Those looking for a remote wilderness experience alongside a mountain river need look no further than Laurel River Trail #306. This trail travels approximately 17 miles along the Laurel Fork of the Cheat River through two Wilderness Areas. A primitive campground accessible by car splits this trail, and the Wilderness Areas, in half. We'll show you the way through Trail #306 and some side trails within these two Wilderness Areas so you can plan your own adventure in this wonderful watershed!
Laurel River Trail #306 is a point-to-point trail which leads through two Federal Wilderness Areas: Laurel Fork North Wilderness and Laurel Fork South Wilderness. Although several side trails exist along Laurel River Trail, loop day hikes can be difficult to accomplish without significant road walking. We'll describe side trails and parking options further below, but those looking to complete the whole trail will want leave a car at the southern terminus near Middle Mountain Cabin (pictured above). To complete roughly half of the trail, leave a car at Laurel Fork Campground.
Laurel Fork North Wilderness
After dropping a shuttle vehicle, drive a second car (or pedal a bike) to the northern terminus of Laurel River Trail via Middle Mountain Road. Limited parking is available along the road; a few cars can fit along a pull-off just north of the road bridge over Beaverdam Run.
Although the trail begins as a nice, wide, cut, single track path, undergrowth quickly encroaches and covers the obvious route in summer. Marshy meadows, beautiful to look at but not to trudge through, exist because of active beaver dams along Beaverdam Run and Laurel Fork. Bring long pants, a sense of adventure, and prepare for wet feet on this hike!
Swampy conditions persist on and off throughout the length of this trail, which can make navigation difficult. When in doubt of the actual trail, simply do your best to follow Laurel Fork upstream (or walk through the stream itself). Also prepare for a possible detour route through a new pipeline construction project at the border of Laurel Fork North Wilderness.
Smoke Camp Run Trail #305
Smoke Camp Run Trail is the first side trail reached while hiking south on Laurel River Trail. It is a great side trail, which leads uphill along a small run the whole way to Middle Mountain Road. Laurel River Trail intersects with Smoke Camp Run Trail within an overgrown, gorgeous meadow of wildflowers. The picture above shows Smoke Camp Trail, from the connection with Laurel River Trail.
A rock cairn on the west bank of Laurel Fork may help hikers find the trail in the summer months. While the bottom of this trail can be very overgrown, the rest is clear of underbrush; mostly a result of a thick canopy of very old and large second growth hardwood trees.
This stand of wonderful old trees is very impressive. Species include oak, beech, birch, and cherry trees (among others).
The trail is well signed at its terminus on Middle Mountain Road. A nearby pull-out offers enough room for two or three cars; be sure to visit this trail and these hugh old trees while you tour this part of Monongahela National Forest!
Back On Laurel River Trail
Sections of this trail that aren't meadows are wide, shaded old roadways in the forest. The tread is very easy, sometimes wet, but smooth going towards Laurel Fork Campground.
Just like the rest of this trail, there are a few wet crosses just north of Laurel Fork Campground. Be prepared for wet feet even if you just take a short stroll north of the campground at Dry Fork Road.
There are plenty of muddy sections throughout the length of Laurel River Trail!
After roughly 11 miles, Laurel River Trail enters Laurel Fork Campground. Originally built by a CCC crew, this area is now a primitive campsite consisting of two small loops with a total of 14 campsites. There is no electricity, but the use of two vault toilets is included with the $8 per night fee. This pleasant, small campground runs on a first come-first serve basis. Pumps for well water were locked closed during summer 2018, so do not count on this campground for potable water.
Laurel Fork South Wilderness
Laurel River Trail continues to follow Laurel Fork through Laurel Fork South Wilderness just as it had done farther north. The trail crosses Laurel Fork itself a few more times in this southern section. The river is much smaller now though, and usually doesn't pose any problems for hikers.
Shortly after the trail leaves the campground heading southbound, it skirts a large, lush meadow. The trail may be muddy here, but it generally avoids the majority of the swampy meadow.
Take note of the beaver dam and beaver huts not long after passing the meadows. If you wait quietly for a few minutes (during the dawn and dusk hours especially) you may catch sight of a beaver at work!
Forks Trail #323
A junction with Forks Trail #323 occurs just a bit after the beaver huts. Forks Trail crosses a small stream, turns to climb westbound to Middle Mountain Road, and then continues down to East Fork Glady Fork on the opposite side of Middle Mountain Road. Hikers can use Forks Trail and Middle Mountain Road to create different length loops with Beulah Trail and Dry Fork Road at Laurel Fork Campground.
Laurel Fork is smaller here as the trail heads upstream, but it is still impressive. A few campsites exists on both sides of the stream along this section of trail. Please practice Leave No Trace ethics when you camp here.
Did we mention that this forest was wet? Fungus, like the Lions Mane Fungus above, reigns in Monongahela National Forest.
Beulah Trail #310
Continuing south, Laurel River Trail arrives at a junction with Beulah Trail #310. Beulah Trail, like Forks Trail, climbs westbound up to Middle Mountain Road. The trail then descends from Middle Mountain Road to East Fork Glady Fork.
After East Fork Glady Fork, Beulah Trail continues on forest roads. These roads are both drivable, and gated, so hikers should beware of very light car traffic. Beulah Trail eventually leads to Beulah at Forest Service Road 44.
Camp Five Trail #315
Laurel River Trail continues upstream along the river, crossing it a few times, but always staying along its course. The trail reaches a hemlock grove with a few campsites, then intersects with Camp Five Trail. Here, Laurel River Trail turns eastward, while Camp Five Trail stays straight to the sign shown above at Middle Mountain Cabins.
Camp Five Trail passes a lovely small pond just before arriving at Middle Mountain Cabins. These cabins accommodate several people, and are available by reservation through the United State Forest Service.
Finishing Laurel River Trail
After splitting with Camp Five Trail, Laurel River Trail crosses the upper regions of Laurel Fork two more times. Then it follows a headwaters tributary upstream to Forest Service Road 97, aka Research Loop Road. Turn right and walk down this road to a gate at Forest Service Road 14, then follow FS 14 right to your vehicle at Middle Mountain Cabins.
Make Your Own Adventure in WV!
Sign up to get the latest on sales, new releases and more …
SIGN UP FOR LIZARD E-NEWS
Join the Purple Lizard e-news community and stay in the loop on the latest Purple Lizard product offerings, discounts, map updates, adventure ideas and more.