Seneca Rocks and Spruce Knob
Spruce Knob is the highest point in West Virginia at 4,863 ft. The peak has an alpine feel, covered with boulders, mountain laurel, and wind-swept spruce trees. A hiker’s paradise, Spruce Knob offers over 60 miles of trails.
Difficulty ranges from a leisurely 0.2-mile stroll to the summit to the 16.5-mile Seneca Creek backpacking loop. The latter route is considered some of the best backpacking on the east coast, descending Spruce Knob past Seneca Falls and into the Seneca Creek valley. As you hike, enjoy the vistas and snack on some wild blueberries.
Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks is also a favorite destination for rock climbing and boast almost 400 routes. If you are new to climbing or looking to expand your skills, there are two guide services in town: Seneca Rocks Climbing School and Seneca Rocks Mountain Guides. I recommend Yokum’s campground for affordable camping with a beautiful view of the rocks.
Sinks of Gandy and Smoke Hole Canyon
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Equipped with a headlamp and sturdy shoes, you can find your way through the mile-long cave and emerge on the other side. This spot is located on private property but is easy to locate with a little internet research. The owners are welcoming to visitors, as long as they are respectful and approach on foot.
Isolated and mysterious, the South Branch of the Potomac River runs 20 miles long and half a mile deep between North Fork Mountain and Cave Mountain. This dark, wild gorge is Smoke Hole Canyon, the wildest backcountry in the Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area. The canyon is so remote that large sections of it are only accessible by boat.
If you are a beginner planning to paddle the entire canyon, I suggest using a guide service, as some sections of the river are suitable for experienced whitewater boaters only. Eagles Nest Outfitters offers 12 guided river trips. You can also stick to the calmer water near Big Bend Campground, where fishing, tubing, and picnicking are favorite activities. Either way, the water is crystal clear, and the vertical cliffs are stunning.
The Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area offers something for everyone. Whether you seek immersive wilderness experiences or shorter day trips, these mountains will captivate you. The area is within a day’s drive of most eastern US cities and only about 50 miles south of the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area. For more information, recreation maps, and upcoming events check out the official US Forest Service website.