North Bend Trail
Parallel to US50 in Harrison, Doddridge, Ritchie, and Wood Counties, WV
West Virginia is well known for its rugged terrain. The great thing about this trail is that you can ride for 60 miles in West Virginia, going through the mountains instead of over them! Ten tunnels and over two dozen bridges carry you on gentle grades alternately above the creeks and through the hills. Three more abandoned tunnels await exploration beside the trail, and deep cuts mark places where former tunnels were “daylighted”. The trail offers considerable variety in terrain, in scenery, and—unfortunately—in trail surface. The trail is often remote and rough. Except near towns, you won’t encounter very many other people. This is part of the trail’s attraction—but if
you plan to ride long distances, be ready to be self-sufficient.
North Bend Rail-Trail
Location Wolf Summit to Happy Valley in Harrison,
Doddridge, Ritchie, and Wood Counties WV
Trailheads Wolf Summit, Salem, Smithburg, Pennsboro, Ellenboro,
North Bend State Park, Cairo, Petroleum, Walker
Length, Surface 70.1 miles planned, 60.1 miles open; surface varies from
packed crushed limestone to heavy ballast
Character Uncrowded, rural, sunny and shady, level
Usage restrictions No motorized vehicles
Amenities Bike rental, food, lodging
Driving time from Pittsburgh 2 hours south
We haven’t had a chance to ride the North Bend Trail in the couple of years. The ranger reports that the trail is now open from Wolf Summit all the way to Happy Valley Rd (a mile from I77 and WV47) near Parkersburg. Flood damage from 1998 has mostly been repaired, except that a few stretches in Ritchie County are passable on dirt but don’t yet have finished surface. Tunnel #6 (West Union) is no longer a major water hazard. North Bend State Park hopes to apply finished surface (pea gravel) from Parkersburg to Cairo in fall 2001. When this is done, only the sections between West Union and Pennsboro and between Ellenboro and North Bend State Park will still be rough.North Bend Rail-Trail
Built by the Northwestern Virginia Railroad between 1853 and 1857 and later incorporated in the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the line served as the main line between Baltimore and St Louis.
The trail is planned to start at Wilsonburg, but the trail currently starts about a mile east of Wolf Summit. The trail is rough but passable to Wolf Summit, which is the easternmost public access and the point from which trail mileage is measured. Westward from Wolf Summit, the trail is finished in packed crushed stone for 7.3 miles to just west of Salem. The first three of these miles are wooded but in the shadow of US50. The trail’s first tunnel, Tunnel #2 (mile 3.0), marks a change to more development, and the trail runs through the small towns of Bristol (mile 4), Salem (mile 5.4), and Industrial (8.1). The largest town is Salem, with its beautifully restored railroad depot. Salem is also the best place on the eastern third of the trail to find food. In Industrial, the finished surface ends at mile 7.3, and the trail surface gets rough.
From mile 7.3 to mile 15.5 the large ballast has been removed, but the trail has seen little other development. The surface is variable, but mostly coarse gravel. Fortunately, paved Long Run Rd roughly parallels the trail from mile 7.3 to mile 13.6. There isn’t much traffic on this road, and the few drivers are careful and courteous to bicyclists. The railroad here is on the side of the hill, passing through it via Tunnel #4 at mile 13.4. The road is generally lower than the trail and closer to the creek, running past farms and homes.
The second finished section starts 2 miles east (mile 15.5) of Smithburg. In Smithburg you can inspect the restored Smithton Depot at Spencer Park (mile 17.4). The finished trail continues through woods with several crossings of Middle Island Ck to the town of West Union (mile 20.3). Here the surface reverts to coarse gravel and heads for 2297-foot Tunnel #6, the longest and still the wettest of the tunnels on this trail (mile 22.1). You will definitely want a light for this one. After the tunnel the trail emerges to pass through farmland and the small towns of Central Station (mile 23.5), Greenwood (mile 27.8), and Tollgate (mile 29.4). The surface remains rough to Tunnel #7 (mile 32.0).
Good surface resumes near the west end of Tunnel #7 and carries you into Pennsboro (mile 32.9), where the old B&O Depot is being restored. Soon after leaving Pennsboro, Tunnel #8 (mile 33.8) takes you to a more developed area. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to peek in at the artisans blowing glass marbles at a glass factory a bit east of Ellenboro. Ellenboro (mile 37.5) features a glass outlet and a modern bridge carrying the trail across WV16. You can find food within sight of the trail in both Pennsboro and Ellenboro. The trail soon leaves the small towns and becomes quite remote, with a few farms punctuating the woods. It passes through three dry tunnels (#10, #12, #13) and reaches a side trail to North Bend State Park (mile 42.9). Takes special note of the first of these tunnels (#10, at mile 39.8). Unlike the others, which are lined with brick, Tunnel #10 is blasted from solid rock and unlined. After the side trail to the park, civilization gradually returns, with more farms and towns. After Cornwallis (mile 43.5), which is just a crossroad, the trail weaves back and forth across the N Fork Hughes River to the town of Cairo (mile 45.1) with its bike shop, restaurant, and a few other shops. About a mile west of Cairo the finished trail surface ends again, about half a mile before Tunnel #19 (mile 49.2). West of this tunnel, the trail plays tag with Goose Ck, crossing it 9 times in 2.5 miles. You’ll be so busy crossing Goose Ck that you might miss the hamlet of Petroleum (mile 53.2). A mile and a half after parting company with Goose Ck, the trail goes through Tunnel #21 (mile 57.0), the second-longest on the trail at 1840’.
Good trail surface resumes after Tunnel #21 and continues to Walker (mile 60.1), which was the end of the trail until 1998. The trail bed from Walker to Happy Valley (mile 70.1) was under construction when 1998 flooding caused considerable damage west of Cairo. The trail should be open again in 1999, but it would be a good idea to check.
Flooding in early summer of 1998 caused serious damage to the western end of the trail. At the end of 1998, the western end of the trail, about 5 miles in Wood County, was still closed pending repairs. In other areas, land slips are marked with orange mesh fencing and some sections of finished trail have been eroded, leaving the surface rough again.
In 1996, the state acquired an additional 11 miles of railbed west of Walker. This will allow the trail to extend nearly to I77 near Parkersburg. When this section is developed, the west end of the trail will be much more accessible.
Vicinity: Directions begin in Clarksburg WV at the intersection of I79 and US50. To reach this point from Pittsburgh, go south on I79.
Wolf Summit (eastern) trailhead: From the intersection of I79 and US50, go 9.6 miles west on US50. Turn north (right) on Wolf Summit Rd. Follow Wolf Summit Rd for 0.4 miles until it crosses the trail. Just after crossing the trail, turn right and go another 0.1 mile to park at the end of the finished section. Alternatively, just after crossing the trail, turn sharp left and go 0.1 mile to park just past the church (this is probably not a good choice on Sunday mornings).
Salem trailhead: From the intersection of I79 and US50, go 13.7 miles west on US50. Take the exit marked “Downtown Salem” and follow the road 1.5 miles. You should see the renovated railroad depot on your left. Unfortunately, the parking at the depot is all reserved for permit holders and there don’t seem to be any good parking alternatives.
Smithburg trailhead: From the intersection of I79 and US50, go 24.9 miles west on US50 and take the exit for Smithburg. Turn right at the bottom of the ramp. You’ll almost immediately cross under US50; this is the edge of Smithburg. Park at the restored depot a quarter-mile ahead on the left.
Pennsboro trailhead: From the intersection of I79 and US50, go 39 miles west on US50 and take the Pennsboro exit from US50. In 0.4 miles, turn left at the stop sign. Follow WV74 by turning right, then left, then right. Trail parking is just before crossing the trail at a railroad depot being restored, 0.9 mile from the stop sign.
Ellenboro trailhead: From the intersection of I79 and US50, go about 45 miles west on US50 to WV16. Go north on WV16. The trail is on the small bridge that crosses the road at the bottom of the hill. Turn right just after this bridge for trailhead parking.
North Bend State Park trailhead: From the intersection of I79 and US50, go about 45 miles west on US50 to WV16. Go south on WV16 for nearly 5 miles to Harrisville. In Harrisville, go straight on CR5 when WV16 and WV31 turn off. Follow CR5 for about 3 miles into the park, then follow signs in the park to descend as far as you can to the picnic area closest to the connecting trail.
Cairo trailhead: From the intersection of I79 and US50, go about 55 miles west on US50 to WV31. Go south on WV31 for a little more than 4 miles. The trail runs through the center of town, and there’s plenty of parking in front of the bike shop.
Rest rooms, water: None for trail proper. Facilities in North Bend State Park and Salem RR Depot (if it’s open).
Bike shop, rentals: In Clarksburg, Salem, Ellenboro, Cairo, Parkersburg
Restaurant, groceries: In Clarksburg, Salem, West Union, Pennsboro, Harrisville, Ellenboro, Cairo, Parkersburg
Camping, simple lodging: In North Bend State Park
Swimming, fishing: None
Winter sports: Cross-country skiing
Wheelchair access: Some narrow (e.g., 35”) gates. Trail often gravel or ballast. Even where trail is finished, gates block finished surface, forcing you to skirt the end of the gate on rough surface
North Bend Rail-Trail
Route 1, Box 220
Cairo WV 26337
North Bend Rails to Trails Foundation
PO Box 206
Cairo WV 26337
Maps, guides, other references
USGS Topographic Maps: Wolf Summit, Salem, Smithburg, West Union, Pennsboro, Ellenboro, Harrisville, Cario, Petroleum, Kanawha, South Parkersburg.
Text version from 2002 edition Conditions will have changed; you are responsible for your own safety. Oldest segment check 1/1990.