Jutting nearly 900 feet above the North Fork River Valley floor, the massive formation known as Seneca Rocks is an impressive sight for travelers along U.S. 33 in Pendleton County, about 45 minutes east of Elkins, W.Va.
Located in the Monongahela National Forest, a few hours from Marietta, the rocks are one of the Mountain State's most popular tourist destinations, especially during the colorful fall foliage season in October, and is close enough for local residents to take a day or weekend trip there.
Born and raised nearby on North Fork Mountain, Garrett Wilfong essentially grew up in the shadow of Seneca Rocks. He currently works at the information desk for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service's Discovery Center just off U.S. 33 and W.Va. 28 at the base of Seneca.
Associated Press photo
Climbers rest on the summit of Seneca Rocks.
"They say this is the most popular rock-climbing spot east of the Mississippi," he said. "The rocks offer all different levels of climbing, from the basic to the most difficult."
For those who'd like to try their hand at rock-climbing but lack the necessary skills and equipment, Wilfong noted there's a climbing school across the road where novices can learn basic climbing and even take a turn on the rocks under the tutelage of a professional guide.
But you don't have to clamber up the sheer rock face to enjoy a magnificent view of the valley and surrounding mountains from the top of Seneca Rocks.
If you go:
The Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area is located on 100,000 acres of the Monongahela National Forest in Pendleton County, W.Va.
To access the area from Marietta, take I-77 south to U.S. 50 and head east to Clarksburg, W.Va. At Clarksburg catch I-79 south to U.S. 33 and travel east on 33 through Elkins. Seneca Rocks and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service's Discovery Center are located at the intersection of U.S. 33 and W.Va. Route 28.
For information about Seneca Rocks and surrounding attractions and points of interest, visit www.fs.usda.gov, or call the Seneca Rocks Discovery Center at (304) 567-2827. Information is also available from the Cheat Potomac Ranger District at (304) 257-4488.
Business and travel information is available from the Pendleton County Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau in Franklin, W.Va. (304) 358-3884.
"There's a mile-and-a-half trail from the Discovery Center to an observation platform located just to the left and about 40 feet below the top of the rocks," Wilfong said. "It's a much gentler hike along a graveled pathway-about a 45-minute walk."
Don't forget to take a camera along.
"You'll regret it if you do," Wilfong said.
The rocks are just part of the 100,000-acre Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, which includes 4,863-foot Spruce Knob, the highest point in West Virginia. Campgrounds and a trout-stocked lake are located near the top of the mountain.
Wilfong said there are plenty of trails throughout the recreation area, and fishing is also great in the South Branch of the Potomac River that cuts through the scenic Smoke Hole Canyon a few miles east of Seneca Rocks.
"We get a lot of visitors who just want to get away from the cities and enjoy the peace and quiet here," he said. "And tourists come from all over the world. Just this week we had a couple of people from France. They didn't speak much English, but they enjoyed the area."
Janet Burgoyne, director of the Pendleton County Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau in Franklin, noted Seneca Rocks recently served as a wedding chapel.
"We just had a couple who got married atop the rocks," she said. "They climbed the face of the rocks to the top with the man who was going to marry them and were actually married there."
Burgoyne said she's pretty sure that's a first for the area.
"Adventure tourism is Pendleton County's claim to fame," she said. "We play host to cavers, climbers, bikers and hikers."
Burgoyne added that visitors can also experience zip line canopy tours and horseback riding at local facilities.
She said locally-owned restaurants, motels, cabins and campgrounds, as well as state and federal camping facilities, provide a variety of year-round accommodations for tourists in the region.
In addition to Seneca Rocks and several other spectacular rock formations nearby, Wilfong said the surrounding mountains are riddled with caves and caverns.
"Most of the wild caves are closed to the public now due to White Nose Syndrome, a fungus that can kill the bat population," he said. "But commercial privately-owned caves like Seneca Caverns and Smoke Hole Caverns are still open for tours."
Burgoyne said visitors to Seneca Caverns, in the Germany Valley region of Pendleton County, can enjoy fine dining at a restaurant or picnic on the grounds. Tourists can also experience some hands-on caving in the Stratosphere Cavern at Seneca Caverns where they're strapped into a harness and lowered into the abyss.
"People are always amazed at the sharp contrast and physical beauty of this area," Burgoyne said. "We have plenty of wildlife, including bear, deer and fox, and there are a lot of spots where people can stop and take in a view or touch a stream or rock outcropping. Many have never experienced mountains in this way."