Monday, October 19, 2015

West Virginia’s Long Trail – Thru Hiking the Allegheny Trail (ALT)

For my big hike this fall, I tackled the 300 plus mile long Allegheny Trail that spans the
Monongahela National Forest of West Virginia, starting at the PA border and stretching southwest until it reaches its southernmost terminus with the Appalachian Trail not far from Pearisburg, VA. It winds its way through some interesting and beautiful scenery – such as Blackwater Falls State Park and giant hemlocks, old coal towns, canyons, and ridgelines. It has a shelter system also of eight shelters. There are resupply points and friendly townsfolk (who may not understand WHAT you are doing but who want to help anyway!!)

It is important to note though this trail is NOT the Appalachian Trail with a well-trodden trail and white blazes heralding from tree trunks every 100 yards. Few people traverse this trail. There are places where you can hardly even find a trail. Some of the tread work on the hillsides is very narrow. In some areas the blazing too is very faint. It is a much more primitive trail in many aspects and thus one needs to be prepared for a primitive experience. There are blowdowns to amble over or under. 
Blowdowns are par for the course on a primitive trail
Heavy vegetation. Thorns. It is like the AT once was some 40 years ago with road walks, and friendly townspeople letting you stay places and trying to navigate a trail using maps and common sense. It takes determination, patience, and the ability to reason things out.

The website for the Allegheny Trail (see link below) provides the would-be hiker with a guidebook (yes it's over 12 yrs. old) and maps (fairly accurate). There are also multiple pages you must download and print up the updates (of which there are many). Hopefully soon they will actually update the guidebook as a while, but until then, you must download all the available info offered so you know where you are going (there are several reroutes in place that the guidebook and maps do not cover.

As I mentioned on this trail you need to use your common sense. Section One is mostly road walking and yes the blazes can sometimes be few,

View from Middle Mtn
but follow the map and guidebook to help you. Section Three probably has the worst blazing on the ridgelines, and there you must look for faint traces of blazes and faint trail traces, along with using a map. Real pioneer stuff. I did not happen to bring a compass, but it’s probably not a bad idea to carry one. With the water sources, most streams were going (even though it had been pretty dry out.) I had a hard time finding most of the piped springs listed in the guidebook. Not to say they aren’t there, but I didn’t really see them but for two. So I would count them as unreliable in case you miss them like I did.

Most of the shelters are in fairly good shape. Over half of them don’t have reliable water sources (the two at Rowelsburg, Canaan Mtn, Waddel, Marlin Mtn) but you can walk water in from other sources (except for Marlin, it would be a LONG walk as that is a dry section).  If you are interested in a resupply sheet for the ALT, email me at
Graham Shelter. 
blissfulhiking(at)gmail(dot)com and I will be glad to send it on to you. The towns were pretty good, the people quite friendly.

All in all, the ALT was an interesting look into the world of thru hiking long ago where a trail is actually a journey in the wilderness, and for that I have much admiration for the pioneers of long distance hiking.

West Virginia Trails Association (for maps, guidebook, and other info)

Beaver Creek

Several one room schoolhouses along the road walk

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice overview, thank you. I'm originally from Green Bank, WV. I grew up less than 3 miles from where the trail passes just north of the NRAO and had no idea it was even there. In the spring (2017) I ran the section from Green Bank to Cass. 75% in great shape with blazes still visible. The section that descends down into Cass is VERY hard to navigate. Blowdowns abound, blazes are hard to come by, but following the small creek down toward the Greenbrier will keep you on the right track. I'm planning to run the section from Durbin to Green Bank in a few weeks and, long term, plan to run the whole trail in 10-20 mile segments. I love the remoteness and solitude of this trail. Thanks for sharing your experiences on the trail - Mike.