Those who have never taken a rail-to-trail trip on a mountain bike may be spoiled if they start with the Allegheny Highland Trail in Canaan Valley, West Virginia. Not only is the trail picturesque and fun to ride, but it goes near charming bistros and stores that welcome mountain bikers and hikers. You'll also find some inexpensive but charming lodging if you decide to extend your day trip to a weekend. The area sometimes gets a lot of snow, though, so bundle up if you plan to head out during the winter months. Really, though, there's no bad season to ride Allegheny Highlands Trail.
What Makes It Great
This trail is all about variety so you aren't bored just coasting along and you aren't exhausted from pedaling up a steep incline. Though you start out on a fairly flat trail it does become more challenging for about five miles in the center before again returning to fairly flat. As you bike you move from from pavement to gravel and dirt and then back to pavement, too, so you have a variety of surfaces on which to ride. One of the things I enjoy most about this trail, besides the variety, is that it goes through areas that are home to quaint shops and restaurants. It was built along the original route of the West Virginia Central and Pittsburgh Railway built by Henry Gassaway Davis in 1884. Although it's heritage is that of the rail, this is now a mountain biking community so those of us who ride are greeted warmly when we stop for lunch or just to rest at the various towns along the way. It's also fun to ride a trail that is populated with a variety of bikers, from families to weekend athletes to those that seem semi professional. No matter the skill level, everyone is friendly and helpful.
Who is Going to Love It
If you want to jump on your bike and get an extreme work out, this is likely not the trail for you. It's also not a trail for beginners because there are some steep inclines. This is a trail for families and those that want to enjoy a variety of scenery -- from farms to small towns to wooded areas -- as they take a ride that's akin to a "Sunday driver" car ride. That's not to say that the trail doesn't offer any challenge or a fair amount of endurance, but it is more for those that enjoy mountain biking as a casual not extreme sport.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
From downtown Elkins, take US 219 north to access the southernmost trailhead, Highland Park, located across from the Division of Highways District 8 Headquarters (just a mile from downtown Elkins).
The Gilman, Kerens, Montrose and Porterwood trailheads are located mid-trail, and each include parking facilities. Continue following US 219 north to the northern trailhead, located at the intersection of Main and 3rd Streets in Hendricks.