Mountain Biking in the Cranberry Wilderness

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Summary

Cowpasture Trail and Kennison Mountain Trail should be on more WV mountain biker's radar.

Written by

Joe DeGaetano

Distance

50.0 miles

Trails vary in length from 1 mile to almost 20 miles. There are lots of different options for loops and link ups when combined with the endless amount of forest service roads out there. It is important to note that certain trails are best left for hikers. Some of the interior trails crisscross creeks dozens of times without bridges.

Destination Distance From Downtown

73.5 miles

Difficulty

3 of 5 diamonds

Trails vary from very easy gravel roads to technically challenging singletrack.

Time To Complete

5 hours

Some trails such as Cowpasture will only take an hour to complete, whereas others like Kennison Mountain or Pocahontas will take the majority of the day.

Seasonality

Spring, Summer, and Fall

Every season but winter is good for mountain biking in the Cranberry Wilderness. Winter brings heavy snowfall and other than a fatbike in early winter or late winter, bikers will not be able to ride.

Dog Friendly

On Leash Only

Fees Permits

No

Review

Intro

The Cranberry Wilderness is a nearly 50,000 acre congressionally protected wilderness area located between the towns of Richwood and Marlington, WV. Although traditionally more popular among fishermen, hikers, and families; mountain bikers are starting to explore the vast potential of the region.

All told there is nearly 50 miles of singletrack open to mountain bikers in the Cranberry Wilderness and when paired with the miles of forest service roads in the region the options for loops and different link ups becomes staggering.

What Makes It Great

There’s no shortage of great things about the Cranberry Wilderness but the first thing that comes to mind is the raw beauty and exploratory nature of the region. If you’re the type of mountain biker that loves to go explore and really feel like you are out there instead of doing laps on the local IMBA trail system, then the Cranberries are for you.

Trails such as Fork Mountain Trail and Pocahontas Trail are as much an exercise in navigation and backcountry travel as they are mountain biking specific skill. The two most popular biking trails are Cowpasture Trail and Kennison Mountain Trail. These are the perfect introduction to mountain biking in the Cranberries.

Cowpasture Trail is a 5.8 mile loop that will have you pedaling through the Cranberry Glades, an area of wide open boggy terrain brimming with vegetation more reminiscent of higher latitude forests. Don’t fear, when the trail crosses particularly muddy areas there are rustic bridges to cross. One great place to get off your bike is the Cranberry Glades Observation Tower. From the deck of the tower you will get good views of the Boreal forest and peat bogs that characterize the area. The back half of Cowpasture trail is wide and allows for fast speeds and the chance to play with the abundant natural features found on the trail. There are a lot of options for adding onto this loop.

Kennison Mountain is a 10 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 rewards the rider with the experience of riding through a perfect gnome forest, if such a thing existed. Fern covered boulders, gnarly hemlock roots, vibrant fungi, and beautiful groves of pine trees provide the majority of the scenery along this tight, singletrack trail. Once you exit 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 the environment adjacent to the largest tributary in the region. I’d suggest stopping at one of the 5 shelters along the way for a much needed snack break.

Who is Going to Love It

Beginner to advanced mountain bikers will find Cowpasture Trail and Kennision Mountain Trail rewarding. Mountain bikers with adventurous spirits will fall in love with the rustic and remote nature of the trails. Families looking to bring along small children will enjoy the forest service roads that allow access to the interior of the forest without any technical challenge. More experienced mountain bikers looking to do multi-day bikepacking trips will find the Cranberry Wilderness ripe with possibilities.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

Access the Cranberry Glades through the towns of Richwood or Marlington, WV. Both drives are straight forward and use the Scenic Highway.

Although parking is found throughout the area, the most central place to park for Cowpasture and Kennision Mountain Trail is the Cranberry Mountain Nature Center.

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Location

Cranberry Glades

38.203147, -80.265797

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