Camp The 50 States: West Virginia


It was a glorious autumn weekend when we set out for the Cranberry River Wilderness, part of the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia. Getting up before dawn on a Friday morning, we left the morning commuters behind and drove west from Washington, D.C.

Rather than take Interstate-81 south, we jumped over the border to West Virginia as soon as we could, where the highways quickly got smaller and smaller, until there was only a single lane of traffic in either direction. The scenery was profoundly more enjoyable because of this decision, evidenced by the photo above.

If you want to take the same route, make sure you have food for the ride. The last chance for a quick bite to eat is Petersburg in Grant County WV. Apart from a grocery store, there are a few fast food options and a 7-Eleven. After Petersburg, there are still close to 3 hours of driving, with only some mom-and-pop establishments few and far between before you get to the Cranberry River Wilderness.

We camped on the north side of the wilderness area on the banks of the Williams River. The road in was enchanting, with small waterfalls on one side of the road, and the river on the other. Found a good site (several were available, first come, first served only) right on the riverbank, and set up for the night, enjoying some hotdogs over the fire.

Deadwood can be used, or firewood is available for sale in the local town of Cowen, west of the wilderness. Cowen is also your best bet when it comes to getting any cell phone reception. The signal in the wilderness area itself is gloriously absent!

It got down below freezing the first night, and we woke up to a cold, misty morning. The vibe was haunting and serene, and all of the colors seemed washed out.

The mist slowly started to burn away as the sun began to hit the opposite bank of the Williams.

Finally, the sun crept over the ridge and chased the rest of the fog away.

After breakfast we set out in the Subaru and explored the surrounding area. After making our way over to Cowen, we drove back toward the wilderness, stopping to take some off road dirt tracks, and then at White Oak Road, which promised a drive to the top of a mountain.

The track started as gravel, and shortly turned to a narrow dirt track that wound its way up. We startled an owl on our way up, but there was not another soul around. Lovely!

Once we reached the end of the track (roughly 6 miles) we got out and bummed around the mountainside for a bit.

After descending again, we crossed the wilderness to reach the Cranberry River and explored that side of the area, greatly enjoying the gravel roads through the mountains. All told, we probably bounded around for at least 75 miles, loving every minute of it.

Back at the fire that night, we played around with taking some long exposures of the night sky.

We struck camp the next morning and bid the Williams River farewell. This trip wound up being one of my favorite excursions so far. The scenery was wonderful, and the people we did encounter were pleasant and helpful. The campsites themselves are dispersed along the banks of the Williams, some miles apart from any other site, so there was just the right measure of solitude. Thank you West Virginia. Stay wild and wonderful!

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