Laurel Fork Wilderness
Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia
Administered by the United States Forest Service, Greenbriar Ranger District, Bartow, WV 24920 Tel. 304-456-3335. This area is located in Randolph and Tucker Counties, WV.
Write-up assembled by Andy Hiltz
About the WildernessCongress designated Laurel Fork North and South Wilderness Areas in 1983 to preserve portions of a relatively unmodified Appalachian Forest and allow for its return to a natural state. The Laurel Fork North and South Wilderness Areas combined contain approximately 12,200 acres along the headwaters of Laurel Fork. The Laurel Fork of the Cheat River is characterized by its narrow valley floor with regularly dissected slopes and long narrow ridges. Numerous side streams occur along its length.
Elevations vary from 2,900 feet to over 3,700 feet. The continuous forest cover consisting mainly of Beech, Maple, Black Cherry, Birch, and Yellow Poplar predominates. This cover is occasionally broken by grassy areas along the Laurel Fork.
Laurel Fork provides native brook trout and brown trout fishing. Short fly rods and spinning gear are recommended.
Before the Forest Service purchased the Laurel Fork drainage in the 1920s, it was owned by the Laurel River Lumber Company who had removed the virgin timber by 1921. The original forest was predominately hardwood with some spruce and hemlock mixed in. Horses brought the timber down to the river until a railroad was constructed. Several fires, presumably caused by locomotives, swept over the area. Those early fires had a big effect on changing the forest cover to its present type.
A Civilian Conservation Corps camp was located at the site of the Laurel Fork campground during the 1930's. In addition to building the Middle Mountain Road and several others in the area, the CCC was instrumental in controlling forest fires with the Laurel Fork area.
Weather and SnowThe local climate varies considerably throughout the year. Summer temperatures are usually in the 70's, but can drop to 40 degrees or less at night. Normal mid- winter daytime temperatures are around 30 degrees, but this can drop to as low as - 20. Deep snows can make travel difficult, but only if you're not on snowshoes or cross-country skis.
About the area......Fern-filled lower reaches of the Camp 5 Trail near the Laurel Fork.
This area is another great place to visit. The one word that comes to mind when I think of the Laurel Fork Wilderness is FERNS - acres and acres of them, especially in the headwaters to the south. Many of the stream valleys feeding into the main branch of the river are interspersed with sun-dappled open parks ringed by evergreens and yellow birch. None of the trails are really steep, and the general impression is idyllic.
One drawback to the area is that the main trail is basically a "one-way" affair. Some circuits are possible, but only if one is willing to incorporate some rather uninteresting gravel road walking.
The Wilderness is bisected into a north and south half by the Laurel Fork Campground. The campground is heavily used by locals and was improved (expanded) in the late '80's/early '90's. You can generally find everything from backpacking tents to Winnebagos situated there during the summer months. Logically, you can also expected to find more people on the trail as you near the campground. Fortunately, away from the campground on the north and south, the area is wonderfully secluded.
The south half of the wilderness is the prettiest in my opinion. The Laurel Fork stream valley is relatively narrow here, and there are an abundance of ferns. The north half farther down the stream is much more open, and boggy in spots. There are no swimming holes that I've been able to locate on the river, I suspect due to the very gentle down-hill grade of the valley. Good campsites abound along the Laurel Fork stream.
All in all, a REAL nice place to visit on a backpacking trip. Once away from the campground area, there are few people along the trail.
Trails worth hiking?All the trails in the south half are worth exploring, which takes in Stone Camp Run, Beulah, Chaffey, Camp Five Run, and the Laurel River South trails. The Laurel River North trail is also very nice. The region at the intersection of the Camp Five and Laurel River South trails is particularly beautiful.
HuntingAllowed. Backpackers/hikers traveling during this season might consider wearing blaze orange or brightly colored clothes.
Mountain BikingStrictly prohibited in ALL USFS Wilderness Areas.
Cross-country SkiingAn excellent area for beginner skiers. The grades are very gentle and easy to traverse. The area is bordered by private property owners who sometimes illegally use snowmobiles on the trails.
CampfiresLegal, but not recommended. Please protect the Wilderness for future generations and use your backpacking stove and either an oil or candle lantern for light when you're visiting the area. Fires can be dangerous if not properly tended and extinguished, and they leave an ugly fire ring for the next visitor.
AccessFrom Petersburg, WV, take State Route 55/28 south to Seneca Rock. Then head west on State Route 55/33 to Harmon. Stay on 55 heading south out of Harmon and continue west. At Wymer (nothing more than a small store on the right side of the road), turn left onto FS 14 heading south. FS 423 eventually passed on the left will take you down to the Laurel Fork Campground, which divides the Wilderness into its north and south halves. Continuing on FS 14 will eventually bring you to the Middle Mountain Cabins, identified by the strange guard-house? at the entrance to this area. The Camp Five trail departs from this area, passing a small, rather sterile looking pond. Not much further, on your left, is FS 97, which after a short road- walk will give you access to the southern tip of the Laurel Fork Trail.
GuidebooksHiking Guide to the Monogahela National Forest (1988) which covers all the backpacking areas in West Virginia, can be ordered directly from the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club. Jump to the PATC Guidebook page, where you can securely order this guide online.
The MapHere's a TRAIL MAP (410K) of the Laurel Fork Wilderness.