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History beckons around every rocky bend and in every chilly tunnel on the North Bend Rail Trail, which follows an old railroad corridor through hill and hollow in northern West Virginia. The second-longest in the state—behind the Greenbrier River Trail—the 72-mile trail closed for more than a year for the installation of fiber-optic cable. It was scheduled for a full reopening in 2022, with an improved 10-foot-wide surface of crushed stone and a 0.8-mile section of wheelchair-accessible pavement through West Union. At press time, only the westernmost 20 miles of the trail had reopened. Visit West Virginia State Parks’ official website for current closures. And because wet weather–related issues such as washouts and land-slides can affect the trail’s surface at any time, cyclists are advised to use 1- to 1.5-inch or wider tires.
The rail-trail carries travelers down a corridor built for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O) between 1853 and 1857. Known as the Parkersburg Branch, it carried Federal troops during the Civil War and served a string of towns between Parkersburg and Clarksburg as it be-came the system’s mainline to St. Louis. After more than 120 years, passenger operations ceased in 1971. The dwindling freight business was handled by CSX Transportation, which sold the corridor to the state in the 1980s. Work on the trail started in the 1990s.
Of the original 13 tunnels the builders bored through the rugged Allegheny Plateau to shorten the route, 10 are still passable today. Visitors in the summer will feel a blast of cool, moist air at the stone-block tunnel portals—quite a change from the smoke, cinders, and heat that filled the tunnels as 19th-century locomotives passed through. Some are long enough inside to require a flashlight.
At 2,207 feet long, the Central Station Tunnel, located at milepost 49.5 near West Union, is the longest on the trail and played a role in a 1915 train robbery that netted some $1 million in today’s value. The Silver Run Tunnel (1,376 feet long), at milepost 22.8 between Cairo and Petroleum, is reputed to be haunted. Tunnel No. 13, the Bonds Creek Tunnel near Cornwallis, was the site of a deadly train crash in 1956 when a westbound train emerged onto the scene of a fresh avalanche and plummeted into the creek below.
Other man-made features of the trail include the 36 bridges and trestles that visitors cross. The longest bridge spans Middle Island Creek on the east side of West Union. Old, refurbished B&O depots are still standing in Pennsboro, Smithton, and Salem. These towns and others along the route offer dining and refreshment to travelers, as well as marble and hand-blown-glass factories, arts-and-crafts markets, fairs, festivals, and veterans memorials.
A major attraction along the trail is North Bend State Park, located slightly off-trail between Cairo and Ellenboro. Here you’ll find more than a dozen miles of trails, camping, showers, and the only indoor lodging along the trail. Free camping is allowed anywhere on the rail-trail, and several campsites with fire rings and pit toilets are available along its length.
Be prepared for long stretches through rural areas (without services), where you’ll see deer in forest clearings, beaver lodges in ponds, and perhaps a black bear or two. The edges of farmland also provide habitat for bird-watching.
While most of the trail traffic is locally generated, a growing number of travelers are including the trail on longer excursions. The North Bend Rail Trail is on the 6,800-mile, coast-to-coast American Discovery Trail. It is also part of the Parkersburg to Pittsburgh Corridor, a 240-mile corridor being developed by the Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition, a Rails-to-Trails Conservancy TrailNation project to create a 1,500-mile trail network through Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, and New York.
While the trail is managed by West Virginia State Parks, the North Bend Rails-to-Trails Foundation is responsible for raising public interest for the trail as well as organizing many ongoing activities. One of the most popular is the evening Luminary Walk, for which 1.5 miles of the rail-trail, from North Bend State Park to Tunnel 13, is lit with luminaries. Check the foundation’s Facebook page for details and dates.
There are numerous other access points and parking areas along the entire route; refer to the map for more details.
To reach the Parkersburg trailhead, take Interstate 77 to the Staunton Avenue Exit and turn east on State Route 47. Take the first right turn (about 0.2 mile from interstate) on Old SR 47. Continue about 0.7 mile and turn right on Happy Valley Road. Travel approximately 0.4 mile until you see a large house on the left. Immediately after the stone wall (Millers Landing) is the North Bend Rail Trail. Park on the gravel section opposite the trailhead.
To begin at Wolf Summit, take US 50 to the Wolf Summit Exit north. The trail crosses the exit.
Along the breadth of the trail, parking, restrooms, and other facilities are available at numerous points, including (from west to east):
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