Explore the Allegheny Trail

Bite off some or all of this varied long-distance trail that crosses West Virginia and discover the best of the Mountain State on foot.

There is barely a square foot of flat land in West Virginia—and when it comes to trails of interest, that’s a huge attribute. The state’s homegrown, north-south footpath, known as the Allegheny Trail, reflects that varying topography. It engages hikers and backpackers with some 300 miles that run through the Mountain State from the Pennsylvania border to the Virginia border, past an endless supply of mountains, rushing rivers, waterfalls, vistas and the occasional fire tower. Some notable sections include Blackwater Falls State Park, Cass Scenic Railroad and Hanging Rock Raptor Observatory.

Unlike its longer, more trafficked cousins such as the Appalachian Trail, the Allegheny Trail (ALT) is a place where you can easily find solitude, and it can be thru-hiked in a month. Try spring for longish days, plenty of water and some additional views made possible with fewer leaves. Don’t have a month? Try section hiking it when you have the time. Numerous choice day-hikes are also easily accessible. Look for the yellow blazes. The trail is a mix of singletrack, doubletrack, forest roads and some on-road hiking.

Recommended day-hike: Canyon Rim Trail near Blackwater Canyon

From the adventure town of Thomas, W.V., take U.S. Route 48 west 6 miles to Forest Road 18 (turn left) and at the fork take a right on FR 717 to the Olson Observation Tower. Start by walking to the top of the tower and get a 360-degree view of the surrounding Monongahela National Forest (aka the Mon); you can see Blackwater Canyon and the Cheat River Canyon in the distance. Then hike the section of the ALT here that is the Canyon Rim Trail (TR 701) through hardwood forest and rhododendron tunnels almost 3 miles to FR 18 where you can turn around for a roughly 6-mile out-and-back.

Recommended weekend trip: Seneca State Forest

The Allegheny Trail winds 10.4 miles through Seneca State Forest, and you can take a weekend backpacking trip here without having to schlep a tent. Park at the trailhead parking on Laurel Run Road. Be sure to contact the state forest office to get permission for overnight parking. Hike south to forest boundary at state Route 28 for a 13-mile out-and-back through hardwood forests and rhododendron coves. There are two backcountry Adirondack-style shelters at miles 2.2 and 5.3. They are free and available on a first-come, first-served basis. Or take it up a notch and spend the night in the Thorny Mountain Fire Tower (4.3 miles in), complete with 360-degree views of unending mountains. Local tip: The fire tower is hard to reserve, so plan ahead. Reservations open a year in advance on the first day of the month; be at your computer at 12:01 a.m. to secure your reservation for a date the following year, during the month in which you’re booking ($99/night weeknights, $109 weekends). 

Thru-hike PA to Virginia

Southbound: With the northern terminus only a 90-minute drive south of Pittsburgh, and the southern terminus just a 3-hour drive west of Charlottesville, Va., the ALT isn’t as remote as it feels. Southbound is a popular option. Have someone drop you off at the northern terminus on the PA-West Virginia state line north of Bruceton Mills, W.V. You can find a place to bed down every night along the trail, and resupplies don’t require mail drops. This still requires planning, though, so pick up a copy of the Hiking Guide to the Allegheny Trail. Walk through state forests, state parks, many miles of the 900,000-acre Mon and the George Washington and Jefferson national forests.

Northbound: The southern terminus meets up with the Appalachian Trail in Virginia. A 35-plus-mile gap still exists in the ALT, between Interstate 64 near White Sulphur Springs, W.V., and Virginia. One good option for a northbound hike is to hop on the southernmost trailhead of the contiguous ALT—just 2 hours by car from Charlottesville—and hike north. This trailhead is just off of I-64 at Exit 1 in Virginia (Jerry’s Run Road). 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.