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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Coopers Rock State Forest Trail Running

While the Government shutdown continues to keep our National Parks closed and inaccessible, this weekend might be a great time to visit some of those fantastic State Parks.  A personal favorite of mine is Coopers Rock just outside of Morgantown, WV.  Granted, I am a bit biased since I grew up less than 10 miles from here; but it REALLY is an excellent place to run, hike, bike, climb, picnic, or just be outside.
Wild and Wonderful at Coopers Rock - View from Raven Rock
This park contains over 12,000 acres and is well known for it's rock climbing and bouldering and hiking trails. With it's location just off of Exit 15 of I-68, it is perfect quiet oasis for an early morning trail run as well.  The trails here offer incredible variety, from hilly to flat and technical to smooth dirt path and fire roads offering running paths suitable for all abilities.

When you enter the park, it is a 3.5 mile drive to the Overlook (or main) parking lot near the concession stand/store, picnic tables, and restroom facilities.  From here it is pretty easy to hop on any number to trails. As you are facing the concession stand, the trail off to the left will jog you down to the overlook.  This is a heavily used short little trail; but is worth the trip if it's your first time at Coopers.  If you look over the hill to the right of the concession stand, heading that way will take you towards Rock City, the Rattlesnake Trail and the Rhododendron Trail - all great areas to explore if you are doing a shorter run, or wanting to loop several different trails together for a longer run.  Rock City and the Rattlesnake Trail are again some of the more heavily used trails due to their parking lot and facility proximity.

If you head back up the road you drove in for just under a mile, you will find Raven Rock trail on the Right, just off an old fire road that is blocked by a metal gate.  This is, in my opinion 1 of the 2 must do trails at Coopers.  The trail from here is about 4 miles out and back with the summit at Raven's Rock at the halfway point.  The majority of this trail is very rocky and you are pretty much always gaining or losing elevation the entire way.  A little under a half mile to the top, the trail narrows to a single dirt track and goes steeply up hill. While getting to the top will require a little bit of work, the views from the top nearly parallel the views from the much more traveled Overlook, and you will see far fewer pedestrians en route.
Trail heading back from the top of Raven Rock

Another view from Raven Rock
Once returning to the main park road from Raven Rock, you can simply cross the road and will find yourself on the Roadside Trail.  This smooth dirt path runs along the main road from the Overlook parking lot to the first parking lot in the park. This is a great shakeout trail after the rocky and hilly terrain of Raven Rock.

If you follow Roadside trail as it winds along a short distance off of the main route you enjoy some very smooth double and single track that gently winds along until eventually spit you out on the advanced ski loop that goes sharply to the left.  A short ways down this path you will come to the Reservoir Ski Loop off to the left again.  This is the other portion of Coopers that every runner should explore. A nice undulating and sparsely used single track that winds back into the forest and eventually comes out at a little pond.  This trail is so peaceful and serene that it is easy to loose track of time and just enjoy the trail and the air.  If you continue on past the pond you can take several of the paths to weave your way back towards the parking area; however, please be mindful of how far east you are trekking and what trail you are on, as making a left on Ridge Trail is your last chance to loop back before heading to the edge of the park on Mount Chateau Trail.  The Ridge Trail will eventually meet up with Rock City and Rattle Snake Trail.

For more information on the trails of Coopers Rock please go to the official website and download their trail map.  Or click here and here.

Get out and enjoy the some of the state parks and trails this weekend everyone.  Coopers Rock is just one of many places folks can find some respite from the crazy world in which we live.

Happy Trails!

**A few words of caution:
1. Coopers Rocks is open for hunting.  So please wear bright colors if you head out during hunting season this fall.
2. A second word of caution, Rattle snakes and Copper heads are common here, and I have seen both in the area.  But if you leave them alone, they'll leave you alone. :)
3. Dogs are welcome! Please keep them leashed and clean up after them! And if bringing a dog, please be mindful of note 1.

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