About this Itinerary
Tucked away in the Monongahela National Forest in the north central highlands of West Virginia is a quiet little trail that takes riders on a 22-mile route alongside the West Fork River through dense forest with all semblance of civilization out of sight. The trail is covered in ballast, remains of the rail corridor that once ran through here, and vegetation can at times take over portions of the route, but, if you’re looking for adventure and an opportunity to bike with few other riders, the West Fork Trail is ideal.
The West Fork Trail follows the former rail line of the Coal & Iron Railroad, which ran from the town of Elkins to Durbin, where it connected with the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway. The railway began operating in 1903 and for many years hauled timber and coal from nearby mountains until it was eventually abandoned in 1986 and taken over by the US Forest Service to become the West Fork Trail.
The current trail runs south from the small town of Glady to Durbin, with nothing but wilderness in between. There are no other trailheads, and thus it is not easy to break this ride up into multiple days, therefore our itinerary tackles the West Fork Trail in one day for a total of 44 miles roundtrip. The trail has a slight decline in the first few miles, although the remainder of the route is relatively flat. While this might not seem difficult, keep in mind that trail conditions can be somewhat challenging and the surface can be rutted. A mountain bike or fat-tired bike is highly recommended.
The route provides stunning scenery and a tranquil ride, but it is not convenient to hotels. We recommend staying in Elkins, which is located about 23 miles northwest of the northern trailhead. This small town of about 7,000 is ideally situated to take advantage of the numerous outdoor recreational opportunities that the central West Virginia region has to offer. The town was originally planned as a railroad community and developed around the timber trade and the railways that serviced this economy. Today, Elkins features three National Register Historic Districts, several National Historic Landmarks and has a lively arts-oriented community.
In Elkins, stay at the Isaac Jackson Hotel. Conveniently located close to the center of town, this hotel offers complimentary breakfast (served early so you can get a jump start on activities), spacious rooms with a refrigerator and free wifi. The onsite restaurant, 1863 Grill, serves some of the best steak and seafood in town. For more than 50 years, the restaurant has been operating in Elkins and is a local institution, but featuring a contemporary space with a modern menu that will appeal to all tastes. Be sure to try a glass of their signature hand-crafted, fresh-squeezed lemonade that is an old family recipe.
Bike rentals are not available in Elkins or any of the nearby towns, so you will need to bring your own. In Elkins, Joey’s Bike Shop does offer repair service, if that is needed.
To reach the northern trailhead in Glady from the Isaac Jackson Hotel, head east on Harrison Avenue toward N. Randolph Avenue. Continue onto US-219 S/US-33 E/Randolph Avenue. Turn left onto US-33E and right onto Glady Road, which, after about 10 miles, will turn slightly right and become the West Fork Trail. The road comes to a dead-end at the trailhead.
Before you start out on the trail, be sure that you have everything needed to reach the southern trailhead in Durbin. You will be in a remote area with no opportunities to refill water bottles or purchase food, so be prepared. As noted, bikers along this route are not likely to encounter a lot of other riders, but you will experience a dramatically beautiful landscape with a diversity of wildlife to keep you company. Once you set out, the beginning of the trail follows the path of the river and, for the first five miles, will be declining slightly. The remainder of the trail is relatively flat.
The trail travels through a section of the more than 920,000 acres that comprise the Monongahela National Forest. This region has some of the highest mountain peaks in the state, including Spruce Knob, which is the highest at 4,863 feet. The Monongahela is one of the most biologically diverse national forests, largely due to its wide range in elevation, and contains at least 75 tree species and more than 225 species of birds. Having been heavily logged at the beginning of the 20th century, the forest is mostly all second growth. As you bike, keep your eyes open for the numerous birds that thrive in these woods, including several species of hawk, owl and woodpecker. The West Fork River is very popular for fishing and you will also spot fisherman dotting the riverbanks as you head south.
The trail ends in the small town of Durbin at Highland Street. To grab some lunch and explore this small mountain hamlet, take the first right and follow this road around until you reach the train station. Across the street you will find Station 2, the perfect place to stop for a satisfying meal. Owned by a volunteer fire fighter, the restaurant’s walls are adorned with images of fire and rescue operations and memorabilia. Try the pulled pork barbecue sandwich, steak salad, or macaroni and cheese for a hearty lunch.
Durbin is home to The Durbin Rocket, a steam locomotive excursion train that travels along the Greenbrier River. Visitors can take a ride on this 55-ton antique train in an authentic 1920-era coach and wooden caboose. From an open car behind the engine, watch coal being shoveled into the tender and water being taken on at a watering hole. The trip takes two hours and covers 10.5 miles (it travels in the opposite direction from the trail) and offers spectacular scenery and the perfect opportunity to take stunning photographs of the surrounding mountains and valley. Be sure to stop in the Rail & Trail Store on Main Street for a ‘Big Scoop’ice cream cone as a refreshing treat before heading back to the West Fork Trail. You can also stock up on cold drinks here.
Enjoy a leisurely ride back to Glady. If you still have the energy, along the way stop to hike some of the trails that intersect with the West Fork Trail, including the High Falls Trail. This trail is five miles out and back, and may be a bit much to add on to the day, but is an option if you decide not to bike the entire trail, or if you get an early start. The hike itself is not overly strenuous. Look for where it intersects with the trailhead about three miles outside of Glady (a small post marks the trail but it can be hidden by vegetation, so be alert). There are two trails along the first part of the path, the High Falls and the Allegheny. Be sure to follow the blue markers to stay on the High Falls Trail when the two split. At the end of the hike, be rewarded with a gorgeous waterfall and a refreshing swimming hole to jump into for a refreshing dip. Afterward, return to the trailhead in Glady.
Tucked away in the mountains outside of Elkins, find The Forks Inn Restaurant. Stop here on your way back to town for a mouth-watering dinner with magnificent mountain views in a truly unique space. The owners built much of the property themselves, and with more than 40 years of combined experience in the restaurant business, have high culinary standards. Try such seasonally fresh dishes as smoked trout, ramp meatballs, smoked rack of lamb, and fresh-made pasta made with herbs grown on the premises. Be sure to save room for one of the delectable homemade desserts.
To reach the Forks Inn from Glady, take Glady Road to US-33W and turn left on Kelly Mountain Road after about 8.5 miles. The Forks Inn also has five rooms available for lodging. For those who do not need the amenities of town, this is also a good option for accommodations in the area.
In addition to the 1863 Grill located in the Isaac Jackson Hotel, downtown Elkins has several other restaurants worth considering. Two popular options include, El Gran Sabor a Latin American restaurant, whose Venezuelan owner serves authentic dishes using fresh ingredients. This is also a well known venue for regional and local musicians to play; stop by for some lively music. Also try CJ Maggie’s American Grill for fresh salads, wood-fired pizzas, steaks and pasta. This family-friendly space has an extensive menu and a unique dessert-to-go served in a canning jar. Try the caramel-apple crumbler or lemon-raspberry cheesecake and just put the lid on to take with you to finish up later!
West Virginia has endless opportunities for enjoying the outdoors, and Elkins is the perfect base from which to explore the region. Hike West Virginia’s highest peak, Spruce Knob, and climb the observation tower at the top for a 360 degree view.
Explore the enchanting Dolly Sods Wilderness Area, which offers a spectacular landscape of bogs and heaths that is more commonly associated with southern Canada. Within its 17,000 acres, visitors can take long meandering hikes or enjoy rock scrambling close to the parking lot.
Explore the local rivers with Blackwater Outdoor Adventures. Located in nearby Parsons, this outfitter rents tubes but also offers a variety of organized adventures including whitewater rafting, canoeing and paddleboarding, as well as overnight camping excursions. They feature trips that cater to all ages and abilities and offer half, full, or multi-day river excursions.
Climb aboard the New Tygart Flyer and take a four hour, 46-mile trip on a vintage diesel-powered passenger train to the High Falls of Cheat, a spectacular waterfall in a remote and pristine setting. This is the perfect opportunity if you did not have a chance to enjoy the Durbin Rocket, or for train-enthusiasts of any age. Take a comfortable ride in a climate-controlled car with an all-you-can-eatcold sandwich buffet lunch served enroute. At the falls, have the opportunity to get out and wander around to take pictures and enjoy the spectacular surroundings. Trains depart from the train depot in downtown Elkins and operate seasonally. Call ahead to reserve a spot on this popular excursion.
For even more options, stop by the visitor center, located in a restored train depot in downtown Elkins, for additional information about outdoor activities nearby.