West Virginia is for mountain biking

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of May 9-16, 1996
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West Virginia is for mountain biking
Question: I am at college in central Pennsylvania and this summer my friends from school and I want to get together and do some mountain biking. I live in D.C., Blaine lives in Darien, Connecticut, and Neil lives outside Pittsburgh. Do you have any suggestions for where and how we can all get together cheaply? Camping is a definite option.

Julie Smith
Lewisburg, PA

Adventure Adviser: After doing some fancy, brain-straining calculations with my sextant and compass, I've determined that the exact center point between D.C., Darien, and Pittsburgh is a teeny, tiny town called Paradise in north-central Pennsylvania. Unfortunately for you, Paradise--a blink-and-you-miss-it farm community on the shoulder of truck-strewn I-81--ain't no paradise for mountain bikers.

But wait! Don't panic. All this means is that Blaine is going to have to go the extra mile (or 100) and meet you and Neil at Monongahela National Forest just outside Slatyfork, West Virginia. Known in some circles as the Crested Butte of the East, this tract of wilderness lays claim to more than 500 miles of marked trails in the world's largest hardwood forest. The whole region is covered with red oaks, walnuts, sugar maples, and red spruces, and--best of all--there's no user-group clamor here. The turn-of-the-century logging roads and narrow-gauge railroad beds rarely see hikers or equestrians.

Using the Elk River Touring Center in Slatyfork as your home base, you can explore the 75 miles of singletrack and 35 bridges of the Greenbrier River Trail. There are plenty of paths looping off the trail that lead to choice swimming and fishing holes. If you're feeling ambitious, head for the massive ridge just west of Slatyfork and tackle the Gauley Divide/Sharps Knob trail system, 85 miles of singletrack and forest roads with some technical stretches and long climbs. Cranberry Glades Backcountry, 25 miles from the center, offers another 125 miles of singletrack. With this great bounty of trails, it's no wonder that there are regularly scheduled skills clinics, guided rides, and a six-day inn-to-inn tour from Cranberry to Canaan, not to mention a Fat Tire week held every June.

Elk River Touring Center (304-572-3771) offers a bike shop, rentals, maps, tour and camping information, and rooms ($45-$65 for a double, including pre-ride breakfasts). If you're set on camping, Monongahela has several campgrounds with plenty of $5-per-night campsites. Call the Marlington Forest Service office at 304-799-4334 for more details, or contact the Richwood ranger office at 304-846-2695 for backcountry camping information. Slatyfork is on Highway 219 in southeastern West Virginia, 16 miles north of Marlington.

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