Your guide to the adventure awaiting you at this fan-favorite park and forest.

Written by Mason Jack

Photographed by Nikki Bowman Mills

33 miles of hiking trails offer stunning views of Camp Creek.

Nestled within the hills and valleys of Mercer County lies a gem of natural beauty and outdoor adventure: Camp Creek State Park and Forest. Established by the state with a vision to preserve a pristine wilderness and provide a sanctuary for outdoor enthusiasts, this park has become a cherished destination for those seeking nature’s embrace.

The only state park and forest combination in West Virginia, Camp Creek stands out as unique. The forest encompasses over 5,500 acres—more than double the size of the nearby city of Princeton—and features rugged mountain terrain, lush forests, trout-stocked streams, and cascading waterfalls. The park area, approximately 550 acres within the forest, offers a variety of amenities and activities.

An Outdoor Haven

Before West Virginia became a state, this area was well-known as a natural oasis. Civil War troops considered it good for camping, according to a state Division of Forestry history of the site—hence the name. A lot of the original timber was logged in the 1930s, and a major fire swept the area soon after. Camp Creek State Forest was established in 1945. In 1987, a portion of the forest was separated and designated Camp Creek State Park.

Camp Creek State Park and Forest boasts a network of 15 trails that crisscross the park over a total 33 miles. You’ll find yourself trekking beside waterfalls, sparkling creeks, scenic overlooks, and wildlife aplenty. “One other thing that is really neat in the spring is the wildflowers,” says Camp Creek Superintendent Monty Ball. “Viewing the flowers is a very popular activity, and there are multiple varieties of wildflowers in the park to see.”

Each trail offers its own special charm, appealing to different preferences and skill levels. Whether you seek a leisurely stroll or a challenging hike, Camp Creek has something for everyone. Some trails meander through dense forests, providing a cool and shady respite from the sun, while others climb gently uphill, rewarding you with panoramic vistas of the surrounding countryside. Throughout the park, 10 wildlife food plots attract familiar species like deer, wild turkey, and other smaller game animals.

The Turkey Loop Trail stands out as the longest and most varied in the park. The entire trail loop is more than 8 miles around and is considered moderately challenging by hiking enthusiasts. Almost all of other trails around the park meet up with it at various points. Hikers will encounter many creek crossings, so keep footwear and weather in mind when preparing for the trek. Another standout is the popular Bear Wallow Trail on the eastern side of the forest. It, too, includes creek crossings and dazzling waterfalls, but it’s a little shorter in length, at only 5 miles.

Various other trails cut through the middle of the park, offering scenic views of the surrounding area. The most picturesque of all is Kneely Knob, located at the end of its namesake trail. The Knob stands at the highest point in the forest, at 2,935 feet above sea level.

Horses play a significant role in the recreational opportunities at Camp Creek. “Horseback riding is very popular for day riders and overnight riders,” Ball says. Camp Creek even has an entire campground dedicated to equestrian use. “This campground is a primitive campground, so there are no hookups, but generators can be used until 10 p.m. each night.” Visitors are welcome to bring their horses and explore the park’s extensive trail system, providing a more immersive and personalized way to experience the natural beauty of the forest.

The clear, trout-stocked waters promise great fishing opportunities throughout the park, with locations specially allocated to young anglers and those with Class Q licenses.

Camp Creek wouldn’t live up to its name if it didn’t include premier camping opportunities for its non-equestrian guests as well. Sites where you can settle down and unwind are scattered throughout the park. “We are one of the few state parks where the campground is open year ’round. Our bathhouse facilities are kept open through the winter months, too,” says Ball. “That might not seem like a lot, but we’re so close to Winterplace Ski Resort—we’ve had campers every single night this year.” Some sites come with all the bells and whistles, chief among them Mash Fork campground, where you can hook up anything electrical you could imagine and enjoy the splendors of technology in a more beautiful place than usual.

If you’re seeking to get away from technology rather than indulge in it, the park has you covered there, too. You can book its recently opened Ranger Outpost Cabin, a secluded and picturesque retreat in the middle of the forest. Accessible only by a 3-mile hike from the park, the cabin intentionally lacks electricity and plumbing, offering an immersive experience into a bygone era. “It overlooks Wildlife Area 10, so you can sit on the porch and watch wildlife in the evenings, and the night sky is gorgeous up there,” Ball says. He reassures those who might be apprehensive about being in the middle of the forest on their own: “Cell phone reception is great.”

If you thought it couldn’t get any better for outdoor enthusiasts, Camp Creek boasts some of the best fishing in the state. Nearly 7 miles of trout-stocked waters wind through the park, so anglers of all skill levels will find a perfect spot to cast a line. The park’s crystal-clear streams are home to various trout species stocked by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. And with plenty of room to roam, there’s no need to worry about elbowing your way through a crowd of other anglers. The park includes one of the 10 fishing spots in the state that are reserved exclusively for those 14 or younger and those who hold a Class Q fishing permit—available for anglers who have permanent respiratory, cardiovascular, and/or lower-extremity-use limitations—making it a great place to learn the ropes without the stress of fighting for fish amongst professionals.

Up for a Visit?

Camp Creek hosts numerous fun and engaging events throughout the year. If you missed April’s 14th annual Lumberjack Competition & Ramp Dinner, where expert loggers displayed their carving techniques while attendees savored the delicacies of West Virginia, don’t fret! The park will play host to the Three Rivers Avian Center on July 19, 2024, at a Birds of Prey event. The avian center will bring multiple birds of prey, including owls, falcons, hawks, and a bald eagle named Regis. The event showcases Regis and his majestic flying friends, and it’s a great way to learn about each species and how to conserve their habitat for future generations.

For those who crave more culinary delights, Camp Creek’s Peak of The Bloom event in August is a must-attend. This picnic-style gathering is catered by the beloved local coffeehouse Wild Roots. Enjoy the harvest season as you savor locally grown fruits, vegetables, and meats, accompanied by live music. The ambience is magical. And if you’re looking for still more to do, mark your calendar for Camp Creek’s blowout Fall Festival on September 21. This end-of-season celebration features live music, a flea market showcasing local craft vendors, and an abundance of food options. It’s the perfect way to bid farewell to summer.

With its breathtaking scenery, diverse activities, modern and rustic amenities, and rich history, this park is a destination you wouldn’t want to miss. “One of my favorite things about Camp Creek is the quiet solitude and peaceful feeling you get when you visit,” Ball says. “You can really find your inner peace in the natural environment here.” So pack your bags, hit the trails, and explore the wonders of this beloved space for yourself — you’ll be glad you did.