West Virginia, Spruce Knob (4,862 feet)
Dates: May 25, 2014; May 25, 2019
Distance: a few hundred yards
Elevation: 4,861 feet
Vertical gain: 0 feet
Bathrooms: Outhouse at trailhead
In the weeks leading up to the Summit Chicks West Virginia expedition, Raina talked to about a half dozen people who were either from the state, attended college there, or recently moved to the state. What surprised us was that they all knew the name of WV’s highpoint! This is rare, as very few people we’ve talked to can correctly identify their home state’s highpoint. The obvious pride and knowledge the citizens of West Virginia had in Spruce Knob lent a sense of excitement to the trip. (Aside: never ask a highpointer “Does my state even have a high point?” Believe it or not, we get this question often.)
Spruce Knob is kind of in the middle of nowhere, but not so much in the middle of nowhere that you couldn’t make it a day trip from the DC area. So, the natural thing to do was plan a girls’-only road trip to the great state of West Virginia over Memorial Day weekend. The roads from DC to the Spruce Knob area are pleasant, and not too death defying in the summer. (Note: be careful if you’re traveling in the winter; the road to the summit is not plowed.) Along the way, we stopped at Seneca Rocks and enjoyed the scenic views, Visitors’ Center, and clean bathrooms.
The final road to Spruce Knob is narrow and windy. When we say narrow, we mean that when cars are passing in opposite directions, one car generally has to pull off the road a touch so both can squeak by. And, the road was windy enough that we reminisced about the Tennessee couple that Raina encountered on Good Friday at Kentucky’s HP, wondering if they had spent a previous Good Friday joy riding on this road. If not, this should be their chosen destination next year.
On the last push up the mountain, it felt like we must be going way into the backwoods. We forgot about the elevation, and felt like we’d be above the tree line at any second. We expected to be the only people around for miles. Instead, we arrived at the summit parking area to be greeted by a thousand hikers hanging out in bare feet, eating snickers. It was like a highpointing tailgate complete with a car from DC driving slowly through the parking lot blasting the theme song from Star Wars. It was so surreal that we wondered if our observations were correct, like maybe the air contained hallucinogens and we were both having the same bizarre trip. But, no, Star Wars, Snickers, and all – that was the start of our journey. There was even a bathroom! Well, a porta-john with walls that was clean at the beginning of our visit (more on this later). We were thrilled with the atmosphere, and talked about how all other states should make their highpoints this fun (looking at you, Kentucky).
The path to the summit (about .25 miles RT) is almost everything you could want. It is well laid out, wide, and smooth. At the top is a viewing tower and a USGS marker. The only thing that would have improved the experience is a register. And, fewer flies. Flies covered the path – walls of them, mainly because dogs seemed to poop whenever the mood struck and the owners didn’t express a sense of obligation to clean up this aftermath. A minor detail that did not detract from the beauty of the highpoint itself. In fact, despite that, this has been Jill’s favorite highpoint in recent memory and Raina’s favorite highpoint to date on the east coast.
As you’ll notice from the picture, we wore our matching Summit Chicks t-shirts. This generated a bit of a buzz on the trail, because, really, how often do you see two women hiking together who are wearing matching shirts? Not to mention pink ones that advertise a fun cause, like Summit Chicks.
At the recommendation of a fellow local hiker, we decided to try out the Huckleberry Trail. This trail starts near the summit, and offers a great opportunity to stretch your legs if you’re doing Spruce Knob as a day trip. The trail is rocky, but not slippery on a dry day, and winds pleasantly through moss-covered forests. Still, it’s important to bring hiking poles if you’re taking on this route. If you stop and take in the view, it feels as if you’re inside an inspirational quote from Pinterest.
We walked until we were ready for lunch and stopped at a misguided campsite/possible snake den to eat our PB&Js. It had a great view, which made up for the snakes that we shared our lunch area with.
We would have loved to see the entire Huckleberry Trail, but with a long drive ahead, we decided to be cautious in the timing. We did manage to log over 5 miles RT on that trail and had time for a bit more when we got back to the parking lot. Of course, this meant we needed another trip to the summit! This time, we didn’t even notice the flies we were stepping through.
At our second visit to the summit we took a quick look down the Whispering Spruce trail, and enjoyed those views. On our way back to the car, we met a man enjoying the highpoint in a wheelchair and encouraged him to take a look at the views around the bend. Upon hearing our recommendation that the view was worth it, he didn’t hesitate in proceeding toward it. He rallied his companions with an eager, “let’s go!” and sprung his chair into action. That made our entire trip. We hope he finds us online and sees that his positive approach to the summit and shared excitement for the view inspired and uplifted us.
Before heading out, Raina, of course, needed to use the bathroom. While we were hiking, someone had taken the time to wipe actual feces all over the inside of the bathroom. Not just on the entire toilet seat, but on the walls and floor as well. Raina suggested, then insisted that Jill look at it, but Jill declined. Who would want to pass up the opportunity to see that? Needless to say, we made a second stop at the lovely, but not worth two visits, Seneca Rocks Visitors’ Center.
The trip back from Spruce Knob was marred by traffic (bad enough that people were starting to get out of their cars) and crap audio books from the library. Luckily delicious old fashioned milkshakes from The Ice Cream Station saved the day. They offer a wide array of flavors, so check them out if you’re in the area! Look for them on Rt. 55 just outside of Front Royal (Strasburg, VA), in the same parking lot as Woodbine Farm Market.
We have now knocked off all of the highpoints within a day’s round trip drive of us, which is both satisfying and frustrating. Even though the rest won’t be as easy to achieve in terms of travel, we’re excited for the new adventures that await.
Second Visit: May 2019