Looking for a unique outdoor vacation? Visit Cranberry Glades.
Out of place, out of time.
The Cranberry Glades Botanical Area, or the Glades as it's informally called, consists of four bog wetlands in an unlikely location—the West Virginia highlands of the Allegheny Mountains.
The flora, the fauna, even the Glades' cool, mercurial weather, which can reach temperatures as low as 25 degrees below zero, resembles that of more northern regions, such as New England, Canada or the tundra.
Over 10,000 years ago, the Glades actually were tundra, and descendants of the seeds that rooted there then still thrive.
If you visit the Cranberry Glades Botanical Area, be sure to keep to the boardwalk. You don't want to damage the area's unique environment (or become a bog mummy!)
The Glades' spongy, peaty floor can be like quicksand, pulling trespassers under. It's comprised of tannic acid-producing moss, too, which can preserve bodies for thousands of years.
Cranberry Glades Nature Center
My advice? Go there first.
When you go to Cranberry Glades, be sure visit to the Nature Center first. It's located off Highway 39/55 between the towns of Richwood and Marlinton.
At the Nature Center, you can pick up trail maps as well as other useful information about the area.
The Nature Center is also close to Loop 1, a super easy walking trail through beautiful forest land. An 800-foot trail, Loop 1 is an easy walk through a pretty forest. Signs along the way identify tree species. The loop also features an overlook that's perfect for picnickers, providing a beautiful view of Stamping Creek and the distant rolling hills of Virginia.
From there, you can walk or drive about a mile to the Cranberry Botanical Trail, which will provide you with a glimpse into the Glades' unique plant and animal life.
The Botanical Trail
It's more of a walk than a hike.
The Botanical Trail is actually a wooden boardwalk that winds its way through two of the four bogs that make up Cranberry Glades.
The boardwalk, which is only half a mile long, takes walkers through bog forests as well as open fields of muskeg. The trailhead can be accessed from a nearby parking lot, which is paved.
"Everywhere is within walking distance if you have enough time."
--Comedian Steven Wright
You won't need hiking boots to walk the Botanical Trail, which is wheel-chair accessible. But you'll definitely need a camera. There are beautiful pictures within sight every step of the way.
Signs along the trail provide information about the unique and beautiful flora of Cranberry Glades, including two carnivorous insect-eating species, the sundew and the pitcher plant.
Other plants the Glades is famous for include cotton grass, which is native to the Arctic tundra, skunk cabbage, sphagnum moss, bird-wheat moss, bog moss, reindeer lichen and, of course, cranberries.
The Glades also contains extremely rare plants, such as bog rosemary and buckbean, oak fern, blue joint, drooping wood reed grass, northern white violet and pod grass.
When we visited the Glades in July, the wild orchids were in bloom.
The Botanical Trail in June
A Virtual Tour
Shot from the boardwalk, this soothing video spotlights the flowers, trees, ferns, fungi and other unique flora of Cranberry Glades.
Want to REALLY take a hike?
For a fun day of hiking, you and your party could explore the trails near Cranberry Mountain Nature Center.
In addition to Loop 1 and the Botanical Trail, there are four other trails nearby: Loop 2, Cowpasture Trail, Bruffy Reserve Trail and Pocahontas Trail.
For those, you'll definitely need hiking boots!
Cycling the Cranberry Glades Area
Enjoy the wind in your hair.
To me, there's nothing better than zipping along a river trail on a bike. Even in the hottest weather, I stay cool thanks to the wind off the water. Best of all, I'm surrounded by nature.
For those who want a more challenging ride, the Cranberry Wilderness also offers mountain biking. Some trails, like Cowpasture Loop near the Botanical Area, are suitable for beginners. For riders with a measure of experience, there's nearby Pocahontas Trail.
And for those who want a real challenge, even seasoned mountain bikers will struggle if they ride from Tea Creek Campground to Turkey Front Trail and then cycle Boundary Trail to Bear Pen. It's one rollercoaster of a ride on rooty, rocky trails through rolling hills!
Feel the burn.
Explore Cranberry Backcountry
It will challenge you.
Cranberry Backcountry is 26,000 acres of forest south of the Cranberry Wilderness Area. It lies between Forest Service Road 102 and Frosty Gap Trail. Like the Wilderness Area, Cranberry Backcountry is part of the Monongahela National Forest. There, on the slopes of Kennison Mountain, you'll find many horseback riding, mountain biking and hiking trails.
A bear lumbered across the cycling path, then ran halfway up the hill before turning to look at us.
While cycling there, my husband and I encountered a black bear.
It came up out of the river, lumbered across the cycling path and then ran halfway up the hill before turning to look at us. I could see drops of water glistening on its back. I slowed down, watching the bear watch us, and then wisely sped up as my husband, who was behind me, shouted, "Keep going!"
Later that day, a turkey hen and chicks crossed our path, but ... unfortunately, no more bears.
Horseback riding near the Glades
Cranberry Glades is in Pocahontas County, WV, which has over 800 miles of trails suitable for horseback riding, most of them in Monongahela National Forest.
One of the best is the Cranberry River Ride, which is adjacent to the Cranberry Wilderness.
With so much beauty around, you'll need a camera.
I took the photos in this article when I first got my Canon Rebel. Although I was still learning how to use it, the shots turned out fairly well. Of course, when the scenery is this beautiful & the camera can do just about everything automatically, it's hard not to take a good shot!
The Cranberry River Ride follows Cranberry River through beautiful backcountry.
The trail is wide, well maintained and closed to vehicles, although hikers and cyclists may use it too.
Or take a real journey back in time and travel the popular 78-mile Greenbrier River Trail on horseback, camping out at night, your horse safely tethered nearby. To make arrangements for your adventure on horseback, contact the Greenbrier River Trail administrator at 304/799-4087.
Like the Cranberry River Ride, the 78-mile track is popular with hikers and cyclists too.
Backpacking the Backcountry
Don't forget to pack plenty of water.
If you're into backpacking, the Cranberry Wilderness region of the Monongahela National Forest won't disappoint. It has 15 hiking trails alone. They range from under a mile long (Forks By-Pass Trail) to 16 miles (North South Trail). Primitive campsites are situated along the Cranberry River.
Before you hit the trail, be sure to pack plenty of water. For comfort and convenience on long hikes, you can't beat a Camelbak.
For a short hike or bike ride, a water bottle is probably good enough, but for an all-day adventure, a Camelbak will supply you with enough water comfortably. It fits without chafing or straining your back and shoulders, and it holds up to 3 litres of water.
Put the water in cold, and it stays cool, no matter how hot you get. The H.A.W.G. model also has lots of compartments for holding energy bars, maps, cell phone, handheld GPS and other things (like toilet paper) you might need along the way.
Water sport in Monongahela National Forest
Play in nature at its most majestic.
Fishing, white water rafting, kayaking—what water sport can't you do in Monongahela National Park? (Okay, there's no deep-sea diving, but there's just about everything else!)
The headwaters of six major river systems meet there—the Monongahela River, the Potomac, Greenbrier River, Elk River, the Tygart and Gauley River—, which makes for excellent white water rafting opportunities.
Prefer more sedate boating? Take your electric motorboat out on Lake Sherwood, Spruce Knob Lake or Lake Buffalo.
Monongahela National Forest also contains over 575 miles of trout streams, and it's home to fantastically beautiful waterfalls, including three at the Falls of Hills Creek.
Jill Spencer (author) from United States on June 08, 2015:
Thanks for stopping by. I think you'd like the Glades. It's unique. I'm writing a short story now that is set there when a federal prison was in the Glades at Mill Point. It was a very progressive prison with no walls, bars or fences.
Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on June 08, 2015:
Hi Jill, Cranberry Glades looks beautiful! It's been some time since I have visited West Virginia, or even the mountains. Here is a place that I've never heard of but it looks wonderful. (voted up and shared) Oh maybe I shouldn't share, Cranberry Glades might get too crowded with lots of sharing!
Jill Spencer (author) from United States on April 09, 2013:
It sure is, ThelmaC, but then I just like mountains, and the Appalachians are really old ones. It make them interesting! Take care & thanks for commenting, Jill
Thelma Raker Coffone from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA on April 08, 2013:
Great hub and gorgeous pictures. Many people don't realize just how beautiful the state of West Virginia is!
Jill Spencer (author) from United States on April 08, 2013:
Hi Deb! It's a great area to visit, particularly if you love the outdoors. Hope you get to go some day.
Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on April 08, 2013:
This sure sounds like a beautiful spot. If I get out that way, I'll have to make a stop. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.
Jill Spencer (author) from United States on April 08, 2013:
All sorts of plants that shouldn't really be growing in the area grow there, Derdriu. It's sort of like changes, including climatic ones, occurred all around the Glades but not in them, so plants and animals that became extinct everywhere else nearby still exist in Cranberry Glades. If you get a chance to go there, you'll notice how the temperature drops as soon as you enter the protected botanical area. Pretty wild!
Derdriu on April 08, 2013:
Jill, Do you know why it is that cotton grass grows in the Glades?
Ferns are amongst my favorites. It's always a treat to visit an area that sports ferns and mosses instead of turf! The three properties which Prince Charles regularly writes about have no turf. They photograph beautifully because of the cares of his staff who regularly mow. Unfortunately, a consequence of the regular mowing is that the Prince's healthy, humus-rich soil is compacted 6+ inches below the surface (just like everyone's that has turf ;-[).
Respectfully, and with many thanks, Derdriu