Hikers describe the North Fork Mountain Trail (NFMT) as having "relentless views". They are correct, there are so many overlooks we couldn't mark them all on our hike map. If you want a view, walk no more than 25 yards to the west off the trail and you will find one! We were amazed by this trail and the different types of woodlands, many of them needing fires in order to grow, see this link from The Nature Conservancy for more information.
The lack of water on this trail has always been a concern for hikers. However, a post by Zach F. on the WV Highlands Conservancy site proved very useful in finding a spring at the trail midpoint. If you hike this trail, please post a review with an update on how much water is in the spring. This will help fellow hikers track how reliable the spring is over time.
The NFMT at 24.7 miles long, is a point to point shuttle backpack best hiked South to North. At the bottom of this write up we also list several shorter alternatives if you don't have time to do the whole trail. Plan to allow about 35 minutes each way for the car shuttle.
Mile 0.0 – At the South Trail Head, walk around the gate towards the back of the radio building and tower. To your left you will see a discernible trail, this is the North Fork Mountain (Trail 501) and you will very quickly see blue blazes. Eventually there will be blue diamond markers on the trees for the majority of the trail. There is a short climb to the top of the trail.
Mile 0.5 – Reach the first of many overlooks on your left and to the west. The majority of views on the hike will be to the west.
Mile 1.0 – Overlook, the next 2 miles are a gentle walk in the woods.
Mile 3.2 – Overlook, unique campsite just after this overlook and before the power lines.
Mile 3.4 – Power lines, views to the east and west.
Mile 3.8 – Gate, go around and continue on fire road/trail
Mile 4.5 – Intersection with unnamed trail/fire road
Mile 8.4 – Spur Trail to see Seneca Rocks. Don't miss this, it's a great view of the backside of Seneca Rocks off in the distance.
Mile 8.7 – Overlook
Mile 10.4 – Flat Tower on left and beginning of FR79, bear to right on fire road. From here to the first nights campsite at mile 12.4 was the least enjoyable part of the hike due to it being on a fire road.
Mile 10.8 – Radio Tower, road bears to the left behind tower. Reach first curve on FR79, but continue down road past pipeline crossing.
Mile 12.4 – Campsite for night one. To right of campsite is a grass fire road, go about 100 steps downhill, look for square stone, go left about 30 steps to spring. Spring water amount note: 1. May 10, 2014 – 12”, 2. Summer 2013 – flowing. Be prepared to carry enough water in the event the Spring is dry. You could also cache water near this intersection.
Day 2 - Hike begins at the brown "Trail 501" sign. There is evidence of fire from the campsite along the next 2 miles of the trail.
Mile 16.5 – Intersection of Redman Run Trail, just after the intersection is a campsite with an incredible view. As you climb you will soon walk through a Rhododendron thicket, look for cairns on the left for the overlook at mile 18.
Mile 21.6 – Spur trail to Chimney Top, stay straight for this out and back. The NFMT turns sharply to the right but go straight on the unmarked spur trail, you can see Chimney Top from here.
Mile 21.8 – Chimney Top, great views. There is another way back to the NFMT, a very steep spur trail to the right of a fire ring. It is very steep and we do not recommend this way, we recommend re-tracing your steps back to the original intersection and bear left back onto the NFMT
Mile 22.0 – Original Intersection, bear left back onto the NFMT
Mile 22.2 – Intersection of steep spur trail to Chimney Top on left.
Mile 24.7 – North Trail Head Parking, end of hike.
Shorter Alternative Hikes:
Redman Run Trail up to NFMT and over to North Trail Head parking, 9.6 miles, shuttle hike.
Landis Trail Head up to NFMT and over to North Trail Head parking, 5.4 miles, shuttle hike or you could do as an out and back to Chimney Top.
North Trail Head parking up to Chimney top and back, about 7 miles round trip.
Fire Road 79, drive car to campsite as mentioned at mile 12.4, sketchy road, good clearance needed on this road, camp the night and do the remaining 12 or so miles on Day 2, shuttle hike.
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Reviews For The North Fork Mountain Hike (5 Most Recent)
This is one of my favorite hikes, especially early spring. The views are spectacular! I have hiked it both directions, I spent 3 days hiking North to South several years ago and just completed a South to North which I like and enjoyed much more, but was limited to two days. My recommendation would be, hike South to North, take three days and visit every overlook. The campsite at 12.4 was vacant with a little trash here and there. I personally steer clear of camping near roads or easy access points. There was still a little snow on the ground so the spring was flowing well. The trail is well maintained, however there are a few trees across the trail you will have to go around, but it's all good. The later in the summer and the dryer it gets, I would consider a water cache. With that said i think the trail has been accurately described in the other reviews, enjoy! Be cautious of leaving your vehicle parked at the North trail head as it is secluded and an easy target. I had a bike rack stolen from my Toyota Tacoma. Just a note to the person who allowed me work for what they have taken, you'll need the key to unlock it and I will be happy to get it to you.
Date of Hike: Saturday, January 14, 2017
FR 79 is a little tough to find if you are going to cache water. As you travel south on Smoke Hole road from the north, look for a "Dead End" sign on your right side just before descending into the "trailer park". That's FR 79. It's not marked. Once you get to the top of the fire road, it's obvious where to stash your water. A 4x4 is needed to get up there, especially in the winter. The NFMT is exceptionally well marked and easy to follow once you get on the trail. Weather was between 18 and 40 degrees and wet. I think it's usually colder with more snow. Some ice and snow on the ridge but not much. Trail was pretty clear. There is a spring after the water cache and before the 501 spur down. It was literally flowing out of the hill and right across the trail. I don't know if it was an anomaly or what considering what other reviewers have said about the lack of water. We hiked the whole trail in a day and a half. Stayed at the bunkhouse at Yokum's for cheap afterwards.
Date of Hike: Friday, November 04, 2016
This is a fantastic hike with awesome views and often. I would suggest doing this trail as a three day two night hike. This will allow you to slow down and enjoy the many many spectacular views. Second, it will allow you to camp before and after the middle section where the County Fire Road (79) joins the trail. This is obviously a local party spot and they do not care for their treasures. Its very unfortunate as this is the location of the only spring on the trail. Camp anywhere before this area then pass thru on the second day and just pick up water as you pass by. Water at the spring was good and plentiful.
Date of Hike: Sunday, October 02, 2016
Hiked on Sunday and Monday, which was great since we had the place to ourselves! Didn't see another soul. The hike is a good one, great views, and often. The trail, while in spots could use some maintenance, was overall very easy. Not rocky, soft ground, easy to follow. The road walk is the most disappointing portion of the hike, mostly because of the copious amounts of beer cans strewn everywhere along the route you can tell this is a party spot for locals. There was at least one abandoned tent at one end of the road and someone possibly living at the other end.
I would hope that people that do decide to stash water come and pickup the empties after they are done the hike obviously that doesn't happen. There were a few dozen empty, half empty, and completely full water jugs strewn around mile 12. We carried 6L of water and had plenty for 2 days without the need to make the place look like a garbage dump.
There were many nice camping spots along the way. I might be tempted to make this a three day hike just to slow down even more. There's a great spot at mile 8 and mile 16. The campsite at mile 12 is the worst, I would avoid and rather make my own campsite then stay there - it's right at the end of the road walk, so the spot that has a parking lot, a pile of empty jugs, other piles of beer cans, and possibly a homeless guy living there add to that the closeness of the road which is right on a hairpin turn and it might be a bad night. We pushed ahead and camped at mile 16 - which is one of the most amazing campsites I've stayed in - views are sweeping and gorgeous, rock formations are right there to block the wind and climb out on to. The difference between mile 12 and mile 16, while only 4 miles, made the difference between disappointment and joy.
We did around 2.5 miles per hour over the entirety of the hike, not much elevation gain or lose (until the end!) and views throughout made every break an experience.
Date of Hike: Saturday, July 23, 2016
Trail itself very narrow at times and is difficult due to broken terrain and rocks, this slows the pace and can be extremely hazardous at times! I can not stress that point enough, if one is not careful in their footing or rolls an ankle at an inopportune time there could be a large unforgiving fall from the trail. Well fitting footwear is a must have, personally leather ankle high boots would be ideal for this reason. The spring was active and looked more like a well but water was flowing down hill through wet grass and leaves into a small messy basin with leaves and algae. Water was pumped from the well and tasted great. It saved our bacon as we completely underestimated the amount of water we would consume based on the extreme heat (90+ deg F). Spotted black bear, rattle snake, and many dear. Be prepared, our trip was cut short due to the heat and blisters on most of our party. Many of the camping sights were very nice and this entire trip would have been much more enjoyable in cooler weather where 4+ liters of water are not consumed per person per day.