CASS, W. Va. -- Running 78 miles through a picturesque and surprisingly wild valley, the Greenbrier River Trail is a gem. It stretches next to a pretty stream, through forests and past open fields in the Allegheny Mountains of east-central West Virginia.
It runs from Cass, a one-time timber boom town in Pocahontas County, south to Caldwell at Interstate 64 near Lewisburg in Greenbrier County.
It is one of the best long-distance bike-and-hike trails in the East. Backpacker magazine has called the Greenbrier River Trail one of the Top 10 hiking trails in the United States. It has also been designated a federal Millennium Legacy Trail, one of 50 in the United States.
Fat-tired bicyclists outnumber hikers on the Greenbrier trail, which is also used by equestrians and cross-country skiers. You can pedal a section on a day trip, or bike-camp and cover the entire rail trail in two to three days. You can also find cottages and bed and breakfasts close to the trail for overnight lodging.
The trail is generally flat with a grade of less than 1 percent and a hard-packed, crushed-gravel surface. That makes it appealing to beginning and intermediate cyclists. There are 35 bridges and two tunnels along the rail trail, including the much-photographed Sharp’s Tunnel and Bridge. The tunnel is 511 feet long; the nearby trestle is nearly 230 feet long and 30 feet above the river. Further south, the Droop Mountain Tunnel near Horrock is just over 400 feet long.
The Greenbrier River Trail is the longest rail trail in West Virginia. But what makes it special is its wild surroundings, especially at its northern end.
It’s a backcountry trail with few crossroads and you are pedaling through wild country in the 900,000-acre Monongahela National Forest. There are mountain vistas, heavy woods, rocky outcroppings and open fields. The trail runs next to Seneca State Forest, Watoga State Park and Calvin Price State Forest. It runs through one town, Marlinton, with nearly 1,200 residents.
Restrooms are found about every eight to 10 miles, but other amenities are limited. There are 16 primitive campsites along the trail, or you can camp in adjoining state parks and state forests.
The Greenbrier Section of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad was built in the late 1890s to serve the timber industry. Sawmills once operated at several sites along the trail, while Beard and Spring Creek were farming communities. There are restored depots at Clover Lick and Marlinton, and original C&O mileage markers still stand along the trail.
• Watoga State Park makes a good halfway stop on the trail. You can camp and swim in the Greenbrier or in the campground pool. Information: 304-799-7416 or 800-CALL-WVA; www.greenbrierrailtrailstatepark.com.
• The National Radio Astronomy Observatory at Green Bank has a 16 million-pound telescope that is 485 feet tall. Tours are offered. Information: 304-456-2164, https://science.nrao.edu/facilities/gbt/.
• Cass is the home of the state-run Cass Scenic Railroad State Park, which carries 75,000 passengers a year to Whittaker Station and to Bald Knob. It runs from late May through late October. Cass has a lot of timber history, including the rows of white company-owned houses where workers once lived. Information: 304-456-4300 or 800-CALL-WVA; www.cassrailroad.com.