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The Greenbriar River Trail West Virginia
Meandering hand-in-hand with the dancing waters of the Greenbriar River is the Greenbriar River Trail, one of West Virginia's most beautiful state parks. The trail consists of a 78-mile stretch of former railroad that has been converted into a walking, hiking, bicycling and equestrian trail. You can begin at any one of the major trail heads and walk or bike as far as you wish, or select some of the scenic points along the trail to explore, such as the historic Cass railroad or the magnificent 1899 stone railway tunnel that is a testament to fine engineering. The trail offers a peaceful walk in the shadows of the West Virginia countryside, where hardwood forests, evergreens and pastures grace the slopes of the mountains.
The Greenbriar River Trail's History
As American rebuilt after the Civil War, demand rose for timber. Loggers along the Greenbriar River Valley felled massive pines and loaded them onto wagons, but the rugged countryside made transportation difficult, especially during the winter months. The Chesapeake & Ohio railway system came up with a plan to build a railway line from the town of Cass, north of Marlinton, to White Sulfur Springs and Lewiston. The timber industry boomed, with tiny towns springing up around the depots along the line. From the turn of the 19th century to the late 1950s, the railway line along the Greenbriar River carried timber and passengers to connecting points and destinations to the Midwest and West. It was a lifeline for the people living in this part of the country, and a less expensive and less arduous method of moving tons of timber to points further west expanding during this boom time. However, all good things end, and by 1958, the line stopped carrying passengers. After another 20 years, the line was discontinued, and the tracks remained idle, the valleys silent as the great Iron Horses of yesteryear slumbered on.
The C & O railway donated the land and the line to the state. West Virginia began transforming the former line into the trail known today as one of America's 10 best. The railways lines and cross pieces were removed, the surface groomed and smoothed. Crusher run gravel, fine for walking, horseback riding and bicycling, replaced the rougher stones of the railway line. A trail was born.
Today, the trail is owned and operated by West Virginia's State Parks system.
Start at the Cass Scenic Railroad
Sights Along the Greenbriar River Trail
There are several points of interest along the Greenbriar River trail:
- Cass Scenic Railroad: Cass Scenic Railroad State Park includes rides on restored steam locomotives, restored wooden railway worker houses and more. The locomotives run on a 1901 branch line that moved the timber from the C & O railway line to a mill in Cass, where the logs were cut into board lumber. The locomotives you will see are older Shay model steam locomotives, which were used in many timber communities such as the Greenbriar River Valley in West Virginia and in British Columbia, Canada.
- Sharps Tunnel and Bridge: Located near mile marker 65, Sharps Tunnel was cut through the mountainside in 1899 and opens immediately onto a long wooden bridge spanning the river. (The picture at left is of my dog Shadow and me standing at the entrance to the tunnel, just after crossing the bridge.) The interior of the tunnel is braced with beautiful wooden beams, forming an arching cathedral overhear. It is over 500 feet long and opens into a rough-hewn section where you can still see (and smell) the old coal-driven locomotive soot stains on the roof. There are two tunnels along the trail, Sharps and Droop Mountain Tunnel at mile marker 30.9.
- Wildlife: Bring binoculars to see the abundant wildlife in the skies and hillsides surrounding the trail. Ancient apple trees, remnants of a farm long past, along miles 66-64 attract birds, deer and other creatures.
Greenbriar River Trail Facts
Walking and hiking
Pack out your trash.
Well water at campsite areas
Bring plenty of water to drink.
Toilets (outhouses) at camping areas
Be mindful of others.
Organized races (seasonal)
Abundant free parking at trail entrances
Pets are allowed.
Nearby towns offer dining
Tubing, rafting (via outfitters)
Cass Scenic Railroad
Be respectful of private land near trails
Other state parks
Do not feed wildlife!
Two 10-Mile Hikes to Try
Two fun hikes or bike rides to try start at the same place: Clover Lick. Clover Lick was a small town during the railroad's heyday. Today, only a few residents live near the trail. The area consists of sheep and cattle farms. The Clover Lick depot is one of many entrances to the trail.
Directions to Clover Lick
To reach the Clover Lick depot, travel Route 219 to Route 1 (Back Mountain Road). Stay on Route 1 for a long time until you reach the Clover Lick Depot. Parking is free.
Hikes from Clover Lick
- Clover Lick to Cass: 9.6 miles ONE WAY. Proceed from Clover Lick trailhead northeast to Cass, mile marker 80.7. Along the way, there are several bridges, including Cloverlick, Elk Creek, Stony Bottom, and Woods Run. The site of an old telegraph office and agency station is at mile marker 76.9
- Clover Lick to Clawson: 9 miles ONE WAY. Proceed from Clover Lick southward. At mile marker 65.28 is the famous Sharps tunnel and bridge. The tunnel was constructed in 1899 and measures almost 500 feet; the bridge is another 299 feet!
There are toilets (outhouses) along the route from Clover Lick to Clawson about every two miles. Clover Lick to Cass has few or no amenities.
But What About Bathrooms?
No. Sorry, but if you want to hike the trail, be prepared to get back to nature...and I mean 'get back to nature.' Pack toilet paper. Learn trail etiquette; where to pee and poop in the woods. While there are primitive outhouses along some sections of the trail, other sections lack them, and if you are walking that can mean a long way to the nearest bathroom. The toilets are well-maintained and cleaned by the park service. (Actually, as we hiked the trail this fall, we saw the park service checking on them, so I can personally say yes, they do check and restock them!)
A few words about those evil outhouses along state parks and other rustic places: CLOSE THE LID. Close the door. A closed door keeps animals and insects out, and closing the lid helps keep odors in. The construction of the modern outhouse, with its telltale vent stack, ensures that when the lid is closed, smells go up and out. So be kind. Close the lid. Close the door. The next person along the trail will thank you.
What to Wear
The Greenbriar River Trail is at an elevation of about 2,000 feet, and the temperature is a bit cooler than what the weather reports state for the local city of Marlinton. Wear lightweight, layered clothing you can adjust as you need.
Good footwear is vitally important. Hiking boots are good quality sneakers are necessary for walking. The footing is excellent and smooth, with only a 1% grade along the trail, so think distance rather than hillsides to climb on this trail.
Carry water with you. Although there are some primitive well-water pumps near the campsites, you cannot and should not drink river, pond or stream water. It contains bacteria that can make you very sick! Purchase a portable backpacking-type water bottle.
There are no food services or snack bars along the trail itself. Most of the towns along the Greenbriar River Trail are small, without services. The residents drive to nearby towns, so if you're on foot, you are better off carrying your lunch and snacks. Pack out your trash.
Local outfitters offer a variety of equipment and trips to enhance your time on the Greenbriar River. Float trips can be arranged through outfitters, another great way to see the trail. Look for them online or in West Virginia tourist guides.
Horseback riding is available only if you bring your own horse. Campsites and toilets offer hitching rails and rings as well as water sources for your horses.
The Greenbriar River Trail holds special magic for me. In 2001, I wanted to challenge myself to get fit. I started training for a distance hike. Could I hike 20 miles in a day? My husband found the Greenbriar River Trail, and so we walked 10 miles from Clover Lick to Cass and back again in one day. I did it!
Now 12 years later, we returned to the trail, this time in the fall. Amber, scarlet and ochre leaves from autumn hued trees reflected in the peaceful waters along the Clover Lick to Sharps Tunnel section of the trail. A small waterfall entertained us as we picnicked at a conveniently located table along the route. We explored this section with avid interest, noting the rocks, plants and animals along the trail. We met interesting people from the local area and North Carolina out on a day's holiday, bicycling the path.
And all of it...for free. No cost. A day of fun, fitness and natural beauty in the countryside of West Virginia.
For more information on the Greenbriar River Trail and local attractions, see the links, below.
- Rails-to-Trails Conservancy:: Trail of the Month: West Virginia's Greenbrier River Trail
June 2012 Trail of the Month: West Virginia's Greenbrier River Trail
- Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park
- Pocahontas County | Watoga State Park
- Greenbrier River Trail: 77 miles of lush history - Roanoke.com
Greenbrier River Trail: 77 miles of lush history
© 2013 Jeanne Grunert