Over the course of last summer, Pinkbike wanted to explore some of West Virginia's finest mountain biking commodities, which include trail networks found in and around some of its largest population centers. Its backcountry and wilderness mountain biking has been heralded for decades, but more recently there have been an ever-expanding network of trails and bike communities closer to the state's largest cities, including the state capital, Charleston; its 3rd largest city, Parkersburg; as well as the home to West Virginia University, the state's largest university, in Morgantown. These three towns certainly offer plenty to do off of the bike when compared to some of their neighbors throughout the state perhaps more well known among riders, but are also surprisingly competitive when comparing the opportunities available aboard two wheels.
Charleston, West Virginia is the state's largest city, serving as both the state capital and the county seat of Kanawha. As "large cities" go, Charleston is rather tiny, with Burlington, Vermont the only city in America with a smaller population that can claim to be the most populous in its respective state. Still, Charleston serves as the hub for state politics, as well as energy and technology industries. Located in the southwest portion of the state, Charleston is a 4-season city, albeit with relatively mild winters due to its low lying position on the western slopes of the Allegheny plateau. The city itself is home to several parks and forests, but the crown jewel for this area can be found about 7 miles south of downtown: Kanawha State Forest.
With close to 1,000 vertical feet of terrain to clamber up and rocket down, as well as 37 miles of riding spread across 24 total trails, Kanawha offers plenty of opportunities for riders of all levels looking for experiences of all types. The State Forest has been host to one of West Virginia's longest running races, the Black Bear Mountain Bike Race, which saw its 32nd annual affair in May. The West Virginia Enduro Series also utilizes the terrain here for its own purposes at the Black Bear Enduro, and every Memorial Day weekend sees an annual event - the Kanawha State Forest Mountain Bike Festival - take place on the trails as well.
The Capitol building and the grounds that surround it are a beautiful homage to West Virginia, as well as its many brave veterans who have served in a number of wars over the course of American history.
While much of West Virginia's skyline is dominated by layers of blue ridges, bald summits, and spruce-covered peaks, the western border of the state trends towards mostly rolling hills and low lying areas near rivers. In a state known for mountainous and rugged terrain, a place like Parkersburg, which sits on the shores of the Little Kanawha and Ohio Rivers, and stares directly at the state of Ohio from across that very confluence, is a decidedly unassuming place for mountain biking. The 3rd largest city in the state is more well known for its oft-used flood wall, and locally for its dominance in high school sports than it is mountain biking opportunities.
But the truth is that within a 45-minute radius lies an abundance of trail networks in what is known as the Mid-Ohio Valley that can satisfy the appetites of riders starving for some singletrack. 200 miles worth of gluttonous riding more accurately. Mountwood Park is a 2,600-acre wooded park with over 30 miles of singletrack that utilizes roughly 500 vertical feet of terrain. The River Valley Mountain Bike Association has been working with city, county, state, and federal land managers for decades to build and maintain the scores of riding opportunities near Parkersburg, and Mountwood sits at the top of the heap of trail networks for the region. The park plays host to the most popular race on the West Virginia Mountain Bike Association's calendar, and on any given day of the week, the trailhead parking lot is likely going to be full, or even overflowing with daytrippers and local getting in some after work riding in. While most of the park offers up XC oriented riding through lush and beautiful deciduous forests, and fern lined gullies and ravines, plans are in place for gravity-oriented trails, flow lines and more which should serve to broaden the appeal of an already awesome place to ride.
The topography relaxes a bit in this part of the state, but the beauty is still very abundant.
Make no mistake: Morgantown is a college town. The city's population nearly doubles during the school year, with close to 30,000 full-time students enrolled at the state's largest home for higher education. Because of this, the town is afforded quite a few extracurricular options, with a surprisingly diverse and abundant amount of dining, drinking, and entertainment opportunities throughout the town. Morgantown is located at the western edge of West Virginia's eastern panhandle, just below the Pennsylvania border, and just west of Maryland's.
The town itself has a handful of small trail networks within city limits and a greenway that allows for easy access to all of them. But the real draw for riders to the area surrounds the city, with Valley Falls State Park 30 miles to the south, Coopers Rock State Forest just east of town, and Big Bear Lake Camplands another couple of miles east of that. Morgantown itself is a rather hilly affair, with a smattering of 1,500-foot peaks throughout the city, but the landscape surrounding town is where you find plenty of relief. Valley Falls utilizes a rather precipitous 800 vertical feet that rises up from the Tygart Valley River. Coopers Rock tops out at over 1,000 feet above Cheat Lake, and Big Bear Lake boasts the highest base elevation and rises 600 feet from the parking lot to the highest point on the trail. Between these three preeminent trail networks you'll find some of the state's finest all-mountain riding, from the steep and loose terrain at Valley Falls, to the blisteringly fast and technical trails at Coopers Rock, to the stunning beauty and top-notch dirt of Big Bear Lake. You can have a lot of fun in Morgantown to be sure, but it's most certainly a different kind of wild and wonderful in the mountains that surround the city.
Kanawha State Forest mountain biking trailsMountwood Park mountain biking trailsValley Falls State Park mountain biking trailsCoopers Rock State Forest mountain biking trailsBig Bear Lake Trail Center mountain biking trails
Morgantown lies in the heart of the Appalachians, and offers up a variety of recreational activities downtown, on the water, and in the hills.