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Ask for Simeon

South Main Street (Rt 220)

Petersburg, WV 26847

(304) 257-4420

 

RidingWV

Ride #1

 

Seneca Rocks/Spruce Knob/Franklin/Smoke Hole

 

Fireside Cafe

 

Home Cooking / BBQ

 

Junction Rt 220/33

On the north side of

Franklin, WV 26847

http://fireside-cafe.com

(304) 358-3733

 

This ride report includes a basic loop of about 75 miles, along with two optional side-trips of about 15-20 miles (Seneca Caverns & John Dolly’s gravesite) and about 75-100 miles (Sugar Grove and Rt 33 to the VA state line).  The roads are all paved, except for the last two miles at the very top of Spruce Knob (but this is very smooth, hard-packed gravel that you should have no problem with).   I’ve included activities like climbing Seneca Rocks and walking to the overlook on Spruce Knob, the highest point in WV.  There are also a few short restaurant reviews, because I know you’re going to get hungry.

TAKE YOUR TIME AND ENJOY THE SIGHTS!!!

 

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Seneca Rocks is perhaps West Virginia’s most recognizable natural landmark, rising over 900 feet above the South Branch of the Potomac River.  Located near Spruce Knob in Pendleton County, it has been a popular weekend destination for several generations. 

 

There is a well-maintained hiking trail that zig-zags up the mountain to an observation deck offering a stunning view of the valley below.  The trail is about 1-1/2 miles long, and is fairly challenging, especially on a hot summer day.  Take your time and bring plenty of water to drink, though, and it’s a fun family outing.  Allow at least 2 hours round-trip (if you’re fit) or more.  It is not wheelchair or stroller accessible due to steps in certain locations.  For those who would prefer to ride to the top, Yokum’s Stables offers horseback rides from a nearby farm. 

 

From this point, there are many options for rides out to different locations throughout the Eastern Panhandle and points south, most within 1 – 2 hours of exciting and memorable riding.

 

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About a mile south of the Rt 33/55/28 junction is the turnoff for Seneca Shadows Campground.  Much nicer than Yokum’s campground (and away from the sometimes noisy crowds closer to the rocks), this campground is a good location to “base camp” as you explore the Eastern Panhandle. 

 

There are regular camp sites priced at around $20/$25 (without or with electricity) as well as some more secluded spots that are hike-in only (priced at $13 and up – as of Summer 2011).

 

Click Here For More Details

 

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Each campsite is somewhat private, with trees providing a more secluded feeling.

 

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And, of course, a nice shower and restrooms are nearby. 

 

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Coming out of the campground, turn north and you can see Seneca Rocks ahead to the right.

 

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Your first stop at Seneca Rocks should be the Discovery Center.  This new building replaces the old Discovery Center that was destroyed in the 1985 flood. 

 

You can park here and begin your hike to the top.

 

(NOTE:  There is a soda vending machine and restrooms at the Discovery Center, but no restaurant or snacks.  Just across the highway is Harper’s General Store and the Front Porch Restaurant – see notes later in this article.)

 

** Interesting personal footnote:  When I retired after 20 years in the US Air Force, they offered to fly my retirement flag over either the WV State Capitol or the Capitol at Washington, DC.  I asked if it could please be flown over the Seneca Rocks Discovery Center.  Sue Grafton was the Park Ranger at the time and graciously agreed.  Since I used to bring my grandparents out here from Petersburg when they were living, this place has a lot of special memories. In fact, the top of Seneca Rocks will be the resting place for my ashes when my time on earth is over. Come visit me when that happens! 

 

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The Park Rangers at the Seneca Rocks Discovery Center offer numerous maps, books, and general guidance for the casual hikers or serious climbers.  There are also free videos playing in the auditorium highlighting Seneca Rocks and the surrounding areas. 

 

Nice, clean restrooms, too.

 

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The hike to the top of the rocks starts just past the south parking lot as this bridge crosses the South Branch of the Potomac River. 

 

In the fall, stop and watch the fishermen (and women) trying their luck with the trout. 

 

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The path to the top is graded gravel.  It was refurbished and made even smoother in the summer of 2011 by scores of volunteers who worked for several months making the trail easier to navigate.   Still – I would not recommend a stroller or wheelchair. 

 

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Our son, Spencer, on the south end of the rocks at the summit, just above the observation deck. 

 

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These types of rock formations are called “razor-back”, and this photo shows why.  Although the rocks are hundreds of feet high, they are only about 20-25 feet thick at the top.  This view is from the left side of the rocks (as you look at them from the road below) looking toward the center (northward).

 

See the 3 people sitting to the right-center?  If they stood up and walked forward about 3 steps, they would be off the front of the rocks and heading down about 500 feet a lot faster than they came up. 

 

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After you return to the Discovery Center and get re-hydrated, it’s time to explore more of the area.  Turning south on Rt 33, you will pass the entrance to the campsite and continue south.   There are lots of old farms along this road.  Take time and stop for photos and sightseeing.

 

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About 6 or 8 miles south of Seneca Rocks is the small town of Riverton.  Turn east onto CR 9 (look for a small sign to Seneca Caverns).  Follow this road for not quite a mile.  On the right, there will be a narrow road winding up a steep hill – Horse Ridge Road.  This is the view from the top of the first hill, looking back toward Seneca Rocks. 

 

From here, you have two options:

 

1)  Return to the bottom of the hill and turn right for a scenic ride out to the Seneca Caverns (touristy – I haven’t been in it since I was a kid, so I don’t know how good it is, or isn’t.)

 

http://www.senecacaverns.com/ 

 

2) If you are adventuresome and like a little history, keep heading out Horse Ridge Road about a mile or so until the road forks – then bear left.  Follow that narrow road past several cattle gates about 2 or 3 miles until you come to the gravesite of John Dolly – namesake of the large (3-counties!) Dolly Sods region to the north.

 

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If you chose Option #2 above:   When you reach the historical marker, you know you’re there.

 

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Another view of the historical marker. 

 

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For the truly adventuresome, it’s time for another hike – although much shorter than the Seneca Rocks hike.  From the historical marker, head up the hill to the stand of trees in the center of the photo.  Keep to the right, as there was a loud dog by the barn to the left.  He didn’t come after me – just barked a lot.  You never know, though.

 

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When you reach the cemetery, look around the upper part for John Dolly’s grave next to this tree.  (His is to the right of the tree in this photo)

 

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John Dolly’s gravesite.

 

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View from the cemetery looking down the hill to where you parked.   Simply beautiful. 

 

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If you chose Option #1 earlier, this is the scenic ride out CR 9 to Seneca Caverns.  You are now in the area known as Germany Valley.  You will be stopping by an overlook later, and will then appreciate the beauty of this area even more.

 

 

 

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Another view of Germany Valley on CR 9. 

 

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After returning to Rt 33 in Riverton, continue south a mile or two until you see a small sign for Spruce Knob. (Hint – it’s next to the Gateway Family Restaurant). 

 

Spruce Knob is the highest point in West Virginia at 4,863 feet.  As is typical in the southern Appalachians, the highest point on a ridge is frequently referred to as a knob or dome. Spruce Knob is the highest point along a ridge known as the Allegheny Front.  The upper part of the ridge is covered in a spruce forest, looking like areas much farther north in Canada.

 

 

Follow CR 33-4 (Briery Gap Road) about 10 miles up the winding route (see photo at left) until you reach a turnoff to the summit (continue straight to go to Spruce Knob Lake later, if you want another side-trip).  The last 2 miles to the summit is very smooth, hard-packed gravel.  I don’t like riding on gravel very much, but this was not a problem at all. 

 

More Spruce Knob Wikipedia information:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spruce_Knob

 

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One of the gravel turnouts near the turnoff for the summit.  Beautiful view eastward towards Germany Valley.

 

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Near the summit parking lot.  Notice the windswept spruce trees. 

 

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The summit parking lot.  From here, it’s just a short 5-minute walk (I won’t even call it a hike) to the overlook tower.

 

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Be sure to climb the observation tower for a view you won’t soon forget.

 

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After coming back down off the mountain, head south on Rt 33 for a few miles to Judy Gap. 

 

For this ride, we will continue east on Rt 33, but there is a turnoff here for Rt 28 South.  This takes you down to Cass Railroad and Green Bank – about 25 miles.  Watch for that ride report coming soon.

 

Continuing east on Rt 33, you start up a great twisty section of road leading to the summit of North Fork Mountain.  This gap is near the bottom, about a mile up from Judy Gap.  It is also only visible to west-bound riders (like we were in this photo).  Check your rear-view mirrors and stop for a nice photo if you have time.

 

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Just before the summit, there is a hidden turnoff for the Germany Valley overlook.  Remember your ride out past Horse Ridge Road towards Seneca Caverns earlier?  You’re looking down on that area.  Spruce Knob is along the ridge in the upper left part of the photo, to the left of the marker.

 

NOTE:  The turnoff is hidden to the left just after a sharp right-hand corner.  If there is nobody behind you, you can continue another 200 feet and come in the upper entrance.  If there is traffic, head up to the summit about a mile ahead and find a safe place to turn around.  

 

This is, in my opinion, perhaps the best overlook in WV.  You don’t want to miss it.

 

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Continue on eastbound about 12 miles to Franklin.  When you first come into town, there is an Exxon Station on the right.  This is a good place to top off the tank, since it’s about the last gas station you will see for the next 40-50 miles until you get back to Seneca Rocks. 

 

Just around the curve by the Exxon station, there is a diner called Fireside Café.  Good home cookin’ and good BBQ on certain days. 

 

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We lucked out today and they have BBQ.  Here are today’s specials listed by the door.

 

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Nice, simple, and clean.  Meet some of the locals.

 

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I got the BBQ sammich.  Yumm!  It was only about $5.

Optional Side-Trip

(If you have a couple of hours – If not, continue the ride where it says “Ride Resumes Here” below)

Rt 220 South from Franklin to the VA state line, looping NE through Sugar Grove, out Rt 33 East to the VA state line, and back to Franklin.

Total length – about 75-100 miles.

 

 

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If you have a couple of hours, here is a nice side-trip loop of about 100 miles through some scenic parts of Pendleton County.

 

We start by heading south through Franklin.  Note some of the old houses along the main street.

 

 

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Rt 220 continues south through farmlands and forest and nice relaxed riding.  Just enough curves to keep it interesting.

 

Lots of Historical Markers along these roads – take time to stop and read about our history. 

 

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In about 20 miles, you will reach the Virginia state line.  This particular day, I was racing the storm clouds. 

 

Stop and enjoy the sights and smells of the surrounding farms, then turn around and start back Rt 220 northbound.

 

 

 

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Heading north on Rt 220 from the VA state line. 

 

In about 5 miles, you will see CR 25 (to Moyers Gap and Sugar Grove) road turn off to the right (east). 

 

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CR 25 / Moyers Gap-Sugar Grove Road -  This narrow, winding road is paved, but watch for fine gravel in some of the turns.  It twists through old farmland and forests about 5 miles to Moyers.  Turn left (north) to continue on CR 25 to Sugar Grove. 

 

NOTE:  I made the mistake of riding this section with my visor up, since it was very hot and I was taking my time.  A bee decided to explore the inside of my helmet, and I ended up with a sting next to my left eye.  It burned the rest of the day, and the next morning I awoke to an eye almost swelled shut.  Moral of the story – if you’re allergic to bee stings, keep the visor down and have meds along.

 

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Church at Sugar Grove. 

 

From here, follow CR 21 north about 10 miles to Brandywine.  This winding road takes you back through time as you pass by old farms that haven’t changed much in the past 50 years.  Take your time and enjoy the scenery.  You will also pass by Sugar Grove Naval Base (yes, a Navy base in WV!).  You can look as you go by, but don’t take any photos of the base – especially the gate area.  Security is tight.

 

 

 

At Brandywine, there is a Mom&Pop grocery store and gas if you need.  Or, if you have enough gas for 50 – 60 miles, you can catch it on the way back through in a while.

 

 

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Turning east on Rt 33 at Brandywine, we start to head up to the Virginia state line.  If you’re hungry, Fat Boy’s Pork Palace is just up the road about a mile.  Nice, clean family restaurant.  I haven’t eaten here yet, but I’ve heard good reviews.

 

 

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Look for this sign!

 

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Inside is very clean. 

 

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Menu looks good – very fair prices, too. 

 

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Continuing east on Rt 33, the road soon starts to twist and climb toward the summit and state line.

 

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They widened the road on the upper half of the mountain several years ago.  This used to be just a narrow 2-lane.  If you were unfortunate to be stuck behind an 18-wheeler, your next opportunity to pass would be about 15 – 20 miles later in Virginia.  It’s still that way on the Virginia side coming westbound into WV.  

 

Personally, I enjoy the uphill sections of winding roads. 

 

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The West Virginia / Virginia state line. 

 

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Coming back down the mountain into WV on Rt 33.  Lots of sharp corners ahead – don’t overheat the brakes.

 

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Getting closer to Franklin.  Lots of old farms in this area.

 

Ride Resumes Here

If you chose not to do the optional side trip above, we will resume the ride here from the Exxon station and Fireside Café in Franklin.

 

 

 

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After filling yourself with food and your bike with gas, head north on Rt 220 towards Petersburg.  About 6 miles north, you will pass through the small town of Upper Tract.  About a mile north of town is the turnoff for Smoke Hole Road (CR 2). The turnoff is next to a new bridge that replaced the old steel bridge damaged in the 1985 flood.

 

This 1-1/2 lane paved road snakes its way through about 18 miles of Appalachian back-country.  Take your time and enjoy the ride.

 

NOTE:  The speed limit is 35MPH.  Although it may be tempting to play Speed Racer, there are several things to consider:  1) There are a lot of families enjoying activities along the road.  This means small children.  2) Lots of blind corners.  Even at 35MPH, you are seriously overdriving your line of sight in places.  3) Reputation.  Yes, you heard that right.  If the area becomes a haven for loud, fast motorcyclists, it won’t be long until the “NO MOTORCYCLES” sign goes up.  Don’t spoil it for everyone. 4) Last, if you go off the road and down a hillside, it could be days/weeks until someone finds you.  There are small patches of sand & fine gravel here and there to help you take an unplanned excursion into the woods.  Be safe!  Thanks.

 

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A little history of Smoke Hole can be found on this old Historical Marker by the south entrance. 

 

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Eagle Rock is a prominent landmark about 2 miles north of the Upper Tract entrance. There are occasionally eagles around, but that’s not what the rock is named for.  Read on. 

 

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Eagle Rocks historical marker explains the name.

 

(Photo by Pat White)

 

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Smoke Hole Road continues its path along the winding South Branch of the Potomac River.  Stop and enjoy the sounds of nature – the rushing water, the birds, etc. 

 

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Another view along the South Branch of the Potomac River. 

 

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A few miles farther north is the marker for Smoke Hole Cave.  Too bad you can’t get there from here.  Literally.  It’s on private land. 

 

Note to “outsiders” who have never been to WV – it’s not a good idea to walk onto someone’s land without permission.  Especially when it’s posted.  Nuff said.

 

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You may not be able to walk up to Smoke Hole Cave, but you can read about it.

 

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Pat White took this photo of me enjoying the curves (at a legal speed!) about midway between the Upper Tract south entrance and the Cabins north entrance. 

 

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This photo was taken just a few miles south of Rt 28/55 (the north entrance near Cabins).

 

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I love this view south from the road, about 2 miles south of the Rt 28/55 north entrance.  Note the old barn in the distance.  There are often horses grazing here, making it even more peaceful.

 

** I was at the local mall in Dec 2009 and saw a lady autographing her book about WV stories.  On the cover was this photo (minus the bike, of course, and taken several years earlier when that pear-shaped pine tree on the left was only half that size.  She had no idea where the photo was taken, and was told by someone it was a location in Virginia (God forbid!!). I reassured her it was in West Virginia and sent her a digital photo.  Note to readers:  if you publish a book about WV, please make sure you know where the cover photo was taken.

 

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Pat (a riding friend and fellow Historical Marker enthusiast) and I on the bridge over the South Branch of the Potomac River, located at the north entrance (junction with Rt 28/55) of Smoke Hole Road. 

 

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A short ride south on Rt 28/55 and you’re back to Seneca Rocks.  Stop by Harper’s Old Country Store for local souvenirs and eat upstairs at the Front Porch Restaurant (see photos below). 

 

I stayed at the other part of Yokum’s motel just up the road in 2010, and it was pretty disgusting.  You may want to look at the room before you plunk down any cash.  

 

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Here’s a group of us ADV Riders enjoying dinner at the Front Porch Restaurant after a long day of riding.  Good food and good selection.

 

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Something for everyone at the Front Porch Restaurant.  Home-cooking, pizza, Mexican, etc etc. 

 

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Did I mention great scenery?  Nice view of Seneca Rocks from the Front Porch Restaurant. 

 

This is the perfect way to end a great day of riding – sitting around the table exaggerating and telling tall tales of peg-scraping corners. 

 

After a good night’s rest, it’s off for more exploring WV tomorrow.

 

Be safe! 

 

I strongly encourage everyone to:

1)  Ride responsibly – these are great roads and it is tempting to play “Road Racer” in the curves.  Be careful so you can visit again.

2)  Stop to experience the sights, smells, and tastes of the area.  Meet the locals.   Ride the route twice if you need to.

3)  Send me some photos, or better yet, write a short story about your ride along with the photos.  I’ll be glad to post them.

 

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