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Splendor: West Virginia Fall Driving Tour
Thomas R. & Deborah A. Fletcher
The sun skips and plays off the dazzling waters of
River. It is a beautiful day for a fall
drive. The late afternoon sun
backlights the trees enhancing the yellow, orange, and red of the leaves.
We stop at the
River) and watch as an avid angler casts, retrieves, and recasts his line.
The fish must not be biting—probably relaxing in the sun's warmth.
We have seen some beautiful country today.
Our drive started in Cowen (West Virginia) and it will end in Cowen. We will
have driven just over 95 miles, seen several deer,
unnumbered squirrel, and a
couple of wild turkey. Mostly, we
just enjoyed the splendor of
's majestic mountains in fall. Yesterday
the weather was completely different. We
awoke to a fog-shrouded landscape. Few
things are more enjoyable than walking in the mist-covered woods.
Since the weather was perfect for such a walk, we went hiking.
The mist blocks extraneous objects and thus directs attention to things
nearby. Subtle details, often
overlooked, are noticed: the veins in a leaf, the contrast of yellow on ochre.
Our driving tour touched parts of four counties: Webster, Nicholas,
Greenbrier, and Pocahontas. Our
elevation ranged from around 2,000 to over 4,000 feet.
Most of the drive passes through
. Along the way, we saw several of
's most scenic rivers: Gauley,
, Cranberry Glades Botanical Area, and traveled along the
Highland Scenic Highway.
The tour departs Cowen, headed south on Route 20.
A three-way stop in Craigsville is the first turn: go left, continuing on
what is now Route 20/55. A few miles
outside of Craigsville on the right is a sign indicating the Crupperneck Bend
overlook of the
. The overlook offers a beautiful
view. Just down the road, one
after which the road follows alongside the
. If one enjoys fishing, there are
several places to stop and cast a few. In
Fenwick, the route number changes to Route 55 (Route 20 turns right across a
bridge). Just continue going
straight toward Richwood. Route 55
passes through some of the most remote and scenic sections of
. One may travel miles without any
sign of civilization other than the highway.
Near the Greenbrier/Pocahontas County line, on the right, is a sign for
. The Lower Falls of Hills Creek is
the second highest waterfall in the state. It
is well worth the effort to hike down and see it.
About six miles on up the road is Cranberry Glades Botanical
's largest area of bogs. Here one
finds many species of plants normally found only in far more northern regions.
The last Ice Age, creeping south, transplanted these species from their
northern home. The parking area is
to the left of Route 55. A short
boardwalk makes a loop through a section of the glades allowing one to observe
the area without sinking in the bog. It
is probably a good idea to stop at the
first, to pick up a trail guide. (This
involves a little backtracking; the visitor center is about a mile beyond the
glades.) Continuing on the driving
tour; turn onto Route 150, the Parkway section of the
Highland Scenic Highway
, directly across from the visitor center. The
Highland Scenic Highway
is a 43 miles stretch of road beginning north of
Richwood on Route 55,
continuing 21 miles to Route 150, and then another 22 miles across some of West Virginia's highest mountains, to the intersection with Route 219 seven miles north of
Marlinton. It is designated as a
National Forest Scenic Byway. The highway crosses two large mountains: Cranberry
and Black. There are several scenic
overlooks offering spectacular views.
The next turn will be onto Forest Service Road
86 at Williams
River. For decades
this was a well-maintained gravel road, until paved some time ago. Now it is a
narrow hardtop, a wide single-lane practically speaking.
Efforts to widen the road by adding gravel alongside the pavement have been
ongoing. The road travels along with Williams River
on the right and Cranberry Wilderness on the left until the crossing at Three
Forks. Cranberry Wilderness is a
congressionally designated wilderness area within
National Forest. This road intersects Route 20 about two miles north of Cowen completing
There are many campsites within the national forest, but what about
something for the folks looking for a little less rustic accommodations?
is the answer for those folks. The
camp is located about four miles north of Cowen along Route 20.
is a non-profit area owned by the
4-H Club. The camp offers a warm,
dry place to stay and three hot meals a day.
Sleeping is dormitory style, so bring your bedroll partner.
The home-cooked meals are served family style in the large dining room.
Another place to consider staying is The Four Seasons Lodge just outside
Richwood. The Four Seasons features
clean comfortable rooms with cable television.
The roar of the
provides a soothing sound as it passes just behind the lodge.
The mountains of
West Virginia are drenched in color this time of year. The
driving tour passes through some of the highest and most scenic areas of the
state. A hike in Cranberry
Wilderness has its own rewards. Some
may come to
and decide not to venture out. The
camp has 300 acres with many hiking trails, a mountain bike trail and it borders
IF YOU GO:
Cowen is about a two-hour
drive north from
Charleston. The airport in
Charleston features auto rentals. Take I-79
North from Charleston to exit 57 (Summersville/U.S. 19). Follow
19 south to Birch
River. Turn left at
River on Route 82. Follow Route 82 the 16
miles to Cowen. Route 82 intersects
Route 20 just past Big Ditch
Lake. Follow Route 20 north (turn left
at the intersection) through Cowen to Camp Caesar
about 4 miles beyond. If staying at
Caesar acnin, bring a pillow, sleeping bag, towels and washcloths.
|Camp Caesar has camping facilities
and cabins for rent. Cabin lodging is $15 per person per night for
groups (bring your own sleeping bag and toiletries). Individual
cabins may be rented for $47.00-$60.00 per night—or the per person rate,
whichever is greater Camp sites for campers and RVs with
electrical/water hook-up and dump station is $20/night. Tent
sites are $15/night with bath facilities at the pool bathhouse.
Highlands Travel Council
1200 Harrison Ave.
Forest Service P.O. Box
here if you would like to use this feature or one of these photos
Text and Photos Copyright Thomas R. Fletcher / PROSE AND