Hiking trails in West Virginia are revered for traversing the state’s numerous rivers, streams and waterfalls. While most trails seem to favor watercourses, one notorious mountain path climbs high above the water, stacked with rugged cliffs and dramatic views. Welcome to North Fork Mountain.
Beginning with its southern terminus at Judy Gap and running northwest for 34 miles to its culmination at Chimney Top, the North Fork Mountain Trail (NFMT) provides some of the most consistent high elevation hiking in the Mountain State.
Rising to 4,588 feet, Kile Knob is North Fork’s highest point—just 275 feet shorter than West Virginia’s high point on Spruce Knob. North Fork’s other notable peaks of Panther Knob, Pike Knob and Chimney Top are nearly as tall.
With all that mileage running the entire length of one of West Virginia’s highest ridgelines, one might expect a few choice vantage points. The west facing cliffs of Tuscarora quartzite—the same formation that creates Seneca Rocks—run unbroken for miles and rise up to 200 feet tall. These numerous outcrops provide seemingly endless views overlooking the river knobs of Seneca and Champe Rocks, Germany Valley, Spruce Knob, and the Allegheny Front. The views are so grand that Backpacker Magazine wrote the NFMT has some of the “best mountain scenery of the East,” while Outside named it West Virginia’s best trail in 1996.
While looking out from North Fork is awe-inspiring, looking right at it is just as impressive. Poised in the rain shower of the Allegheny Front and draining quickly due to its anticline geology, North Forks holds the title of driest ridge in the Appalachian Mountains. Because of this, the arid mountain is home to a unique array of flora and fauna.
Stunted and gnarled by harsh weather, old growth stands of red and table mountain pine stretch along the cliffline. Able to withstand the drier climate, they grow in contrast to the red spruce forests typical of wetter surrounding peaks. The exposed cliffs provide prime habitat for two species of concern, the Allegheny woodrat and peregrine falcon. Because of the mountain’s arid nature, there are no streams for water filtration—be sure to bring all the water you’ll need for the entirety of your hike or backpacking excursion.
For those who prefer to get their kicks on wheels, the NFMT is also a spectacular and technically challenging mountain bike ride. The International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) designated the trail as one of its coveted Epic Rides—to hold such a title, a trail must offer “demanding, mostly singletrack adventures in natural settings.” If attempting the NFMT on two wheels, it is recommended to ride south to north—three blissful miles of downhill at the end will make you understand why.
Whether on foot or on wheels for a day trip or an overnight excursion, the NFMT provides some of the Mountain State’s finest high elevation adventuring. From stunning views to unique geology and ecology, go see for yourself why North Fork Mountain is the best place to stay high and dry in West Virginia.