There’s a new frontier of mountain biking in West Virginia’s state parks and forests. 

This story was originally published in the May 2024 issue of Wonderful West Virginia. To subscribe, visit

Written by Mason Jack and Pam Kasey

Photos courtesy of West Virginia Department of Commerce

Mountain biking trails offer a different way to explore state parks and forests.

West Virginia beckons those seeking the thrill of the untamed, where the mountains rise with ancient majesty and the forests whisper tales of adventure. Here, amid the rugged terrain and pristine wilderness, a certain breed of adventurer is carving a path through the wilderness: mountain bikers. With the growing popularity of this exhilarating sport, West Virginia has emerged as a mecca for outdoor riding enthusiasts, boasting a growing network of trails that wind through some of the most breathtaking landscapes in the eastern United States. 

The state has been a mountain biking destination for decades. One of the sport’s biggest, toughest events, the 24-hour race, started here in 1992 as 24 Hours of Canaan, later known as 24 Hours of Big Bear. In more recent years, Snowshoe Mountain and the surrounding area has become a biking paradise—the Snowshoe Highlands Ride Center, anchored by Snowshoe Mountain Resort, earned the coveted designation as an International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) Ride Center in 2019 and advanced from bronze to silver level in 2020, and it currently offers a 375-mile single-track trail system woven through dense forests and along breathtaking ridges. Snowshoe Mountain Resort has hosted renowned events over the years, including Downhill Southeast, the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup, and the UCI Cross Country Marathon World Championships. 

Events like these have attracted riders and fans from all over the world and put West Virginia on the map as a premier mountain biking destination. And meanwhile, the sport has grown within the state: the early local mountain biking community started the West Virginia Mountain Bike Association in 1989 to advance the interests of mountain bikers, and it created the West Virginia Interscholastic Cycling League in 2018 to support kids in the sport—and both are growing.  

The state Division of Natural Resources sees the value in making the state’s hills available to the mountain biking community. At West Virginia’s state parks and forests, bikers can explore a tapestry of trails that range from leisurely, family-friendly scenic routes to challenging single-tracks. Mountain bikes are welcomed on trails from Lost River State Park in the east to North Bend State Park in the west to Little Beaver State Park in the south. And a few parks and forests take it to a whole different level.

Kanawha State Forest

Kanawha State Forest (KSF) got the wheels rolling on mountain biking trails well over a decade ago—cyclists were already chatting about it in online biking forums as early as 2010. The 9,300-acre state forest now offers 33 shared-use trails totalling 45 miles, along with another 37-plus miles of improved and unimproved road surfaces, says park superintendent Clark Sanford. Many of the KSF trails connect with each other and with roadways, making it possible to ride loops of various lengths. 

Biking the Middle Ridge Trail is a popular activity for KSF visitors.

The terrain at KSF is hilly, and the mountain biking trails are moderately difficult to challenging, Sanford says, with just one trail, the Davis Creek Trail, suited to advanced beginners. The 11.7-mile Middle Ridge Trail is popular. “It travels the ridgetop from north to south, and it’s great in terms of length, but also for transitioning, because it provides access to other trails.”

Another favorite among cyclists is the downhill Black Bear Trail. “It’s more for advanced riders,” Sanford says of the steep, nearly mile-long trail. The Black Bear Trail is the site of two spring races each year: The Black Bear Enduro, part of the West Virginia Enduro Series, taking place on April 28 in 2024—an “enduro” is a downhill race highlighting steep-profile trails and downhill speed—and the long-running Black Bear Mountain Bike Race on May 26 this year, part of the annual WVMBA series. A hundred to 150 riders typically attend.

Strong community hiking and biking support have been key to the development and maintenance of KSF’s extensive trail network. “We have a trails coordinator position here for maintenance, blazing, signage, things like that,” Sanford says, “but the majority of the work to maintain the trail system comes from volunteer effort: through the Kanawha State Forest Foundation, the Kanawha Valley Trail Alliance, and the Kanawha Trail Club. Companies come out and do Earth Day events—like, Diversified Energy comes out and maintains some of the access roads. And we have a lot of local churches and schools that come out and do volunteer work as well.”

A new section was added to the Middle Ridge Trail last fall. “It’s a tie-in to Black Bear, 1.3 miles I believe, and it allows mountain bikers to travel certain areas without having to go onto the paved road. It adds a lot of difficult options for riders—so you can take it at a more moderate difficulty, or you can ride rock jumps, roots, and intentionally added options.” It’s the first professionally designed, machine-built trail section in the forest, he says, and demonstrates the potential for trail upgrades. “You’re going to have riders who prefer the narrower, gnarly, rocky, rooty trails that are a slow, meticulous, technical climb, but this new section shows how good intelligently planned and executed trail design is for the availability of recreation opportunities.” 

The continuing growth of mountain biking has led to new opportunities for those looking to get out on two wheels.

KSF’s trail network has probably reached the sweet spot in terms of number and length of trails, Sanford says. But a possible future full trails assessment through the Brad and Alys Smith Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative could provide guidance as to which trails to keep in their legacy form and which might be upgraded. 

Cacapon Resort State Park

A stunning network of trails awaits outdoor enthusiasts in Cacapon Resort State Park, close to Berkeley Springs. The park has recently expanded its trail network, thanks partly to a federal grant of nearly $3 million that took years of hard work and dedication to secure. Among the new additions that are open now are the family-friendly Rock and Roll trail and the challenging Thunderstruck course. But that’s not all—35 miles of professionally built trails are currently under construction, slated for completion in 2026. The project will include beginner, intermediate, and challenging trails with gravity, climbs, backcountry, and ridge trails. Once finished, this trail system will be the most extensive in the state park network, potentially earning the status of an IMBA Ride Center. These developments could transform the park into a mid-Atlantic hub for mountain biking enthusiasts. 

“This grew from a simple plan to build a few trails to the park designating 1,000 acres for mountain biking when they saw the increased visitation from riders,” says Mark Hoyle, mountain bike trail coordinator for the Cacapon Resort State Park Foundation. “Parks are quickly seeing a return on investment. Every weekend, I see five to 25 vehicles parked at Cacapon with bike racks, and the new lodge has been busy with riders.”

The Positive Spin

Estimates show the investment at Cacapon Resort State Park poised to generate close to $5.5 million in ongoing annual economic impact to the region—a significant boost to the economy of Morgan County, which has a population of under 20,000. The influx of visitors will increase spending at local hotels, restaurants, shops, and bike rental companies, creating jobs and providing a much-needed revenue source for the county. 

Statewide, mountain biking events alone contributed over $2.6 million to the economy in 2022, according to a 2023 study by the West Virginia University Extension Service. State park and forest trail systems can become an increasingly important part of that  

Beyond its economic impact, mountain biking and outdoor recreation profoundly influence our physical well-being. Numerous studies have demonstrated that outdoor recreation can improve physical health, enhance mental well-being, and strengthen social bonds. By providing secure and accessible areas for mountain biking, West Virginia state parks and forests create opportunities for residents and visitors to take part in a physical and social activity. Whether you’re sharing stories around a campfire after a long day of riding or swapping tips and tricks with fellow riders on the trail, shared mountain biking experiences form strong bonds of kinship.

With a growing network of trails, a thriving community of riders, and a commitment to sustainability and stewardship, the state is poised to become one of the premier mountain biking destinations in the country. So grab your bike, don your helmet, and join us as we explore the wilds of West Virginia, one trail at a time.