At 330 miles, the Allegheny Trail (ALT) is West Virginia’s longest hiking trail and one of its least traveled. This trail follows a network of roads and trails from the Mason-Dixon Line near Bruceton Mills, WV to the southern border of WV and VA near Petersburg, WV. In September 2017, my husband and I thru-hiked the ALT as a celebration of our 5-year wedding anniversary and to explore the Mountain State we call home. In three weeks, we discovered scenic back roads, lesser known recreation areas, hidden history, and endless solitude. This three-part blog series highlights the 40-mile section of the ALT that winds its way across the new Dolly Sods & Seneca Rocks Lizard Map. I hope our experience will encourage you to find your own adventure on the Allegheny Trail!
13 miles point-to-point, 18 miles as a loop
Leave your car at the roadside park on US 219 (“Long Memorial Park” on your Lizard Map), take in the scenic vistas, and follow the 2” x 6” yellow rectangular blazes south along the highway for about two miles. Turn onto Forest Service Road 18, and continue up Backbone Mountain on Forest Service Road 717 all the way to Olson Tower. If you dare, climb 133 steps on an open stairway to the observation tower.
The views from Olson Tower are amazing any time of year.
On your way back down 717, you’ll see a turn for the Canyon Rim Trail on your right. The ALT blazes will show you where to go. The Canyon Rim Trail is an easy hike through a beautiful rhododendron tunnel crisscrossed with shallow waterways. You can find small clearings in the rhody thickets for setting up camp (we found a nice one!), or wait until Canyon Rim Road for a few more camping options. (Note: if rivers are running really high, it’s a better idea to bypass this trail and stay on Forest Service Road 18, as shown on the Lizard Map). Canyon Rim Trail will cross Big Run, a gorgeous stream that can sometimes run quite high, just before emptying onto Canyon Rim Road (FS Road 18). This dirt road offers easy hiking, several nice overlooks of the Blackwater Canyon, and almost guaranteed isolation. It’s also where we had the first black bear sighting of our thru-hike!
The Canyon Rim Road turns into paved County Road 27 through the hamlets of Douglas (stop to see Douglas Falls!) and Coketon (take a quick side trip on the Thomas Rail Trail to see the coke ovens: a relic of this area’s coal mining history). You’ll pass by the Buxton & Landstreet Gallery, a historical building that showcases some fantastic local art. It’s definitely worth a stop inside! Follow the yellow blazes all the way to Thomas, and don’t miss the Purple Fiddle for a celebratory ice cream cone.
From here, either shuttle back to your car at US 219 or hike through Thomas and then west on US 219 for about 5 miles back to your car.
*Note: you can drive all of this section of the ALT except the Canyon Rim Trail. You could also bikepack this section of trail, but it’s much more fun to hike it!*
Emily Huguenin is a WV resident and long-time lizard seeker. She and her husband thru-hiked the Allegheny Trail in September 2017 and are happy to share beta about this lesser known trail through West Virginia. When she’s not hiking, trail running, or cross country skiing, Emily serves as assistant director at Camp Hidden Meadows, a youth summer camp focused on helping kids explore and love the great outdoors.