Straddling the north fork of the Potomac River's south branch, the Monongahela National Forest's Spruce Knob Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area offers two rides that feature the very best wild and wonderful West Virginia has to offer.
At 4863 feet, Spruce Knob is West Virginia's highest peak. It is also the southern terminus of the Huckleberry Trail, the backbone of any number of loops dropping north and west toward Seneca Creek. A well-blazed network of trails allows riders to link together loops of various shapes and sizes. If a long point-to-point ride is more to your liking, head to the east side of the river and the North Fork Mountain Trail. Not for the timid, the whole trail is 25 miles with no good bailouts. Setup a shuttle or ride back on valley roads to complete your loop.
Regardless of your loop choice, come prepared. This is backcountry with little local support. Mountain weather is the rule as well; freezing temps in the evenings are possible for much of the year, the Seneca drainage averages over 40 inches of precipitation annually, and the deformed one-sided spruce trees along the high ridges are witness to the frequent strong winds.
Rides: There are two areas to base out of. One is at the top of the mountain, at the USFS campground at Spruce Knob Lake. There are no stores or services up high, so you’re on your own. The closest store is in the tiny hamlet of Whitmer, about 10 miles down from the lake. The other base option is down in town at Seneca. Plenty of campgrounds, cabins, and motels are available there. It’s approximately 20 miles of gravel road riding to get up to the Spruce trailheads from town. Basing out of Seneca makes it easy to ride the North Fork Mountain Trail on another day, using the shuttle service provided by the climbing shop in town.
From the Spruce Knob Lake Campground, ride about 8 miles up FS 112 & FS 104 to the observation tower. Drop into the classic Huckleberry Trail for a gradual 5-mile, 1400’ descent through Judy Springs to the Seneca Creek. The rocky Huckleberry Trail goes in and out of dense spruce groves, and clearings of heath, blueberry and wildflowers with stellar views west and east. Take a left onto the Judy Springs Trail, and drop through a high meadow that looks more like Colorado than West Virginia. Cross Seneca Creek, turn right, and head downstream a short bit and look for the Bear Hunter Trail on the left. Climb 600’ in a mile to the Allegheny Mountain Trail. From here, cruise south back to FS 112 and the campground, Take note of all the trails dropping off to the right for your next ride. Many of these lead to 1000’ descents that drop you onto WV 29, and a gradual gravel climb back to the campground. If you’ve based in town at Seneca, after the Judy Springs descent, turn right (north) onto Seneca Creek Trail. Coast downstream for a mile and a half and rest up, because you’ll be climbing hard soon. At the junction of the Seneca Creek/Horton Trails, go left, up Horton Trail (1000’ in a mile). Once you top out on Allegheny Mountain Trail, follow it 6 miles north, down to Whites Run Road and out of the National Forest. You’ll have a few miles of busy Route 33 to get back to town.
NOTE: These 6 miles of Allegheny Mountain Trail are much less used than the other trails. Pay close attention to see your way home. If you’re in town, hit up the Front Porch Restaurant above the Harpers Old Country Store for a beer and a view.
And plan to ride this epic soon. While the Seneca Creek drainage was removed from the recently passed (Spring 2009) Wild Monongahela Act, it is sure to be number one on the list of any future Wilderness designation in West Virginia.
Location: Along US 33, southwest of Seneca, WV.
Distance: Varies, from 10 to 50 miles depending on route choice. Ride times up to 8 hours are not unrealistic, so plan accordingly.
Trails: Singletrack, doubletrack, fire roads, county roads. The terrain is classic East Coast riding; Technically challenging with extensive rock gardens, hike-a-bike, and wetslippery conditions.
Altitude: 2,000 to 4,800 feet
Season: June to October.
Camping: Various USFS options; Spruce Knob LakeCampground. Seneca Shadows Campground.
Club: West Virginia Mountain Bike Association - http://www.wvmba.com
Agency: Monongahela National Forest, Cheat Potomac Ranger District, (304) 257-4488. Monongahela National Forest, Seneca Rocks Discovery Center, (304) 567-2827
Latitude/Longitude for Trailhead: - 38°42'8.46"N 79°31'51.50"W