Highland Scenic Highway
Cruise the crest of the Mountain State
Built for the sheer pleasure of mountain driving, the Highland Scenic Highway spans 43 miles of unbroken forest in West Virginia’s Allegheny Highlands, a quiet two-lane highway that transports you to the wild heart of the 919,000-acre Monongahela National Forest. Travellers will not encounter a single house, business, utility pole, hoarding or traffic light along the 23-mile section of Route 150, modelled on Virginia’s Skyline Drive.
The original and most lauded portion of the Highland Scenic Highway, Route 150 offers a feast of panoramic vistas as it travels along the ridgetop, a relatively straight shot compared with the winding country roads that John Denver made famous in his 1971 classic hit. Over 60 per cent of Route 150 is above 4,000 feet, and at these elevations the state’s mostly hardwood forests of maple and oak give way to a vast stand of red spruce, lending the scenery a distinct north woods look. There’s no ploughing in the winter, so when the snows arrive, so do snowmobilers ready to take over—the road is all theirs.
Most people begin the drive just outside the lumber town of Richwood on Route 39/55, which leads to the U.S. Forest Service’s educational Cranberry Mountain Nature Center. While not quite as dramatic, this initial stretch of road is nearly as pristine and has some of the area’s most interesting stops. Take the half-mile wooden walkway that penetrates (and protects) the 750-acre Cranberry Glades Botanical Area, a series of primordial bogs usually found much further north and in Canada.
Prime trout waters are easily accessible from several points along the way, including the North Fork of the Cherry River (which runs parallel to the route for 15 miles after leaving Richwood) and the Williams River (which the highway crosses about 10 miles from its eastern end). If you’ve come for the glorious display of autumn foliage in late September, head to nearby Marlinton and the popular West Virginia Road Kill Cook-off. The half-serious wild-game cooking contest stipulates that all entries be made from animals commonly seen along the road—possum, raccoon, squirrel, deer, rabbit—though never scraped off it.
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Trip idea text ©Patricia Schultz. For contact information about the places mentioned and many more USA trip ideas, see Patricia Schultz's blockbuster book.