West Virginia: From the Bottom to the Top

Nov 9, 2017
by Brice Shirbach  


Views: 7,953    Faves: 25    Comments: 0




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.




West Virginia From the Bottom to the Top
West Virginia From the Bottom to the Top
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.

West Virginia From the Bottom to the Top
While mountain biking and other outdoor recreational opportunities might be a big part of the state's future, coal will forever be engrained in the history of this beautiful land.

West Virginia From the Bottom to the Top
Locals Josh Harrison and Brad Schmalzer take us on a tour the crown jewel of Charleston mountain biking: Kanawha State Forest.

West Virginia From the Bottom to the Top
The riding here is similar to what one might find a few hours to the south in Western North Carolina, a characteristic local like to hang their hats on.

West Virginia From the Bottom to the Top
Kanawha is loaded with natural features to play bikes on.


bigquotesIt's easily one of the most technical places to ride. It's got that country-raw feel to it. It's steep up and down. One of the biggest things that I noticed when I came out here was the learning curve involved with just trying to navigate this kind of terrain coming from Wisconsin, which was dead flat.
Bradley Schmalzer, West Virginia Mountain Bike Association

bigquotesThere are a lot of opportunities here in the forest to make more progressive trails. Our interaction with the superintendent here is great. We have a very strong community that we can build around here and the park will support us. In the future the trails here will keep getting better and better, and will be more progressive
 
Josh Harrison, Charleston Bicycle Center


West Virginia From the Bottom to the Top
West Virginia From the Bottom to the Top

West Virginia From the Bottom to the Top
West Virginia From the Bottom to the Top

West Virginia From the Bottom to the Top






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.




Fresh Blood in the Old School
Fresh Blood in the Old School
The topography relaxes a bit in this part of the state, but the beauty is still very abundant.

Fresh Blood in the Old School
Mountwood has over 30 miles of fast, rolling singletrack, with plans for a lot more in the near future.

Fresh Blood in the Old School
The trails here weave their way through some stunning sections of old Appalachian forest.

Fresh Blood in the Old School
High speeds plus flat corners equals a lot of fun.

Fresh Blood in the Old School
Splashing through puddles is fun for kids of all ages.

Fresh Blood in the Old School
There are sections of trail here that appear to have been transplanted from parts of the Pacific Northwest, much less the Mid-Ohio Valley.

Fresh Blood in the Old School
The River Valley Mountain Bike Association has worked hard to develop lasting relationships with land managers at every level. The results have been fruitful, to say the least.


bigquotesWe have a lot of really well maintained and well thought-out trails in and around Parkersburg. We also have a lot of miles, with close to 200 miles of trail within 45 minutes of downtown and over 30 miles at Mountwood alone.
Chris Swarr, River Valley Mountain Bike Association

bigquotesThis place is a bit of a chameleon. There aren't a whole lot of rocks and roots, but there is enough to challenge you. The riding here is fast as well. The RVMBA makes it a lot of fun to participate in the mountain bike community here. It's good to put some positive energy back into Appalachia.
 
Vince Nedeff, River Valley Mountain Bike Association


Fresh Blood in the Old School
Fresh Blood in the Old School

Fresh Blood in the Old School
Fresh Blood in the Old School

Fresh Blood in the Old School
Fresh Blood in the Old School






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.




Fresh Blood in the Old School
Fresh Blood in the Old School
Morgantown lies in the heart of the Appalachians, and offers up a variety of recreational activities downtown, on the water, and in the hills.

Fresh Blood in the Old School
This corner of the country offers up an abundance of breathtaking scenery.

Fresh Blood in the Old School
Big Bear Lake is mostly known for its challenging singletrack and raw beauty, but there are plenty of places to throw shapes as well.

Fresh Blood in the Old School
Charlie Brand is one of the original trail builders at Valley Falls and takes some time here to enjoy the fruits of his labor.

Fresh Blood in the Old School
Nate Parrish does some trail work aboard the bike at Valley Falls.

Fresh Blood in the Old School
John Herod founded the West Virginia Enduro Series alongside fellow shredder, Ben Klimas, putting his days of professional DH racing to good use.

Fresh Blood in the Old School
Annie Simcoe is one of the local mountain bike community leaders and is responsible for the artwork and logos that can be found on Big Bear tee shirts and event flyers.

Fresh Blood in the Old School
Just because it isn't "purpose-built", doesn't mean you can't send it.


bigquotesThere is a real mixed bag of old-school pioneers, long time racers, and new school riders in these parts. Being close to WVU helps make our mountain bike culture what it is; we see new riders all of the time. The best part is that you can see all of these folks riding together. There are so many places to ride in West Virginia and there just aren't a lot of people, although we are seeing a lot of new out-of-state riders looking to us as a destination for vacations and weekend getaways. I would describe the culture here as an inclusive run-what-ya-brung type. We are also starting to see the kids of the mountain bike pioneers out there shredding the trails too!
Jeff Simcoe, Big Bear Lake Recreation Land Manager

bigquotesThis place is a bit of a chameleon. With Coopers and other trail networks, our goal is to have as many trails open as possible. Throughout the year and before our events we are making sure the trails are clear and ridable. This often includes some trips into the woods with hand tools and chainsaws for the big trees that have fallen across our trails. Most of us carry a small hand saw religiously when we ride.
 
John Herod III, Co-Founder West Virginia Enduro Series


Fresh Blood in the Old School
Fresh Blood in the Old School

Fresh Blood in the Old School
Fresh Blood in the Old School

Fresh Blood in the Old School
Fresh Blood in the Old School

Fresh Blood in the Old School
Fresh Blood in the Old School

Fresh Blood in the Old School

Fresh Blood in the Old School



Additional Information:

Please visit West Virginia Tourism Office website for additional travel and lodging information.

Check out the full gallery of images here.





Must Read This Week

74 Comments

  • + 31
 Nice piece, Brice. Thanks for being a voice for lesser-known communities that have a lot to offer in the way of riding. Your east coast articles are down-to-earth and bring focus to what mountain biking is for most of us non-meat-hucking, non-endurbro-lifestyling riders. Hopefully some of PB readership will spend a little less time giving their opinion on the latest squishy bike review and more time packing up to head to one of these gems that you’ve featured.
P.S. Cranksgiving?
  • + 3
 Ah, thanks! Can't swing Cranksgiving this year unfortunately...'Friends-giving' that day back home!
  • + 2
 @briceshirbach:

awesome article, I'm coming !

I maybe visiting Richmond East Virginia next year in August, will the weather be ok for a trip out west to ride? Also any advice on where to stay for bikers?
  • + 2
 @stevea123: Yeah, August is awesome in WV...higher elevations in a lot of spots make for really comfortable riding temps. Any of these spots highlighted are awesome, plus there's Davis (Stay in a Cabin at Blackwater Falls State Park!) or obviously Snowshoe Resort, which is world class!
  • + 2
 @briceshirbach: aw man, the endure race at cranksgiving is going to be so awesomeFrown
  • + 3
 Pretty much everyone shown here are "meat hackers". This is the WV Enduro crew. All great people and a blast to ride with. Always going for the big lines, yet will rip your legs off pedaling. Great to see WV get the exposure that it deserves.
  • + 1
 @dualsuspensiondave: I agree with you on that one. Benji and crew have had a large part in setting my standards for great riders and great community. I was alluding more to the freeride crowd that some of the readership fawns over.
  • + 19
 and SNOWSHOE!!!
  • + 0
 Seriously! Tea Creek is some of the best riding in the Eastern US!
  • + 1
 @Ap5640: Nobody would argue with you about how good Snowshoe and Slatyfork are but they are not close to any highly populated areas, which was the main focus of this article.
  • - 2
 @Ap5640:
Wait Tea Creek? Seriously?
One trail there is hardly worth stopping for. Spent a day there trying to explore, very disappointed.
  • + 3
 SS is the best
  • + 6
 I did a Snowshoe/Slatyfork piece just a couple of months ago: www.pinkbike.com/news/steep-and-deep-west-virginia.html

This was framed as places to ride whenever your visiting some of the state's biggest towns
  • + 1
 @briceshirbach: it deserves the frame.
  • + 10
 Ahhhh, I miss riding someplace with trees. I enjoyed the video because it was 'regular' riding and not crazy 20 ft jumps.
  • + 9
 Country roads Take me home To the place I belong ...
  • + 2
 LOL, seriously, I didn't know it was even scientifically possible to have a video about west VA without that song in it! wow, I'm gonna go eat a big fat I was wrong sandwich now as I listen to John Denver
  • + 3
 Fantastic work, Brice!! Everyone loves and knows Snowshoe, but often some very cool and accessible areas in other parts of the state are overlooked for riding purposes. I would love to see the state's tourism grow via mountain biking... the land is honestly the most beautiful I've seen in the U.S. IMHO. More trail access/tourism also hopefully equals more conservation in a state that desperately needs $.
  • + 2
 Awesome piece Brice, so happy to see so many of my friends and so many trails that I've been racing and riding on make PB. The WVES is one of the most authentic and hardcore enduro series in the country, long days on the bike, backwoods riding, parties every night. Benji and John and co. built something truly awesome over the past few years, and I highly recommend it to any enduro racer on or near the east coast.
  • + 4
 What is the riding season in these parts? I'm always wondering what I can ride a day's drive from the G. Toronto A. at March Break.
  • + 5
 I ride here year round. It get's cold here but it's not terrible and most days are manageable.
  • + 1
 I do ride down at the Kanawha State Forest trail center. Those are my home trails.
  • + 3
 March would be a shitty time to ride the mud fest that is the Appalachians in spring.
  • + 4
 march might get a little moist but wv is a really good spot. The people couldn't be nicer and the trails are some of the best on the east coast.
  • + 4
 The end of March and April can be hit or miss. The last 2 years it has been good with dry and warm weather but in a strong snow year it can be buried. Watch the weather - when there are no leaves on the trees a few sunny days can really dry everything out. The last few years we've been worried about fires in April. Email me at bikebigbearwv@gmail.com for an update if you try to head this way.
  • + 1
 @PHeller: Dude, you live in Arizona! What do you know about east coast riding? Sure its wet but its not three feet deep in snow.
  • + 0
 @bmoore34: you said moist.
  • + 2
 No bad time to ride! Our best weather is sept to dec for temp. April to sept is not bad either but it gets hot and humid. As a transplanted Canadian I would rather a cold ride than hot one.
There isn’t any significant mud on the Kanawha State Forest trails as the hills are really well drained. I grew up riding tech rocks in Ottawa/Gatineau and north shore Van so this is like a mellow version of Seymour with good climb options and sweet singletrack on the top of the ridges before dropping in.
I still can’t believe this place isn’t overrun with riders...
  • + 1
 @phlst: I lived in Pennsylvania for 30 years. My experience was that Spring was usually the worst time to ride due to the melt. That being said, I haven't ridden in Southern Appalachians (like Pisgah) but I wouldn't think WV would be too much different than Pittsburgh in the Spring.
  • + 1
 Big Bear closes down, for a few weeks in the fall/winter.
  • + 5
 Been through here a couple of times and never had a bike with me, "next time" he whispers to himself...
  • + 2
 Big Bear is 3 miles off of I-68 and Coopers Rock is along the highway too.....
  • + 4
 You should do one of these for Maryland, so many little hidden gem trail systems here. I'll volunteer myself to be a liaison for my local trails.
  • + 3
 The Frederick watershed could have an entire article devoted to our trails alone. The most under the radar world class trail system in the entire US, imo.
  • + 2
 @noheavennohell: I grew up out there and yes, a lot of cool Gems in Maryland! I love riding back there when I'm home visiting, so peaceful too out in the woods Smile
  • + 3
 @noheavennohell: Yeah I actually grew up in Frederick County, and would love to one day do a piece on some trails in my home state! I'll be coming through around the holidays to give'r a rip!
  • + 2
 @briceshirbach: The Shed is going through some changes, mostly for the better. We had our first legitimately sanctioned DH trail work day last weekend, and the local advocacy group is working with the city to build more trails and maintain the ones we have after decades of being rogue. It's an awesome time to ride the shed, message me if you're coming down and we can show you some killer loops Smile
  • + 3
 Pretty stoked on this, versus the endless onslaught of PNW-wet flow trails videos. nice to change it up with some fun riding through rocks and leaf litter
  • + 1
 well said, definitely a stand out. and that is coming from a pnw wet rider who typically loaths leaf littered eastcoast edits. this one however rules!
  • + 2
 Goggle'sDuro, some UpDuro, some DownDuro, RawDuro and some chest mount gimble go pro . . Duro Ticks all the boxes to be a fave
  • + 1
 The highest trail at Big Bear is over 10,000 ft? I can't believe I've driven by there without seeing that. And I thought I had hiked to the highest point in WV. Time for another trip
  • + 1
 Ha nope - 3,000 ft...... highest point in WV - Spruce Knob is 5,000 ft.
  • + 1
 I maybe visiting Richmond East Virginia next year in August, will the weather be ok for a trip out west to ride? Also any advice on where to stay for bikers?
  • + 3
 Chameleon must be a popular term to describe trail networks...
  • + 2
 HOME TOWN PROUD!

I just dropped an edit from riding here.
www.youtube.com/watch?v=b8-jgd8m_7M
  • - 4
flag jrocksdh (Nov 9, 2017 at 17:10) (Below Threshold)
 Look at me look at me
  • + 1
 @jrocksdh: Yes. I'm proud of something I put work into and wanted to share. I like my home and I want to share the goodness that we have here.
  • + 2
 @medardlefevre: comment section is not for putting personal videos link...that's what suckersbook is for
Keep it classy
  • + 3
 #almostheaven
  • + 1
 Good stuff, I really love Big Bear. I was not as big of a fan of Coppers though.
  • + 2
 Nothing like the deep dark dank sweetness in WV!!
  • + 1
 Another sick write up?? Amazing, keep up the great work. I look forward to these.
  • + 1
 Great article and great exposure for some less-well known WV riding spots! Thanks, Brice . . .
  • + 1
 No gloves, flat pedals... that dude in the first video has got to be Sam Hill in disguise!
  • + 2
 NICE! Great piece! Keep the East Coast coming!
  • + 1
 west virginia MTN bike riding is awesome, west VA highway car driving...not so much.
  • + 1
 roads to prosperity just passed!
  • + 1
 @SnowshoeRider4Life: tell me more sir!!
  • + 1
 @preach: massive bill to really start fixing roads in the state and finishing a few more arteries like corridor H.
  • + 1
 @SnowshoeRider4Life: that is completely awesome my brother
  • - 11
flag jrocksdh (Nov 9, 2017 at 17:12) (Below Threshold)
 And too bad va fell to the libs...funny(not) how folks move away from broken socialist states to free states and then go back to voting for same types they just moved from
  • + 2
 @jrocksdh: no politics on pinkbike. Gawl.
  • - 1
 @jrocksdh: go away.
  • + 3
 Driving in W.Va. is akin to road racing. With the right car, it's as much fun as the biking. Just remember the 150% rule, in dry weather, 150% of the suggested speed on corners is good to go!
  • + 1
 this gives a good idea how much a gopro can mellow stuff out
  • + 1
 Especially now that @briceshirbach is rockin' a gimbal! Nice work, Brice! That gimbal has taken your work to the next level. Come see us again soon!
  • + 2
 Representin’
  • + 1
 Beautiful! trails!
  • + 1
 MTBing is the best!
  • + 0
 Great story on my backyard loops!
  • + 1
 so rad
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