What happens when outdoorsy dudes meet nature loving ladies? They go hiking or bouldering or skiing together, and after sharing good times and vibes, they fall for each other. Well, I got news for you. Sometimes, believe it or not, they proceed to make little teeny tiny human beings! Maybe a similar thing happened to your parents. Perhaps this exact scenario, which at one point in your life was completely unimaginable, even happened to you!
If it does, you will love your little tiny being like nothing ever before, but because ‘your house just grew by two feet,’ your time outdoors will plummet like a rock dropped off the New River Gorge Bridge. You’ve entered the era of life during which ‘expedition’ means the unbelievable amounts of time and effort needed for two adults to travel with one baby just to go grocery shopping and visit a friend; the preparation and stress rival that of a three-day big wall aid climb.
You’re now on a trip called Parenthood, and while it can be the best thing ever, regaining that outdoorsy life can seem impossible at times. Now you’re going to be bringing company with you, and the logistics just became much more complicated. But relax and climb back down outta that tree, because that rumor you may have heard is true—it is indeed possible to slowly regain the great outdoors and build a love for it in Junior at the same time. The following Tiny Hikes start you on that trail, and with luck cultivation, these small outings will grow into bigger adventures.
Upper Core Arboretum
Talk about convenient! Park right next to the WVU Coliseum, and suddenly you’re at the top of a two-acre lawn planted full of beautiful specimen trees from Appalachian ecosystems, some even from the Orient. The arboretum is a great place to take toddlers who can attempt to navigate the terrain and even topple over in relative safety on the gentle landscape. An easy, wide perimeter trail over 300 yards long winds around this lovely tree gallery. If less than a quarter mile is your distance du jour, this topmost part of the Core Arboretum warrants a space on your calendar.
Are the kids old enough and motivated for the challenge of steep hiking and even steeper scrambling? This trail loses and regains about 100 feet in vertical relief. Most of the uphill is near the end of this spectacular loop. You can preview that steepest part just 200 feet from Pavilion #1 by following red blazes and a sign until you can look down the rocky gully to the trail sign at the bottom. If this finish looks reasonable, then you can do the whole hike.
Start your hike at the Coopers Rock Trading Post. From the flagpole, follow the blue-blazed Rattlesnake Trail for 300 feet to its intersection with the red-blazed Underlook Trail. Take a left onto Underlook, and keep the red blazes in sight. As the name suggests, this trail goes beneath the Coopers Rock Overlook. On its way, it meanders through rocks up to 45-feet high and alongside the overhanging north face of Piton Block, with ¼ inch bolt stubs from 1970s-era aid climbs still visible. Pass underneath the 70-foot high Coopers Rock Overlook and feel the rough texture of the gritstone. At the signed and blazed 90-degree left turn, the uphill challenge begins. Partway up, take a seat inside The Amphitheatre—a large rock overhang that is about the best spot ever to take a break. A rocky gully with various routes leads to the very end of the trail, and in 50 more feet, Pavilion #1. This gully takes hiking a step farther, and adds elements of rock scrambling. Be warned— your tyke’s enjoyment of this trail could lead to an early desire for rock climbing!
Bruceton Mills Dam
Close to I-68 yet surprisingly tranquil and picturesque, the dam at Bruceton Mills is another convenient pull-up-and-play spot. This site isn’t a trailhead and has no trails—it’s more about playing in the water, throwing or skipping stones, and turning over rocks to find critters. It’s also an easy place for beginner anglers to cast a few. The water above the dam is calm and quiet, and below it is frothy and white, but quickly calms down into riffles. The fishing and the playing is best 30- to 40-feet downstream of the dam. With any luck, the close-by ice cream place in Bruceton will be open when you’re done playing on the river.
Roy Gap Swimming Hole
What a classic swimming hole! Fortunately for parents, it’s close to parking and restrooms and it’s free. Oh, and how about that really wonderful view? I’ll take this place over a $25 water park any day! This swimming hole is a quarter-mile downstream from the footbridge that rock climbers and hikers use to access Seneca Rocks. Park by the pit toilets and hike the perfectly flat, easy trail 300 feet to the river. Check the current, depth of the river, and other parental considerations. If all meets your standards, let the fun begin. Water shoes might help—there are plenty of rocks and pebbles. You might have to travel far and wide to find a prettier natural swimming hole than this.
But you won’t have to travel far to hike into Roy Gap, the passage between the main formation of Seneca Rocks and The Southern Pillar. Walk across the footbridge a quarter-mile upstream from the swimming hole and follow the well-marked trail up and to the right. Close-up views of a creek can be had on your way to the area in the middle of Roy Gap from a dirt road mostly used by climbers hiking to the rocks. From the dirt road, you can have great views of cliff faces up to 300-feet tall. With any luck, you might spot a party climbing the classic route Ecstasy (5.7), on the South Face of Seneca’s South Peak. This is probably far enough if your kids are on the small side. Any further and the trails get real steep real fast.
National Wildlife Refuge
If you’ve ever skied at Whitegrass, or just eaten dinner there after snowboarding at Timberline, you’ve driven past this trailhead, which is in the middle of the Valley right off Freeland Road. Next time, stop there and take a look. This boardwalk trail is under half a mile in length, and is stroller-friendly. Check out some wetlands, watch for birds, witness the flora of northerly climes in this miniature pocket of Canada. Make sure to stop and enjoy the natural wonder of the beaver pond. Very toddler-friendly.
Red Creek Trail
Dolly Sods Wilderness
Monongahela National Forest
Take your little ones up one of the most pristine watersheds in the Mountain State. The first two miles of Red Creek Trail (#514) are flat, surrounded by old yellow birch trees and shady rhododendrons. The tannic waters of Red Creek are always close by, one of the joys of this hike. Ample parking is found at the Red Creek trailhead, and from there the trail heads upstream. Hike as far upstream as ‘the will of the party’ determines (or until tough terrain or a river crossing loom too large to conquer). Bushwhack down to the Red Creek, skip some rocks, eat a snack, and turn back. The sights and sounds of the river will be nourishing to your little ones’ eyes and ears.
Bear Rocks Preserve
Dolly Sods Scenic Area
Monongahela National Forest
This spectacular vista is in my ‘Frontcountry’ Top Ten as one of the most easily-accessible natural spots in West Virginia. It may take a long drive, but the hike to the overlooking rocks is short at around 200 yards. Once at the rocks, watch the kids as there are no railings and plenty of steep drop-offs. It’s safe if you stay alert. The clifty view to the east is top shelf of North Fork Mountain in all its textured beauty, and to the west, the tundra-esque Sods, originally settled by the Dahle Family (pronounced “Dolly”). You may be inspired to explore up and down the rocks, above and below, squirming and scrambling. After enough rock time (is there ever enough?) you may also be inspired to head west across the plain, as you can see across the open country all the way to Cabin Mountain. Backcountry travelers get to places like this far more frequently than frontcountry folks, which ranks Bear Rocks rank that much higher for providing such a spectacular spot reached by such an easy hike.