Jennifer B.
Charleston, WV
Joined June 2019
Avid camper, photographer, and nature lover.
Easy Access to Cranberry Wilderness

The Cranberry Campground is a semi-primitive campground located next to the Cranberry River which gets high-use during the trout stocking season in the spring and summer. It's first-come, first-serve, so there's often more demand than supply during the peak season. 

Each campsite has a picnic table, fire ring and lamp-hanging post. There are a couple hand-pumps to access well water, and some self-ventilating pit toilets which are surprising odor-free. 

The Cranberry Campground can accommodate tent campers as well as RV's and 5th-wheelers up to 40-feet long. There are 28-single campsites, plus 2 double campsites in 2-separate loops. No electricity, or hook-ups. There's a dump station for an extra$5 fee. 

If you're in a tent, there are 2 campsites across a bridge in a heavily-wooded area for more privacy. There are also good tent camping sites along the Cranberry River and more sites in the Bishop Knob campground, plus free shelters for backpackers long the 16-mile Cranberry Wilderness Trail, if you want to avoid a bunch of RV campers. 

No firewood for sale, but you're welcome to gather whatever limbs, logs, etc. that you find on the ground and in the surrounding forest. This is bear-country, so food needs to be kept out of reach of black bears. Dogs are allowed, but must be kept on a leash at all times. 

I camped in mid-September and only saw one other couple my entire stay. This is a great camping spot for easy access to numerous trails in the Cranberry Wilderness and Cranberry Backcountry. It's also a great location to access the Cranberry Glades Boardwalk, Cranberry Mountain Nature Center and the Highland Scenic Highway. 

If you drive the Highland Scenic Highway, I recommend a stop at the Falls of Hills Creek. The trail can be difficult, with dozens of steep stairs, but worth the effort to see the 45-foot middle falls and the 65-foot lower falls. Beautiful, even though the water was low during my visit. 

The water was too low for kayaking during my visit, but when it's up, the middle Cranberry River has Class-III and Class-IV rapids. 

Directions from Richwood: Drive one mile east on State Route 39/55, then 12.5 miles north on Forest Road 76. 

You can get a good maps here: 

Gauley Ranger District Office: 932 North Fork Cherry Road Richwood, WV 26261 Cranberry Mountain Nature Center near the junction of WV 150& WV 39. It's closed mid-week, but I was able to get a map from the outside literature rack.

Remote Campground Next To The Cranberry River

Big Rock Campground is a small heavily-wooded campground, with five-spaces, located next to the Cranberry River in Nicholas County, WV.  Each site has a picnic table, fire ring and lantern pole.

This campground is popular for remote fishing when the Cranberry River is up and it gives hikers access to numerous trails in the Cranberry Wilderness.  The water was very low when I visited in September, so I didn't have to compete for a camping spot.

No reservations, so it's first-come first-serve.  Big Rock Campground uses the "honor system" where you self-register and pay a $10 fee.  

If this campground if full, there are at least ten camping spots located next to the Cranberry River where the access to water and toilets is rather random, but the fee is only $5.  Rangers describe these spots as the "Cranberry Bottom." 

Big Rock Campground would be best for tent campers, but RV vans and small campers can fit in the spaces, just don't expect any electricity or deluxe hook-ups.  There is a hand-pump to access well water and nearly odorless self-ventilating pit toilet.  There's no firewood for sale, but you can gather wood from the ground and cut dead trees in all the campgrounds in the Monongahela National Forest.

If you have a larger trailer, or 5th wheel, continue down the gravel road another 4-miles to the much larger Cranberry Campground.

This is bear country, so food should be stored off the ground or inside your car/truck.  Bear-proof trash cans are provided.

Dogs are allowed, but must be kept on a leash at all times.

Directions from Richwood:  Drive one mile east on State Route 39/55, then 6 miles north on Forest Road 76, a nicely-graded gravel road.

*Make sure you gas up and get any necessary supplies in Richwood because you won't find any services near this campground.

Worth An Extended Stay

I stayed at Chief Logan for 3-days and 2-nights and didn’t get to do or see everything I wanted to experience at this wonderful WV State Park, so it’s worth an extended stay. 

Chief Logan has 26 level RV camping spots with water and electricity at all sites and a sewer connection at about half of them. The park also has a large open field for group camping or enough space for about 40 to 50 individual tents for those who prefer a more primitive experience. No water or electricity at the primitive campground, but you’re within walking distance of the main bathhouse which was nice and clean during my stay.   Here's a link for an interactive map of the Chief Logan campground where there's cell phone service for both AT&T and Verizon customers.

When you check-in at the park headquarters, make sure you visit the adjoining museum which gives you some background on the local coal industry and the hardy settlers who clashed with the American Indians when this area was still used as their hunting grounds. The gift shop has a variety of souvenirs with their#1 best sellers tied to alleged sightings of “Big Foot,” not Chief Logan… Lol… 

Chief Logan State Park has lots of trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding. I hiked the Coal Mine Trail with remnants of the coal industry decaying in the forest, then continued on the Wilderness Trail which gives you a nice view of the surrounding mountains. I was super impressed by the maintenance staff when I reported offensive graffiti on the Guyandotte Beauty Trail and a crew hiked into the woods and painted over it before I even had time to show my photos to Superintendent Bruce Collinsworth.

There are a variety of shelters and playgrounds scattered throughout the nearly 4,000 acre forest so you can spread out and enjoy the park without feeling like you’re fighting any crowds. 

I didn’t get to try the Chief Logan swimming pool, but it looked amazing with a giant slide, high dive and kiddie pool. There's also a stocked fishing pond in this park.

There’s a small wildlife center where you can see bears, bobcats and raptors in enclosures for a$2.00 donation. The caretaker helped me get some nice photos of the bears by putting some honey and peanut butter on the fence around their enclosure. You won’t have to pay a dime to see deer. I spotted dozens of does, bucks and fawns during my stay, so keep your eyes peeled because they don’t seem terribly cautious around people or cars. 

I should add that nearly 100 elk have recently been reintroduced in and around Chief Logan State Park. I didn’t see any elk during my visit, but I plan a return trip in the fall when naturalist Lauren Cole offers tours during the mating season. 

I can’t write a Chief Logan State Park review without mentioning the outdoor theater. Actors had just wrapped a sold-out run of “Deadly Divide” about the bloody history of the Hatfields and McCoys and were practicing for the “Lion King, Jr.” Chief Logan also has an entertainment venue called“Pickin’ In The Park,” where you can hear some local bluegrass music on the weekends. 

Chief Logan also has a really nice lodge and some new deluxe cabins about 2-miles from the main portion of this state park. The lodge has a restaurant and conference rooms, plus there’s a modern recreational center nearby which includes a heated indoor swimming pool, weight room, tennis courts, and elevated walking track. Admission to the rec center is free for lodge guests, but campers can also use the facility for$10/day or$32/month for a family of four… Deal! 

So why is such a grandiose state park located in the middle of Lincoln County, WV, where the decline of the coal industry has left many in poverty? Former WV Governor Earl Ray Tomblin is from Lincoln County, so he made sure big bucks where channeled into his home turf, including a nerve jangling connector road that links the main portion of Chief Logan State Park to the lodge and rec center. This road, named “Tomblin Drive,” in his honor, is so steep and curvy it’s closed during the winter months. 

Additional things/do to see nearby: The Coal Heritage Trail, Blair Mountain, Hatfield and McCoy ATV Trails, and the City of Logan.

Coal Country Culture at a Historic State Park

Cabwaylingo is off the beaten path, but definitely worth a visit! It's one of the oldest WV state parks, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930's. Described as a"hidden gem" on the state website, I was the only camper in the entire 8,200-acre property on a warm Sunday afternoon. Sad this beautiful state forest is so underutilized. 

Cabwaylingo sits on a portion of four different counties, namely: Cabell, Wayne, Lincoln and Mingo, which helps explain the origin of the exotic-sounding name. The forest has two campgrounds, lots of picnic shelters, 100-capacity bunkhouses with a huge kitchen, plus some gorgeous historic cabins which now have A/C. The outdoor pool is closed due to a lack of funding, but there's swimming hole in the nearby creek which is also used for baptisms by local churches. 

The stonework in this park is amazing, especially the superintendent's residence which was built by Italian stone masons. It's located across the street from the park headquarters, so be sure and check it out. 

I pulled into the Spruce Creek Campground which appeared nicely maintained, but there was no campground host, no other campers, and the bathhouses were locked, so I wasn't sure if it was open for use. I found out from the superintendent the next morning that it's difficult to keep a campground host because it's an unpaid position. He said I could have pulled in and picked one of 11 spots, then the night watchman would have shown up to check me in and unlock the bathrooms. Good to know, if you're just passing through with no reservation like I was. Here's another tip from the superintendent: If you pull up next to the satellite dish by the bathhouse, there's Internet service with no pass code.

I ended up driving to the Tick Ridge primitive campground which lived up to its name. Again, no host and no campers, so this isolated campground tends to attract partying locals and ATV riders who use the nearby county road. The bathhouse here is permanently closed due to a dried up well, so the only facilities are the ancient pit toilets. I was surprised that I had phone service high on the hill, thanks to an AT&T tower on a nearby ridge. I wouldn't camp here again, but I might make the 2-mile drive to checkout the old Tick Ridge Fire Tower built by the CCC in 1935. I'm bummed I didn't know about it and missed it during my stay. 

The drive to Cabwaylingo State Forest is half the adventure. You'll be motoring through the heart of southern West Virginia's coal country where you'll cross several single-lane bridges and pass through at least one historic tunnel chiseled out of the surrounding rock. 

You'll see the economic impact of the decline of the coal industry with many businesses shuttered, so best to stock up on groceries and gas before you get too far off the beaten path where there's often no phone or Internet service. 

I stopped for gas at the Dingess Service Center where locals can pull-up and pump fuel, but you'll have to go inside and leave your credit card before the manager will turn the vintage pump on. I bought a cold caffeinated beverage and visited with some local residents about their favorite pastimes, the coal industry, and the poor job market that's causing their young people to flee. Everyone was super-friendly after I explained I was reviewing Cabwaylingo in an attempt to encourage more tourism.

The Dingess Service Center is located near the infamous Dingess Tunnel which is a former train tunnel, nearly a mile-long, stained with the bloody history of train wrecks and purported deaths of foreign laborers killed by locals. Whatever the truth is, the 60's-era conversion to a single-lane road for cars still makes for a nail-biting drive. They were paving the roadway when I came through, so the tunnel was closed, but I did drive through a similar, but much shorter, tunnel which runs between Dingess and Breeden. 

There are lots of churches along the access road to Cabwaylingo, including a couple of Old Regular Baptist Churches, found almost exclusively in remote areas of Appalachia. This denomination does not use musical instruments so they have a song leader who chants a line of the hymn, with the congregation repeating a more elaborate version. It's a mournful-sounding form of worship called"line-out hymnody" which dates back to the 1700's. There are a few samples on YouTube which sound like remnants of some ancient Celtic church service.

Ranger Review: Banner and Oak Hats at River Expeditions

Campground Review: 

River Expeditions in Oak Hill, WV, is an all-in-one camping-to-glamping resort for outdoor adventures in the New River Gorge where I shared a 3-day adventure with a young lady who was a first-time camper. We both enjoyed the friendly, knowledgeable staff and all the amenities, including an outdoor swimming pool, game room, restaurant and saloon.

River Expeditions offers tent camping, safari tents, RV sites, bungalows, mini-cabins, deluxe cabins, and even luxury cabins with private hot tubs. Prices range from$15/night for tent camping to nearly $400 for the luxury cabins with a 15% discount for booking online, and a 50% discount from November 1st to March 3rd. All accommodations include a complimentary continental breakfast. 

River Expeditions is spread out over a 100-acres, with the tent camping located in open meadows, surrounded by trees. The RV camp sites are too close together for my taste and the gravel parking spots are all on a slant, so it would be a challenge for larger trailers to get level there. My camping buddy and I upgraded from my tent to my RV van due to thunderstorms and heavy rain. We selected spot#6 which allowed us to park parallel to the electricity and mostly avoid the downhill slant. 

The New River Gorge National River has some of the best whitewater rafting in the country, so we booked a trip on the lower New River and it was great! River Expeditions has good gear and great guides like Porter who had us cracking up when he shared some local folklore. He gave us lots of opportunities for a relaxing swim outside the raft. We also got to test the power of a whirlpool and jump off a huge rock, while we paddled downstream through the rapids. 

The New River Gorge is a climber’s dream, so we booked an evening of rock climbing with David Wolff, Director of the New River Climbing School and he was amazing! I would describe David as an expert instructor, combined with psychological counselor, who helped my camping buddy cope with her fear of heights during the rappelling portion of the outing. 

There are lots of great hiking trails in the New River Gorge. The 2-mile Endless Wall Trail has been rated the #1 National Park trail by USA Today. The view from Diamond Point is amazing, with the rocky outcroppings overlooking the New River. You’ll often see climbers scaling nearby rock walls and you can watch rafts negotiating the rapids in the river below. Tip: There are two small parking lots which can fill up fast, you may want to arrive early on the weekends. If you have a big party, you can carpool from the Canyon Rim Visitor’s Center which is worth a visit to use their flush toilets and get free trail maps. 

We also hiked the 3-mile Long Point Trail which gives you an amazing view of the New River Bridge, a steel arch bridge, more than 3,000 feet long, which spans the gorge. If you visit on the third Saturday of October, you can join tens of thousands of visitors who watch dare devils base jump from the structure during the annual Bridge Day celebration. 

On the final day of our visit, we tried River Expeditions’ 3-part zipline in the pouring rain, something I wouldn’t repeat because I was too soaked and cold to enjoy the experience. I’d describe it as a beginner’s zipline, so if you’re looking for something more dramatic, with better views, you may want to check out the competition at Ace Adventure Resort

The only negative caveat of our stay was a run-in with the resort owner caused by unpredictable hours for the pool and other amenities, which closed early with no advanced warning.  We were threatened with eviction when I used the half-covered hot tub at 9:30 PM after we were told at check in it stayed open until 10 PM.

Product Review: 

As a Ranger for The Dyrt, I get products to test from time to time, so my camping buddy and I wore Banner and Oak hats during our 3-day adventure in the New River Gorge.

I want to be honest, without trashing Banner and Oak, because I love their American-made hats and would definitely recommend them. 

With that said, I’m disappointed that Banner and Oak has apparently abandoned their founding pledge to sell American-designed and fabricated hats, with 95% of the materials sourced in the United States. 

I noticed the recent change when I opened my sample box and two of three hats inside were made in China and Bangladesh. 

My favorite hat of the trio is the American-made Banner and Oak Scout with a patch that pleases my soul, featuring the phrase“Freedom To Explore” embroidered across the top with a stars and stripes tent centered underneath. This hat is well-made, with quality materials, and generates positive comments whenever I wear it. 

The quality of the China-made Banner and Oak Trailhead hat is fine, but the brand is unknown in West Virginia, so when I showed it to other campers, they wanted to know something about the company. I told them Banner and Oak is a relatively new American apparel brand headquartered in Arkansas, so they seemed confused by the“Made in China” tag inside. 

The hat made in Bangladesh is the Banner and Oak Pathfinder from the women’s line. The quality is noticeably inferior, with puckered seams and the front logo slightly off-center.

All three Banner and Oaks hats I tested have a list price of nearly $30/each, so my buying preference would be for any style of their top-quality, American-made hats, designed, fabricated and sourced in the USA.

Southern Gospel Non-Profit Camp

     The God's Wilderness Campground wasn't much to brag about, but the couple who run this Christian-themed camp are super-religious, good-hearted people who live full-time on Paradise Island.

     Priscella Cline Smith and her husband host a lot of church groups, revivals and Southern Gospel sings, but they also welcome tent, RV and ATV campers looking for cheap accommodations near the Hatfield-McCoy Trail system

     The campground offers tent camping,  hook-ups for RV's, and lodging in facilities with names such as "The Upper Room Inn," "The New Testament Bunkhouse," and "The Vineyard Bungalow."  I went for the primitive option at $7.00/night and camped next to the Guyandotte River which is known for its good fishing.

     They have some interesting oddities here such as the Teepee Chapel, the "Jesus Praying in the Rock" stone, and the "Passion Trail" portraying Christ's birth, ministry and resurrection.   

     To find Paradise Island, WV, set your GPS for 777 Paradise Island Verner, WV 25650

     If you camp here, I recommend a side-trip to Matewan, WV, a historic town know for the "Matewan Massacre" where abused miners revolted against coal barons and their security thugs.  You can actually see bullet-holes and slugs in the walls around town where Sheriff Sid Hatfield and armed miners shot and killed seven coalmine detectives who came to town with eviction notices for miners trying to organize a union.

Lakeside Retreat

     This campground is located in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains, so the scenery is  spectacular.  The campground has 36 sites, 10 with electric and 26 standard sites for RV or tent camping.  You also have the  option to rent one of eleven cabins, or a room at the lodge which as great views of the lake.  The campground closes in the late fall, but some cabins, and the lodge, are open year-round.

     The main attraction is Tygart Lake which is ten-miles long, so it's good for boating, swimming, fishing, kayaking, etc.  The launch ramps and parking lot at Tygart Lake have been expanded recently, so there's easy access for boaters.  

     One sad thing about Tygart Lake:  There was lots of trash on the banks when I visited.  When I spoke to the park superintendent, he says it washes in during the rainy winter months and becomes visible when the water recedes during the summer months.  The U-S Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for the clean-up since the lake and Tygart Lake Dam are part of the local flood control efforts.  They need to do a better job of trash removal!

Kayakers' Dream-- Whitewater Wonder

    Tawney Farm is part of a growing trend of agrotourism in West Virginia where farmers allow visitors to camp on their land.

    The proximity to the Gauley River makes this primitive campground an ideal place for kayakers to stay during the whitewater season in September and October.  That's when the meadows and hills around Tawney Farm will be filled with tent campers ready to ride the rapids.

     James and Susan Tawney are the perfect hosts because they're super nice and sincerely interested in talking about their sheep farm, the history of Panther Mountain, and the best places to swim, fish and kayak on the Gauley River.

    I enjoyed a couple nights of "glamping" when I stayed at the Tawney Farm "Nut House," appropriately named because James crafted it from recycled wood, including cherry, beechnut and black walnut. 

    The primitive cabin has electricity, a full-sized roll-away bed and a futon.  There's no bathroom or running water, so I used the clean port-a-potties and community propane-heated shower and had access to a fire pit and charcoal grill.

     Great hospitality!  James prepped my fire pit with free wood and Susan made sure I had plenty of charcoal, then loaned me BBQ tools so I could grill my dinner without scorching my hands.  

     The Wild and Woolly Primitive Campground includes a group area where guests can cook, wash their dishes, and hangout.  There's a small store with raw wool crafts, fresh farm eggs and black walnuts, plus and a stage for live music during the peak season.

     I wanted to make sure I got some nice photos of their sheep, so James and Susan brought the flock down for a closer look and encouraged some young guests to pet them.

     The access road to Tawney Farm is gravel with a tree growing in the middle, so take caution at night.  The nearby roads leading to the Gauley River National Recreation Area are in good shape but a little nerve-wracking because they're so narrow there's not much room to get out of the way when you come face-to-face with tour buses shuttling paddlers to and from the Gauley River.

     I checked out Mason Branch and Woods Ferry where I enjoyed some nice hiking, paddling and swimming.  Since it was summer, the kayakers I spotted were using "rubber duckies" so they could negotiate the rocky river without getting stuck.

     Mason Branch has an unmarked, unmaintained trail near the parking lot where you can see a couple of nice waterfalls.  There's a trail to the left of the lower falls that takes you to a higher waterfall the locals call "Janie's Hole."  The story I heard is Janie was a young lady who died after she either fell or jumped from the top of this falls.

     There's another interesting local story about the nearby Summersville Lake.  This crystal clear lake was created when an earthen dam was built that covered the small farming community of Gad with water.  My 98-year old mom says no one wanted to call it the "Gad Dam" because it sounded like they were using the Lord's name in vane, so they settled on the next closest town and named it the Summersville Dam.  Water released from this lake in the fall is what creates the world-class whitewater on the Gauley River.

Super Clean and Nice!

Camp Creek State Park is well-managed and beautifully-maintained with an active foundation that raises money for cool stuff like the conversation fire pit with swings, located in the Mash Fork Campground, which is only 2-miles of the I-77 at exit 20 in Mercer County, WV.

Mash Fork is one of four campgrounds at Camp Creek  State Park which all offer picnic tables, grills and fire rings.  Mash Fork has RV and tent sites:  9 sites with electricity, 8 sites with electricity and water, or 9 sites with electricity, water and sewer.  The bathhouses are super nice, there's free WiFi, and they sell exceptionally generous bundles of firewood which the camp host will personally deliver to your site.

There's a small store in the Mash Fork Campground with camping supplies and some souvenirs.  Make sure you check the cooler for local free-range chicken eggs… Yum!

If you're looking for more rustic tent camping, head to the Blue Jay Campground.  If you're a horse owner, the Double C Horse and Rider Camp has 2, 4, or 6 horse occupancy sites all within the 6,000 acre Camp Creek State Park and Forest.

Camp Creek State Park has two beautiful waterfalls.  You can drive to both, but Mash Creek Falls is a short walk from the Mash Fork campground, so make sure you check it out. Campbell Creek Falls has a deep pool at the bottom where you can swim.  Camp Creek is stocked with trout in the spring, so expect to see lots of fishermen along the banks.

If you have time, you can check out 33-miles of trails which are loaded with wildflowers in the spring.

*A little local trivia:  Mash Fork gives you a hint about the area's moonshining past… wink, wink!

Free RV Camping-Port of Saint Albans

It's rare to find free RV camping, especially sites with 30 AMP electric hook-ups!  The City of Saint Albans has a roadside park with three RV sites where you can camp for 2-days max in a 14-day period.  The sites are first-come, first-serve, with donations encouraged.  Sorry, no tent camping….

Each RV site has electricity, a picnic table, and a trash can.  There's a sewer dump site nearby with drinking water available.  The public park restrooms offer flush toilets, but no showers.  There's a nice picnic shelter and a huge playground with some handicap-accessible swings.  A shopping center is directly across the street with a grocery store and other amenities.

This park also has a public boat ramp which is part of the Port of St. Albans.  The ramp gives you direct access to the Kanawha River which is primarily used by coal barges, speed boats and vintage paddle wheelers.  For kayakers like me, you should bare left at  the bottom of the ramp and head toward the Coal River where you can enjoy a nice, peaceful paddle without the fear of being swamped or crushed.  BTW, St. Albans is home to the annual Yak Fest, mid-June, where participants in the Tour de Coal gather to enjoy live music and local eats after a 12-mile float.

A little historic trivia.  George Washington owned 2,000 acres in the Kanawha Valley, including what is now the City of Saint Albans.

The main drawback to this roadside park is that it's butted up to MacCorkle Avenue, which is a busy roadway, so I'd describe this as urban RV camping.  On the plus side, you're 15-minutes from the capital city of Charleston, WV, which is worth a visit to see the beautiful gold-domed capitol and WV State Museum.

Upscale, Pristine, A Little Pricey

Stonewall Resort State Park is now the official name of this mountain retreat located around the edges of Stonewall Jackson Lake.  It's not your typical WV state park because it's managed by a private developer which means that Benchmark Management gets to set the pricing for the lodge, cabins and campgrounds.

It's not outrageous, but I paid $55/night mid-week for a 30-amp site which could run about $35/night at a state-run resort such as Pipestem.

What you get for the extra cash is a well-staffed, beautifully-maintained resort with every imaginable amenity including boating, fishing, swimming, a Palmer golf course, disc golf and tennis.  You can rent boats, kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, road bikes and even segways.

I would say the Stonewall Resort Lodge is geared to upscale out-of-state tourists, but l could see locals using it for anniversaries, romantic getaways, and special occasions.

The campground is upscale, as well, with 30 and 50-amp full-service RV sites, many with lake views and some with tie-ups for those who bring their own boats.  I chose a spot under the pine trees where I was close enough to the lake's edge so I could hand-carry my kayak to the water for a peaceful paddle.  

There are a limited number of tent sites, with wooden platforms, tucked into the woods where kayak or canoe access would be right outside your tent flap.  There are a half-dozen hiking trails, mostly easy to moderate difficulty, with a total of 16-miles to explore.

If you get sick of camping, or would just like to sip an adult beverage, there's a boardwalk across the lake to the lodge patio where you can sample one of three restaurants or visit the outdoor bar.