U.S. National Forest Campground Guide

Monongahela National Forest

West Virginia

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Forest Information

The Monongahela National Forest is located in the eastern portion of West Virginia and is comprised of over 830,000 acres. The Forest stretches over the Allegheny Mountain Range. There are 21 developed campgrounds, 18 of which meet the selection criteria.

Looking over Monongahela National Forest, it is difficult to visualize the landscape of bareness that existed when this magnificent forest was established in 1915. Starting with 7,200 acres of overused and abused land, today the Monongahela National Forest is a lush, beautiful, healthy hardwood forest. Within its boundaries are some of the most scenic spots in the country, camping locations that take advantage of the scenery, and a near endless variety of recreational opportunities.

A favorite spot of both visitors to the Monongehela and local residents, is the area known as Dolly Sods. Here is a graphic illustration of the damage man can cause the land and Nature's ability to recover. At one time, Dolly Sods was blanketed by a thick covering of lush spruce. The dense shadow produced by the spruce overstory kept the ground clear of most ground covering plants. Centuries of fallen spruce needles gave the ground a soft, springy carpet feel. Then, during the heyday of railroad expansion, all the trees were harvested using "clear-cut" techniques for railroad ties. With the moisture saving shadows gone, the thick carpet of humus dried out. Sparks from campfires and passing trains started fires and soon Dolly Sods was only the bare top of ancient mountains. There are still places atop Dolly Sods where nothing covers the ancient rock but they are becoming fewer with each decade. Today, Mountain Laurel and blueberry, with a few solitary spruce trees, bear witness to the area's gradual but steady recovery.

One unintentional benefit we can enjoy tody of the railroad's clear-cut technique is the view from Dolly Sods. To the west are the Alleghany Mountains, their blue-grey mass rising up like waves on the ocean. To the east is the rugged West Virginia. Close to the Dolly Sods Wilderness and Red Creek campground, a sweet little campground for car and tent camping enthusiasts, Bear Rock provides an excellent place to watch the play of sun and shade on the land.

While nature has been given a free-hand in Dolly Sods's recovery, credit for the rest of Monongahela National Forest's recovery must be given to the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). While the most obvious examples of the CCC's workmanship are found in the stone structures, earthen dams, and timber pavilions scattered throughout the Forest, a more important contribution was the thousands of trees planted throughout the area. This reforestation effort has produced the healthy and robust woodlands of today's Monongehela National Forest.

The Monongehela National Forest is on ancient land, a land with many stories, legends, and history. One story often told concerns Seneca Rock near the recreational vehicle (RV) and motorhome-friendly Seneca Shadows campground. Today, Seneca Rock is a mecca for rockclimbers but long before the white man came to these mountains, so the story goes, two young Natives met and fell in love. Their love was strong and true but the young lovers were from warring tribes; they could never be together. The Great Spirit took pity on them, and as they embraced for the last time, turned them into the stone pillars atop Seneca Rock. Unfortunately, only one can still be seen as the other lover was toppled by the sonic boom of passing military jets. Or so the story goes.

Nearly 700 miles of marked trails are found in the Monongehela National Forest. The Forest's many Wilderness areas can only be accessed by foot or horseback via one of these trails. One interesting aspect of the various Wildernesses in the Monongehela is just how different each one is from the others. The only way to discover the unique character of Dolly Sods or Cranberry is to explore them up close and personal.

Of course, there are trails outside the Wildernesses and they are open to other forms of transportation. One up and coming mode of transportation is mountain bikes. The Forest Service recognizes this fast growing recreation and has designated numerous trails with a variety of skill levels for mountain bike enthusiasts. Campgrounds, such as Bishop Knob, Horseshoe, and Tea Creek, are conveniently located near miles upon miles of exciting trails. There are some who consider the Cranberry Backcountry as offering the very best mountain bike trails in the Forest. But what about the Marlinton area or the West Fork Rail Trail? So many miles of trails will require time and many visits.

Dispersed camping (camping in a Forest Service undeveloped location of the camper's choice) is another popular recreational activity. Unfortunately, this type of camping is not include in this campground directory. Contact the Monongehela National Forest for information about disperse camping in this forest.

Another way to see the wonders of the Monongehela National Forest is via its waterways. One example is floating around Big Bend campground on the horseshoe bend of the South Branch Potomac River, in a canoe or on a tube. It is a great way to cool down and observe the towering canyon. Than there is using a canoe to explore the shoreline of Lake Sherwood.

A word of caution about potential problems found in the Monongahela National Forest - snakes and poison ivy. Rattlesnakes and Copperheads are native to West Virginia and are found in the Forest. However, these snakes usually avoid human contact, so, unless visitors go looking for them, these reptiles are not often seen. Poison ivy is another matter. A very common three-leafed plant, poison ivy is found throughout the Forest but most often around recreation and swimming areas. If you don't know what this irritating plant looks like, the Forest Service will be glad to help with identification and guidelines for treatment.

The Monongahela National Forest is within a day's drive of most Mid-Atlantic communities but it is worlds away from the hubbub of urban living. Come and discover a land of breath-taking beauty and recovery. Enjoy the bird watching, rock climbing, hiking, fishing, camping under a star studded canopy of black velvet, and so much more, time and time again.

SUPERVISOR ADDRESS USDA Building 200 Sycamore St. Elkins, West Virginia 26241 304-636-1800 RANGER DISTRICT ADDRESSES Cheat P.O.B. 368 Parsons, West Virginia 26287 304-478-3251 Gauley 932 N. Fork Cherry Red Richwood, West Virginia 26261 304-846-2695 Greenbrier P.O.B. 25 Bartow, West Virginia 24920 304-456-3335 Marlinton P.O.B. 210 Marlinton, West Virginia 24954 304-799-4334 Potomac HC 59, Box 240 Petersburg, West Virginia 26847 304-257-4488 White Sulphur 410 E. Main St. White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia 24986 304-536-2144

Fred and Suzi Dow