Take a step inside another world with these three hikes
Written by Kristen Uppercue
Would you love to escape it all for an afternoon and venture to a place that couldn’t feel more different than your usual surroundings? Head to one of these unexpected hikes in the Mountain State that seem, in one way or another, straight out of a fantastical world.
Beartown State park
As you hike the half-mile boardwalk at Beartown State Park, you weave through a maze of massive boulders with deep crevices as overhanging cliffs loom above and a lush forest engulfs you. This green wonderland is a favorite fairy tale come to life.
Local legend says black bears winter in the cave-like openings of the rocks—hence the “bear” in the park’s name. But “beartown” also refers to the faulting and erosion of sandstone rock that creates narrow crevasses in the boulders, creating the appearance, from above, of a small town.
The enchanting park features moss and ferns growing within the pockets of the rock, casting a greenish color, as well as tree roots weaving into small cracks in the rock wall. Ice and snow are often found in the shaded rock crevasses until midsummer. With an elevation of 3,425 feet, Beartown is often foggy, creating an even more mystical atmosphere.
Beartown spans 110 acres and is located near Marlinton on the eastern summit of Droop Mountain in Greenbrier and Pocahontas counties. The park is open April to October, but access during the off-season can be arranged by appointment.
To preserve the area’s natural beauty, development of the park has been minimal: The boardwalk, information markers, a small picnic area, well water, and basic facilities can be found on the property.
While the boardwalk is not handicap- accessible, a handicap-accessible viewing platform is located at the park’s southeast corner. beartownstatepark.com.
Fairy Door Trail
Mason-Dixon Historical Park
Explore a fairy wonderland at the Mason-Dixon Historical Park Fairy Door Trail in Monongalia County. The trail features about a dozen tiny “fairy doors” along the route, creating the illusion that a community of fairies resides in the park.
Local artists craft the unique doors, which are placed at the bases of trees along the trail. Some of the doors open up to reveal items inside, such as space for park visitors to leave notes to the fairies—who might answer—or miniature moving boxes when the doors were first placed on the trail in the spring of 2019.
A one-third–mile hike, the Fairy Door Trail is a short and simple trek located about a half-mile from the park’s main parking area. The hike is also called the Bluebell Trail for the bluebell flowers that cover the route in April, making it a must-see in early spring.
The Mason-Dixon Historical Park was established in the 1970s and spans about 300 acres. The park also features seven other trails, including the Green Trail, one of its most popular, which follows the banks of Dunkard Creek and intersects with the Fairy Door Trail. Find the full map on the website. masondixonhistoricalpark.com
Giant Hemlock Trail
Cathedral State Park
As light speckles through the trees and rhododendron thickets onto the shaded forest floor, a trek through the ancient forest at Cathedral State Park in Preston County takes visitors back to a time when hemlock forests flourished in Appalachia.
Unlike other hemlock forests in the state, the hemlock stands that can be found throughout the park avoided West Virginia’s timber boom in the early 1900s. In 1942, Branson Haas sold the property to the state under the contingency that the forest’s timber would never be touched by ax or saw. Today, the park is home to West Virginia’s largest remaining old-growth forest.
The Giant Hemlock Trail is one-fifth of a mile long, making it the park’s shortest trek, but one with a giant reward. The largest hemlocks available in the park—estimated to be hundreds of years old and measuring 90 feet tall and 21 feet wide—can be spotted on this trail. The Giant Hemlock Trail is accessible for all ages and skill levels.
Cathedral State Park, which is a National Natural Landmark, is open year-round and spans 133 acres. Visitors will find three miles of gentle hiking trails, such as the Cathedral Trail, which follows the Rhine Creek, and the Owl Trail, which features the best bird-watching available in the park. It offers a quiet, mystical getaway to visitors and, with popular tourist attractions including Blackwater Falls and Canaan Valley nearby, it completes a natural world trifecta perfect for a long-weekend getaway. cathedralstatepark.com