variety of wildlife, including whitetail deer, leatherback snapping turtles, wild turkeys, beavers, great blue herons, squirrels, red-tailed hawks, song birds, and much more.
The first passable tunnel is Eaton Tunnel #21 at mile 15 (the second longest tunnel of the NBRT at 1,840 feet long). Make sure to have your flashlight or headlight handy. Four miles farther, you cycle through the small town of Petroleum, first established by the B&O as an oil and water stop. In 1859, the country’s first oil wells were drilled here along the Oil Spring Run. As you cycle through today, the significance of this area may not be as obvious but you will find a rest area, pit toilet and primitive camping site as well as a trail parking area.
The infamous Silver Run Tunnel #19 is at mile 23; expect a damp ride through this 1,376-foot-long brick-lined expanse. Those who are inclined toward the paranormal will want to keep an eye out for shadowy movements as legends claim that the tunnel is haunted by a ghostly black-haired woman dressed in a white gown. The rail corridor was constructed by the Northwestern Virginia Railroad between 1851 and 1857 and was sold to the Baltimore & Ohio after the line was finished. During the Civil War, the B&O track was a major supply line for the Union Forces and suffered severe damage during raids by the Confederate Army. After the war, many of the tunnel interiors, originally constructed with wood, were replaced with stone and brick and some of the tunnels you pass through on the NBRT have dates at the top of their entrance that reflect this reconstruction.
Cairo, at mile 26, is a good place to replenish water and snack provisions. You can purchase bike supplies at The Cairo Supply Co & Country Trails Bike, which also happens to be a general store and information center. You can’t miss it; the trail runs right into Cairo Town Square (Main St. and Railroad St.) Carry on down Railroad Street a few blocks to find the trail again at the northeastern edge of town. There aren’t many dining options, but Shemp’s and Freed’s Family Restaurant are both easy to find on Main St. Also on Main Street is the old Bank of Cairo, built in 1897 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places; it is also currently home to the NBRT Foundation and Ritchie County Visitors Bureau. Stop in and give them a shout-out. Across the street is a park and memorial to Ritchie County veterans. If you are traveling through the first Saturday in May, allow time to enjoy Cairo’s annual Marble Festival.
Leaving Cairo, you begin to head toward the trail’s namesake, the North Bend State Park. On the way, you cross the North Fork Hughes River several times as it snakes its way into and through the park. The rail-trail skirts along the park’s northwestern boundaries though you can enter the park by turning on to N. Bend State Park Road (2.5 miles from Cairo). North Bend State Park offers plenty of enticing ways to enjoy the beauty of this Appalachian region, including hiking, fishing, swimming and boating. The cultural heritage is also celebrated and the park hosts numerous events throughout the year, including the annual North Bend Bluegrass Festival. You may want to check out the roster to see if anything peaks your interest.
Choose a camp site, cabin or lodge room and settle in for the evening. Campgrounds are 0.75 miles from the trail, and food and lodging are two miles into the park. The North Bend Dining Room is located at the lodge and serves food year-round from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Another option is the Log House Homestead B&B, next to the park, which can be rented as a whole house fully embodying old Appalachian culture with a root cellar, rocking chairs on the front porch and hand-hewn logs. The proprietors offer a full country breakfast each morning made from traditional recipes that span four centuries.
Day 2: Cairo/North Bend State Park – Wolf Summit (45 miles)
You have significantly more miles to cover today, so get up and at ‘em as soon as you are able and on to the trail after a good breakfast. There are quite a few towns along the eastern section of the NBRT so no need to stock as hefty a supply of water and snacks as you did yesterday. Get your nerves steady and your head lamp handy for three more tunnels between here and the next town of Ellenboro. Note that tunnel #10 (three miles west of Ellenboro) is a 337-foot-long tunnel bored straight through solid rock. The steepest grade of the trail is just before Ellenboro.
Ellenboro, at mile 33.5, is known for its glass and marble factories and you may be able to catch a master craftsman at work if you follow the signs in town directing you to Sam’s Mountain Marbles; call in advance to verify that the studio is open for tours (304.869.3146). Pennsboro is 5.5 miles further and Davis Marbles (on Collins Avenue) offers another chance to enjoy the beauty of contemporary handmade marbles. There are a couple of eateries right off the trail as well. The Ritchie County Historical Society has restored two historically important structures in Pennsboro, both open now as museums: the Old Stone House (on Myles Avenue) is the oldest landmark in Ritchie County and was originally an inn for stage coach travelers; the Baltimore & Ohio depot is one of three remaining depots along the NBRT and today serves as a rest stop, community gathering hall and museum (open some weekends in summer months).
Between Pennsboro and the trail terminus at Wolf Summit, you cycle through a series of small communities. Woodlands are interspersed with farms, livestock and homes, and road crossings are more numerous than tunnel passages, particularly east of West Union. Tunnel #6 (mile 49.5) is the longest tunnel on the NBRT spanning 2,297 feet. There is a rest area here and a primitive camping site just beyond the tunnel. At West Union (mile 51), you can find food and stretch your legs by walking the historic streets of the downtown. A self-guided walking tour brochure is available at the Town Hall (300 Court Street). The West End Grill (turn left when the trail meets Main St.) is a convenient café for a quick meal. Ride east down Main or Railroad streets to find the rail-trail again as it heads out of town to travel over three decked bridges and Middle Island Creek.
Several miles east of West Union is the community of Smithburg where you can see another restored rail depot, though it is only open by appointment. By the time you reach Salem (mile 64.5), you will be on the last leg of your journey with six miles remaining to Wolf Summit and the eastern trail terminus. Salem’s B&O rail depot was built in 1912, though the first train chugged its way through this town in 1857. Rail service was active for 129 years and significantly changed the economic face of this community by facilitating access to beef and lumber markets in the east. The market of interest for visitors today, however, might be the Salem Farmer’s Market, held at the Depot Pavilion each Wednesday and Saturday during the summer months. Every fall the town celebrates with the Salem Apple Butter Festival, a mouth-watering way to honor the time of the year when the foliage changes colors and the apple harvest is in fully swing. If you are interested in the cultural traditions of 19th century West Virginia, visit the Fort New Salem Foundation’s website to see what events, classes and workshops they are currently sponsoring. The annual Dulcimer Festival is just one of the many interesting opportunities to immerse oneself in Appalachian crafts, music and culture.
If you plan on staying overnight in the area, there is a primitive camping site near the town of Bristol (mile 67). Wolf Summit itself is small with not a lot to offer in the way of dining and lodging but Clarksburg, eight miles east of Wolf Summit, is a significantly larger town with more options.