Stories

Gravel Biking in the Mon

By ,

March 12, 2024

Summary

More people than ever are interested in exploring the outdoors and cycling, so it's no surprise that the newest style of bikes on the scene is exploding in popularity! This post will explore what gravel bikes are, what makes gravel biking in the Mon so great, where you can pick up a bike, and some of our favorite places to ride!

More people than ever are interested in exploring the outdoors and cycling, so it’s no surprise that the newest style of bikes on the scene is exploding in popularity! This post will explore what gravel bikes are, what makes gravel biking in the Mon so great, where you can pick up a bike, and some of our favorite places to ride!

Gravel Bike along Autumn Roadside

Gravel Biking in the Mon is one of the best ways to explore Almost Heaven’s famed Country Roads. Photo Credit: Joey’s Bike Shop

What is Gravel Biking?

Gravel biking is the latest trend peddling across the cycling world, offering riders the opportunity to combine their love of speed with all the scenic beauty the rugged outdoors has to offer. But how exactly does gravel riding differ from mountain, road, or hybrid bikes?

While the frame of a gravel bike borrows a good deal from the aerodynamic road bike design, including the distinctive curved drop handlebars, gravel bikes sport a hardier construction, a larger headtube, and an extended wheelbase, allowing riders to sit upright comfortably as they tackle the humps and bumps along the trail. However, any road cyclist can tell you that even a loose pebble can signal a roadside replacement for thin, high-pressure tires, so gravel bikes come with wider mountain bike-style tires with lower pressure that provide improved traction and puncture resistance. Although gravel bikes often forgo the suspension systems found in downhill mountain bikes, their snappy, outdoor-focused frame, disc brakes, and lower gearing help them edge out more commute-oriented hybrid styles.

You don’t need a gravel bike to enjoy the Mon, but our million acres are the perfect place to try something new!

Rails, Roads, and Recreation: How History Helped Make the Mon the Future of Gravel Biking

Much like the gravel bike, the Mon features a fine-tuned combination of history and modern outdoor recreation amenities, making it perfect for a short-day ride or a week-long bikepacking expedition. But where did all these routes come from? During the late 19th to the early 20th centuries, the areas that are now included in the Monongahela National Forest, Canaan Valley Wildlife Refuge, and West Virginia State Parks were the site of extensive logging operations that followed the arrival of rail to the region. These rail networks and logging roads weaved throughout the region, from its highest peaks to the lowest valleys and everywhere in between. While these extractive industries helped establish the historic atmosphere and lumber traditions of our Mon Forest Towns, they also devastated much of the landscape, leading to fires and floods, the likes of which had never been seen before. Although the Monongahela remains a working forest today, the United States Forest Service has shifted its priority to restoring the environment and helping new sustainable recreation assets rise from the ashes of exploitation.

Log Loader Loading Flat Cars

Log Loader Loading Flat Cars at Cheat Mountain, 1946

The railroad and logging legacy that first connected the Mon Forest Towns now links the towns in new ways. The tracks that once carried coal-fired steam engines and toppled trees have been transformed into an expansive network of rail trails and forest roads that weave through nearly a million acres of national forest. Railroad trestles and track ballast now carry visitors from around the world through the heart of the wild and wonderful heart of the Monongahela. Along your routes, you’ll pass dozens of interpretive signs that dive deep into the storied past of this beautiful landscape and travel through forgotten places that once stood at the center of a changing world.

But the best parts of gravel biking go beyond great trails and gorgeous scenery. Whether it’s a playful challenge or a heart-pounding race, sharing the ride with friends makes your adventure go from ordinary to extraordinary. Luckily, the Mon Forest Towns are home to tons of local cycling groups and events throughout the year. From the Blackwater Bicycling Club in Davis to IMBA’s Poca Trails Chapter in Marlinton and the West Virginia Mountain Bike Association’s (WVMTBA) Gravel Series, including the Gravel Ride Up Spruce Knob (GRUSK) event in Seneca Rocks and Kate Mountain Challenge in White Sulphur Springs, there’s a community eager to meet a fresh pair of wheels.

And, after you’ve wrapped up your ride, there’s nothing like a locally brewed cold beer and a bite of homestyle cooking to refuel! Grab a burrito nearly the size of your helmet at Hellbenders in Davis, take your pallet to Venezuela and back at Elkins’ El Gran Sabor, chow down on a fully loaded burger at 50 East in White Sulphur Springs, or check out our Mon Forest Towns Breweries Tour to cover more hops than a mountain biker!

Gravel Biking in the Mon: Safety Tips and Repairs

Gravel biking in the Mon presents the chance to disconnect from the everyday routine and enjoy all the benefits provided by time in the wilderness; however, it’s important to remember to stay safe when enjoying the outdoors. While nature may be abundant, cell service is not, so be sure to let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return. While it may add some extra weight, it’s likewise important to pack some extra food, water, and first aid supplies when you are out on a remote ride. Please practice Leave No Trace and Tread Lightly practices when visiting to help preserve and protect the wild and wonderful Mon!

If you need a tune-up, repairs, rentals, or a flashy new ride, our local bike shops are the best places to start!

 

 

Gravel Biking Routes in the Mon

1) Ryder Gap to Paddy Knob

This 20-mile high-elevation out-and-back trek outside Marlinton, WV straddles the West Virginia/Virginia border and offers beautiful views of the Monongahela and George Washington National Forests, knocking out two national forests in one ride!

Trail Map Download (Avenza)

 

2) West Fork Rail Trail Loop

This 56-mile loop, one of the remotest rail trail rides in the region, is approachable from Elkins to the north and Durbin to the south and leans hard into the Monongahela’s rail history, passing over nearly a dozen railroad trestles in the low valley of the West Fork River. You’ll find birds and fishing spots aplenty as you pass through the surrounding wetlands along the West Fork. While the West Fork portion is relatively level, the path along Forest Road 44 rises up and down Burner and Middle Mountains, offering short but challenging climbs and exciting downhill sprints.

Trail Map Download (Ride With GPS)

 

3) Elkins-Parsons Loop

Following the Allegheny Highlands Rail Trail before venturing into the Otter Creek Wilderness, this 47-mile gravel route is easier than the length may suggest. With only one challenging climb, adventurous riders can plan on completing the Elkins-Parsons loop in a day and finish up with a bite to eat or drink wherever they start!

Trail Map Download (Ride With GPS)

 

4) Remote Route Loop

At over 191 miles and climbing nearly 16,000ft, this 3-5 day gravel bikepacking route takes you to places as remote as its name suggests! However, stops in five of our Mon Forest Towns offer the chance to grab a bite to eat and recharge without interrupting the quiet mountain solitude of your adventure.

Trail Map Download (Ride With GPS)

 

5) Greenbrier River Trail

This 78-mile historic rail trail is one of West Virginia’s best-kept secrets! The trail not only passes through our Mon Forest Towns of White Sulphur Springs and Marlinton but also through over 500 feet of earth at Sharps Tunnel! Campsites are located throughout the trail, and interesting interactive signage explores the history and ecology of the landscape around you!

Trail Map Download (WV State Parks)

Trail Map Download (Ride With GPS)

 

6) Heart of the Highlands Loop

If the Remote Loop is a little too remote for you, the Heart of the West Virginia Highlands Trail offers a comparable 194 miles and nearly 16,000ft of elevation without putting you in the middle of the Mon’s wilderness. Passing through four of our Mon Forest Towns, this intense route travels across some of our most iconic landmarks, from Blackwater Falls to Seneca Rocks and Spruce Knob!

Trail Map Download (Ride With GPS)

 

7) Cranberry Loop

In the center of our Mon Forest Towns of Marlinton, Richwood, and Cowen lies the Cranberry Glades, a highland bog ecosystem unlike anywhere else in the United States. This 62-mile trek puts you right on the edge of the Cranberry Wilderness and features numerous developed and primitive campsites along the way.

Trail Map Download (Ride With GPS)

 

8) Gaudineer / Mower Basin Loop

This 35-mile loop will take you through one of West Virginia’s last remaining Old Growth forests, an abandoned fire tower, and restored mine land that has now become one of the Mon’s top mountain biking destinations!

Trail Map Download (Ride With GPS)

 

9) Canaan Loop

What’s better than a 28-mile loop that passes along some of the most gorgeous waterfalls, unique rock formations, and quiet wilderness areas Almost Heaven has to offer? Finishing up right across from the local brewery Stumptown Ales!

Trail Map Download (Ride With GPS)

 

10) Green Bank 250 Loop

Is a 100-mile trek too easy for you? How about 250 miles of breathtaking scenery that blends all manner of public land- from historic state parks to scenic state forests, with the world’s largest steerable radio telescope to boot! Stretching from just shy of Elkins to White Sulphur Springs, this route is not for the faint of heart, but anyone who tackles this route can say with confidence they’ve found their Mon!

Trail Map Download (Ride With GPS)

 

More information on Gravel Rides and other biking opportunities in the Mon Forest Towns region can be found below!