North Fork Mountain Trail 24M Run - Franklin, West Virginia
Elevation Range: 3900'-1120'     Gain:  ~2650'    Descent: ~5000'    Start:  3750'

July 3, 2016 - After a two-hour early morning commute from our camp site at Todd Lake Recreation Area in Virginia and previous day's adventure on the Wild Oak Trail, nine of us embarked on the second half of our weekend adventure on the North Fork Mountain Trail, right at 0800. Everyone - Jackie Ong, Jessica Brundige, Gilbert Gray, Dan Paige, Julius Garcia, Travis Alfrey. Eric Marshall, Jeremy Jackson, and myself - seemed rested and none the worse for wear after the previous day's dance with the mountains of Virginia. The weather was overcast and slightly cool with a looming chance of precip, but otherwise mild and, without a doubt, an inviting day to hit the trails.

The day was perfect for a gentle social foray on the ridgeline. The best days are those when you stop often to appreciate the unique features of a new trail. And that's what we did. The pictures tell all. At the end of the day, after seven hours or so, we wound our way back down to Smoke Hole Road where our wonderful support crew of Al, Amanda, Mary-Margaret, Jonah, Ceci, Ryan, and Alana were waiting with smiles (or soaking in the river). It was just a super day, well worth repeating, either here or on some other wild adventure. I'm sure I will share more stories with this crew again.

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The North Fork Mountain Trail follows the 24-mile ridge separating the South Branch and the North Fork of the Potomac River. This north-south trail affords spectacular views of Germany Valley, Seneca Rocks and Dolly Sods to the west, and Shenandoah Mtn. to the east, offering some of the most scenic vistas in the entire state. Encompassing more than 100,000 acres, the Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area contains two of the most popular outdoor attractions in West Virginia. Seneca Creek Backcountry has the highest point in West Virginia, and Seneca Rocks has some of the best rock climbing on the east coast. The area of high ridges and steep cliffs was established in 1965 to protect the natural beauty of the region. North Fork Mountain forms the eastern boundary of the recreation area.

Typically, the trail is tackled going from the South end off US33 to the North end at Smoke Hole Road. The southern start is at a US33 hairpin that crests the ridge. There is room for a few cars on the roadside. The trailhead is unmarked past a gate, but once you get started (heading North) the blue blazes quickly become apparent and clearly mark the entirety of the trail. Running north the trail follows near or on the ridgeline offering magnificent vistas of Germany Valley, Seneca Rocks and the North Fork to finish near Smoke Hole Resort, 8290 N Fork Hwy, Cabins, WV on Smoke Hole Road where the trailhead is marked and has designated parking.

At mile 10.5 attain the highest elevation of 3900'. The major drawback to this trail is a lack of water along the crest. North Fork Mountain is very dry. There is tree cover for the most part, but it can be warm. There are no stream crossings so carry a minimum of two 22 oz bottles, if not more.

Detailed Topographic Maps

DESCRIPTION: From the TH on US33, the trail starts in forest cover and is soft underneath. At this end, there are only a few short ascents and moderate downhill sections. Before long the trail becomes a mix of rocks and hard packed dirt and more or less stays that way. Overall, the North Fork has to be among the driest long trails in the East. Even after a rain there will likely be no mud bogs on the entire route. By WV standards this is truly exceptional.

The trail runs near the top of the ridge on the gentler eastern slope. At many, many points a short excursion up to the ridge line will put you on top of interesting rock formations and looking pretty much straight down at the valley below. In the mountains beyond are Dolly Sods Wilderness Area to the north and Spruce Knob (highest peak in WV) to the south.

In terms of technically challenging features, the start is mild. As one progresses, there may be some difficulty with a few short steep uphill sections. There are also a few places where the trail is narrow on the side hill and involves a short rock step or careful maneuvering. To a large extent, rock gardens are absent until the Northern end of the trail is reached. Here there is a mixed level of challenge. Only one short section is gnarly. The rest are fairly typical for trails in the area.

The trail is well marked and typically it is in good shape. The most important navigational aspect occurs about halfway along the route. The trail joins a dirt road for more than a mile of descent. At the top, immediately after joining the road, there is a junction. Stay to the right. The blazes will be evident on the roadside as you descend. The trail is rejoined on the left side of the road. This point is well marked and occurs as the road turns sharply to the right making it hard to miss.

The northern part of the North Fork Mountain Trail is a three star dessert after a hearty meal. Up top, after staying to the left at the Redman and Landis trail junctions, there is a twisty section on rocks and pine needles that pops out onto rocky overlooks. Then there is the challenge of the rock gardens. There are also some short stretches of slab running right at the point where you come to the final overlook.

Looking down at Smoke Hole before the final descent..

GEOLOGY: North Fork Mountain is a quartzite-capped mountain ridge in the Ridge and Valley physiographic province of the Allegheny Mountains of eastern West Virginia. Kile Knob, at 4,588 feet is the mountain's highest point, but Panther Knob and Pike Knob are nearly as high. North Fork Mountain is the driest high mountain in the Appalachians, and has vegetation and flora different from nearby, wetter high mountain areas immediately to the west such as Spruce Knob and Dolly Sods, with pines abundant on the mountain's ridgecrest, in contrast with the spruces so characteristic of these comparably high summits across the North Fork Valley. Structurally, North Fork Mountain is an anticline mountain, a major part of the Wills Mountain Anticline system. The mountain's strata (rock layers) are nearly flat, but the Tuscarora quartzite that forms the mountain's caprock is bent downwards (and now mostly eroded away) east and west of the ridge, becoming nearly vertical along the mountain's slopes, where the same quartzite stratum forms such dramatic outcrops as Seneca Rocks. Much of the mountain is within the Monongahela National Forest, and a large portion of the mountain has been proposed for federal wilderness designation or inclusion within a new unit of the National Park System. The Nature Conservancy's Panther Knob and Pike Knob preserves are also located on North Fork Mountain. The scenic North Fork Mountain Trail follows much of the ridge crest, and only one road (U.S. Route 33) crosses the steep, rugged ridge.

CAMPING: River and woods campsites at Yokum's Vacationland ($8) are much preferable to those at Seneca Shadows ($11); Yokum's has more privacy and hot showers; located at the intersection of Higways 33 and 28 (24570 Mountaineer Dr., Seneca Rocks, WV, Resv: 1-800-772-8342, 304-567-2351).