Cranberry Wilderness is a congressionally protected wilderness area between Richwood and Marlinton, West Virginia, which covers nearly 50,000 acres. Although traditionally more popular among fishermen, hikers, and families, mountain bikers are starting to realize the vast potential of the backcountry area (just beside the Wilderness— there is no biking in the Wilderness area), which is open to riders.
All together, there are almost 50 miles of singletrack open to mountain bikers in Cranberry Backcountry. When you combine that with the miles of forest service roads, the options for loops and different link-ups becomes staggering.
What Makes It Great
There’s no shortage of great things about Cranberry Backcountry, but the first thing that comes to mind is the raw beauty. If you’re the adventurous type and like to mountain bike in the middle of nowhere rather than doing laps on the local IMBA trail system, then the Cranberry Backcountry is for you.
The two most popular biking trails are Cowpasture Trail and Kennison Mountain Trail, and for good reason—they are the perfect introduction to mountain biking in the wilderness.
Cowpasture Trail is a 7-mile loop that will have you pedaling through the Cranberry area, an open boggy terrain, brimming with vegetation more reminiscent of higher latitude forests. And luckily, whenever the trail crosses particularly muddy areas, there are bridges. If you need a break, a great place to stop is the Cranberry Glades Observation Tower. From the deck of the tower, you will get views of the Appalachian Boreal forest and peat bogs. The back half of the Cowpasture Trail is wide, which means you can hit fast speeds and play with the natural features on the trail. There are also a lot of options for adding onto this loop.
Kennison Mountain is a 9-mile trail that can be linked with Forest Service Road 102 to create a 23-mile loop. This trail is much more technically challenging than Cowpasture, but you are rewarded with the experience of riding a tight singletrack through fern-covered boulders, gnarly hemlock roots, vibrant fungi, and beautiful groves of pine trees. Once you exit the Kennison Mountain Trail, you will have about 13 miles of gravel along the Cranberry River. Here, you can let your guard down, find a good cadence, and soak up your surroundings. There are also 5 shelters along the way to stop for a much-needed snack break.
If you want more of a challenge, the Pocahontas Trail is as much an exercise in navigation and backcountry travel as it is in mountain biking.
Who is Going to Love It
Beginner to advanced mountain bikers will find the Cowpasture Trail and Kennison Mountain Trail rewarding. Any mountain bikers with an adventurous spirit will fall in love with the remote nature of the trails, and more experienced mountain bikers looking for multi-day bikepacking trips will find tons of possibilities in the Cranberry Backcountry.
Families bringing along small children will enjoy the forest service roads that get you into the trees, but without any technical challenge.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Access the Cranberry Backcountry through Richwood. The drive is straightforward and uses the Highland Scenic Highway.
Although there is parking throughout the area, the most central place to park for Cowpasture and Kennison Mountain Trail is the Cranberry Mountain Nature Center at the junction of Route 150 and Route 39/55.