Each year thousands of visitors flock to Coopers Rock State Forest in northern West Virginia to enjoy its spectacular combination of a lake, mountain vistas, and nearly 13,000 acres of woodland forest. It’s the largest state forest in West Virginia and provides wonderful opportunities for relaxation and recreation. The forest derives its name from the legend of a fugitive who used the rugged area to elude authorities. He was a cooper by trade (barrel maker), and sold his wares to communities near his mountain hideout.
The WV Economic and Geological Survey dates Paleo-Indians in this area over 13,000 years ago. It’s evolved from an ancient hunting ground, through a period of industrialized resource extraction, to a centerpiece of research and wildlife protection. Settlers like the Morgans, Pierponts, and Ices settled in the area by the late 18th century. Early on, George Washington crossed the Cheat River and rode horseback up the northern side of the forest in search of a water route to connect the Potomac and Ohio Rivers. From the 18th through 20th centuries the land was used for iron making, farming, and timbering. In 1936, the State of West Virginia bought the land for public use. Today it’s one of the most visited WV state forests serving as an adventure playground for thousands of outdoor enthusiasts each year.
There are four excellent vantage points from which to enjoy panoramic views of the Cheat River Canyon – the Coopers Rock Overlook, Raven Rock, Cheat View and Table Rock. These vantage points are especially beautiful during the fall when leaves are at peak color. The overlook at Coopers Rock is the flagship attraction with easy access for visitors. Raven Rock is just over a mile hike from the parking area off the forest entrance road. Cheat View and Table Rock are on the south side of the gorge and are accessible from the Snake Hill Wildlife Management area. Use the south parking lot for Snake Hill WMA and hike just over a mile to the canyon rim to access these overlooks.
There are a variety of trails throughout Coopers Rock – from beginner to advance. The trails are good for hiking, mountain biking, and cross country skiing. Coopers Rocks features more than 50 miles of well-marked trails managed by the WV Division of Natural Resources. Many additional miles of unmarked trails are maintained by the Coopers Rock Foundation. The Coopers Rock Foundation publishes a definitive Map & Guide for the Coopers Rock State Forest and the Snake Hill Wildlife Management Area. You can usually find these maps at the Trading Post in the forest, or purchase them directly from their website.
- ROCK FEATURES
There are a maze of boulders and short cliffs in close proximity to the main parking lot at Coopers Rock. Some of the most popular rock climbing routes are located on the Sunset Cliffs and Roadside Rocks area. Course sandstone in this area present opportunities to refine thin face climbing techniques, and easily switch top-rope locations for accessing multiple crags. Numerous bouldering problems are still being found among the boulders below cliffs. Coopers Rock has some of the most remarkable rock features in the Mid-Atlantic.
- PLANTS & WILDLIFE
From tall hardwoods to thick Mountain Laurel; from beautiful orchids to wild mushrooms; from salamanders to bobcats; from rattlesnakes to woodpeckers; life in the forest is diverse as the ever-changing seasons. There’s a variety of plant and wildlife that supports a dynamic ecology. The Flat-Spired, Three Tooth Snail is unique to the area, and has had an important role in land conservation throughout the Cheat River Canyon. The reservoir in the south side of the forest is also a great place to find a culmination of many different species of plant and wildlife.
- COOPERS ROCK LAKE
The Coopers Rock Lake is a 6 acre lake located on in the north side of the forest. The lake serves as a trout fishery and is stocked by the WV Division of Natural Resources from February through May, and twice in October. The lake was built in 1954 and is a great resource for those who love to fish. It’s handicap accessible and allows for small boats. There is a path surrounding the lake which makes bank fishing easy. Parking, toilets, and drinking water are on site, and camping is available close-by.
- CCC STRUCTURES
During the Great Depression in the late ‘30s, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built much of the infrastructure and buildings across the forest. Eleven of these structures are on the National Register of Historic Places. The CCC was a federal program that put men to work building roads, bridges, ditches, walkways, and shelters throughout the forest. The CCC left a legacy with rustic structures and remarkable stonework leading to the overlook. They’re sure to have an impact on anyone visiting Coopers Rock State Forest.
- IRON FURNACE
The Henry Clay Iron Furnace was built in 1834 and sits deep in the south side of the forest. It’s a massive tower of cut stone that looks like a Mayan pyramid. It’s a monument to the iron industry that flourished in the first half of the 19th century. The furnace was used to smelt pig iron that was mined from the surrounding limestone. Local timber was used to make charcoal to fuel the furnace. The furnace itself employed 200 people and supported a community of over 1200 people. Pig iron produced by the furnace was transported down the Cheat River and traveled the Monongalia and Ohio rivers to the Mississippi.
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Consider supporting the Coopers Rock Foundation in their mission to promote preservation and recreation in Coopers Rock State Forest and the nearby Snake Hill Wildlife Management Area. Volunteer. Donate. Get involved!