As our road trip through Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia was nearing an end, we had a pretty epic day of driving in WV during our last full day on the road. We had spent the night before in Summersville, WV and on our last day we headed over to Green Bank, WV (which I’ll tell you a bit more about in a future post!) To get to Green Bank, we decided to travel along WV’s Highland Scenic Highway, and friends, we’re so glad we did!
The Highland Scenic Highway is a 43-mile scenic drive through WV’s Monongahela National Forest, and it will take you just over an hour to drive with no stops. But take it from me, you’re gonna wanna make some stops!
The drive starts on State Route 39/55 in Richwood, WV. You’ll head east to State Route 150, which you’ll travel north and then east until you hit U.S. 219. If you’re coming from Summersville like we were, it will take about half an hour to reach Richwood and the start of the scenic highway.
Falls of Hills Creek
Once we got to Richwood, it was another half an hour to get to our first stop on the trip: The Falls of Hills Creek. There are some very nicely maintained paved and boarded paths and some serious stairways here that allow you to hike down to three different waterfalls.
The journey from the parking lot to the lower falls is just under a mile, but the Hills Creek drops 220 feet from the first fall to the third, just to give you a sense of the type of elevation change you can expect in that short walk!
Folks, there are A LOT of steps here, and I would NOT recommend continuing past the first set of falls if you’re not in relatively decent shape. As New Yorkers, we walk a tremendous amount, but it didn’t stop us from huffing and puffing on our journey!
The first waterfall drops water 20 feet, and this is the easiest to get to. The wonderful wheelchair-accessible path is nicely paved and meanders through the beautiful forest. As a native West Virginian, I couldn’t help but notice all the gorgeous rhododendrons (our state flower!) scattered along the path and through the trees as we walked along. (I also couldn’t help but notice that it was a prettttty steamy day, but the trees provided excellent cover from the sun to keep us cool(ish).)
When you reach the first fall, you can really only see it from above, but it’s still rather pretty there. Since I had read that the rest of the journey to the two lower falls was a bit more strenuous than getting to the initial fall, I suggested at this point that we turn around and head back to the car, but sommmmmebody (my husband) thought it would be fun to check out the other two falls instead.
I knew we were in trouble when we were approaching the second falls and encountered a fairly sturdy metal staircase that dropped us down not one, not two, but four flights of stairs (this is after the OTHER set of stairs we had already traversed). Once we made it all the way down, we were able to enjoy the second fall, which stands at 45 feet and was, in my opinion, the prettiest of the three falls.
But…since we had made it that far, we decided to continue on to the third and final fall, which stands at 63 feet tall. There are more stairs here (of course) and a sloping walkway, but they were all made of wood and everything was a bit slippery. Watch your step as you head down to the final falls because I suspect that it would be a very long and uncomfortable journey back to the parking lot if you had a tumble or twisted an ankle!
There wasn’t a lot of water coming over this last fall, so it seemed a little anti-climactic once we got there, but the entire walk there is just stunning. And, if we’re being honest, we both felt quite a sense of accomplishment once we dragged ourselves back to the car (and felt good about working off some of the waffles we had for breakfast!)
According to my FitBit, we covered about 34 flights of stairs, so just keep that in mind if you decide to head to the Falls of Hills Creek. Going down isn’t the hard part, but you’re gonna feel it on your way back up!
Cranberry Glades Boardwalk
We were good and tired after all those steps, but it was time to move on to do some more walking. Fortunately, though, the walkway at our next stop was all flat! And this stop was at the Cranberry Glades Boardwalk, which is only about a 10-minute drive from the Falls of Hills Creek. There is a nature center nearby as well, but we had a whole lot more on our agenda for the day so we just stuck with the boardwalk ourselves.
The Cranberry Glades is an incredibly interesting and unique place in WV, covering about 750 acres of land. The boardwalk is a half-mile loop and takes you through the “sphagnum bogs”, which are mostly composed of peat.
These types of bogs typically only exist in the northern part of the U.S., but unusual climate patterns in the past allowed glaciers and various plants and animals to end up in WV, making the Cranberry Glades the southern-most point in the U.S. where some otherwise “northern” plants and species have been able to thrive.
The Cranberry Glades Boardwalk was designed to allow visitors to get up close and personal with this unique area without actually disturbing it. The bogs are thousands of years in the making, so if you do plan to visit, be sure to stick to the path.
Parts of the bog are swampy and there’s a good chance that if you go in you might not have an easy time getting back out. Plus, there are some carnivorous plants in these bogs, and though they tend to prefer insects, who knows whether they’d enjoy human fingers as well! 😉
When we arrived, there wasn’t another soul around. The parking lot was empty, and we had the whole place to ourselves. We set out for the boardwalk and immediately had a chuckle when we saw a sign that said the boardwalk wasn’t currently wheelchair-accessible due to “beaver activity”.
It wasn’t immediately clear to us what that meant, but as we started walking the path, we did notice a few spots where boards had shifted and created an uneven surface. It’s otherwise a nice, flat, easy walk, but it would definitely be challenging in a wheelchair. It might be good to call the park in advance to see what the status of the boardwalk is before you visit to ensure it will be accessible.
For the most part, the boardwalk is pretty clear and open, but there are several sections where the trees and bushes seem determined to take over the path. There were also lots of bugs, so spritzing yourself with a bit of bug spray before you set out might not be the worst idea!
As we meandered, the scenery kept changing. In some places, there were wide open spaces all along one side of the path and in others, we were ducking under tree branches. The beginning area of the loop looked to be all covered in grass, and then on the other side of the loop, there was basically a big pond! And there is a creek that passes through that you cross about four or five times during the half-mile walk along the boardwalk.
What was clear, though, is that the Cranberry Glades is a breathtakingly beautiful place to visit in West Virginia. Can you believe how different all the scenery is in all these photos??? It’s only a half-mile loop, but you can see just how beautiful every section of it is. If you’re passing through this part of West Virginia, you need to add a stop here to your trip!
You can do the whole loop in 15 minutes if you want, but I’d plan for at least 30-45 minutes so you have time to stop and take in the scenery. There are informational placards along the way, too, which help to explain what you’re looking at and how this beautiful place came to exist.
Highland Scenic Highway Overlooks
After stopping at the Cranberry Glades, we headed back out onto 39/55 and soon after took a left onto SR-150 and started the beautiful climb uphill. It wasn’t long before we reached the Williams River Overlook, the first of four overlooks you can stop at on the Highland Scenic Highway.
Each of the overlooks offers stunning views of mountains and valleys, and though it was all incredibly gorgeous, I couldn’t help but think that we had totally screwed up by not coming here in the fall when the hillsides would be ablaze in dazzling autumn colors.
We travelled on through, stopping at each of the three following overlooks, eventually working our way back down the mountain. The road was in excellent condition, but it would be absolutely treacherous in the wintertime! In fact, the Highland Scenic Highway is often closed in the winter for safety reasons, so do check in advance before you set out to travel this highway.
Eventually, you’ll come down off of 150 and connect up with U.S.-219. Depending on where you plan to travel next, head either north or south and you’ll continue to be treated to beautiful scenery either way you travel.
We headed north with the idea of stopping in at Snowshoe Mountain Resort, but we were running out of time before our next activity of the day was scheduled to start. If your schedule permits it, though, and you’ve never been to the area, it’s worth visiting the resort if you can!
So, if you live in West Virginia or happen to be passing through this part of the state, be sure to take some time to travel the magnificent Highland Scenic Highway. Even if you have to make a detour to get here, I promise it will be well worth your time!
Plan Your Own Visit
Where to Go
- Highland Scenic Highway: Beginning in Richwood, WV, travel along SR-39/55, turn left on SR-150 and drive until you reach US-219, just north of Marlinton, WV.
When to Go
- Spring and summer are great times to visit because flowers will be blooming, and all the greenery will be beautiful and lush. However, this would also be a phenomenal drive to take during peak fall foliage.
- Be advised that the highway often closes during the winter due to hazardous driving conditions.
Tips for Visiting
- I recommend doing this drive from Richwood heading east, as all four of the scenic overlooks are on the right-hand side of the road, making it very easy to pull off and back on to the highway.
- If you stop at the Falls of Hills Creek, do not attempt to climb down to the second and third level of falls unless you are in pretty decent shape. There are A LOT of stairs and the climb back up is fairly strenuous.
- At the Cranberry Glades Boardwalk, be sure to stay on the boardwalk so as not to disturb the natural environment. The ground is also marshy and unstable in some places and you may find yourself sinking into it if you don’t stay on the path!
- I would recommend applying some bug spray before the hiking at Hills Creek and most especially at the Cranberry Glades. Due to the marshy nature of the glades, there are a lot of bugs buzzing around and they were pretty relentless.
- There are restroom facilities at both the falls and boardwalk, as well as at a couple of the overlooks, but they are only just a step above a port-o-potty. Bring along some toilet paper and hand sanitizer in case the facilities are not in tip-top shape.