Glide, stride, and escape the crowds and infrastructure downhill ski resorts, and appreciate the winter landscape while cross-country skiing or snowshoeing in the heart of West Virginia ski country. Think solitude, silence, stillness, and embrace the splendor of a snow-covered forest. Similar to hiking, cross country skiing and snowshoeing are just as appealing because these activities are great ways to take in a variety of trails and get you outside in the winter. We promise it’s just as fun for beginners as it is for seasoned pros. Winter brings copious amounts of snow to Randolph County each year and although there are not designated, groomed cross-country ski trails in the county, there is a place for you if you seek natural beauty and the peace of winter quiet, the challenge of self-sufficient winter travel, an outing with friends or the natural high that comes with the exercise.
The Allegheny Highlands Trail follows the original route of a historic railway for about 26 miles. The first 3 miles are paved so an adequate amount of snow is required if you begin your trip from downtown Elkins. There are various access points to enter the trail. We suggest starting at Gilman, Kerens, or Montrose trailheads, located mid-trail each including parking facilities, where the trail turns to single-track gravel and grass which is ideal for cross-country skiing when the snow covers it. The landscape varies between flat stretches and hilly, wooded areas, which give way to rural farmland blanketed with scenic winter vistas.
Peace and quiet are the two terms that come to mind when thinking about Stuart Recreation Area in the winter. Stuart’s is nestled in the mountains along the banks of the Shavers Fork river and is conveniently located about 10 minutes from downtown Elkins. The area is closed to vehicles during the winter making it the perfect place to make first tracks during your cross-country skiing experience. Foot-travel, cross country skiing, and snowshoeing are welcome during the closed season. The recreation area has a 2 mile hiking trail that can easily be turned into a cross-country trek where you might catch a glimpse of birds and wildlife. You can also access a large, flat meadow by cross-country skiing the rhododendron-lined snow covered road. Stuart Recreation Area is slightly higher in elevation than Elkins so it receives a few more inches of snow per storm.
Cheat Mountain is one of the coldest, snowiest parts of the Appalachian Mountains and it supports the most extensive spruce forests south of the Adirondacks called Mower Tract. Lush, red spruce trees stand like sentinels on the frozen landscape of overlooking the Shavers Fork valley. Skiing through the dense pockets of hardwoods and red spruce makes it feel as though you are in a totally different state. There are four looped hiking and mountain biking trails totaling about eight miles that are perfect during the winter for cross-country skiing or snow-shoeing. The road to get to Mower Tract is unplowed in winter so if you can’t get to the trails, you can still get the full experience by skiing the road. Mower Tract is also located near the highest large stream in the East, the upper Shavers Fork of Cheat River. During the winter you are usually able to see ice flows and ice jams that break up in the spring scouring the river’s edge. This type of experience is typically encountered in eastern Canada and northern New England.
There is no greater winter pleasure than making tracks into the white beauty of the Monongahela National Forest on snowshoes or cross country skis. Miles and miles of ungroomed trails and unplowed forest service roads change character when coated with snow and become a stage for a special winter outing. Skiing in the high open fields, old logging lanes, or gliding along a silent road can be one of the most enjoyable forms of recreation in the Monongahela National Forest. Just be prepared and practice safe skiing by having the necessary maps, ski gear, water and food, and letting someone know your trip plans.
So now that we’ve given you suggestions on where to put your own skis on and explore Randolph County’s must-visit spots, we understand if you are just trying out the sport you might not have any gear. White Grass Ski Touring Center, located in Tucker County, about 40 minutes from Elkins, gives you the opportunity to rent gear, take a lesson from an expert, and ski or snowshoe on groomed trails in the scenic Canaan Valley.
After a day of a “cross-country” adventure return to your cozy hotel or vacation rental with an enlightened sense of well-being and with your muscles desiring to soak in a hot tub and welcoming the warmth of a fire.