Located just seven miles south of Charleston, West Virginia, Kanawha State Forest is in close proximity to the heavily populated Kanawha Valley and is a recreational haven. Some of the state's most popular picnic areas are here, along with significant hiking, mountain biking, and cross-country skiing opportunities. A playground attracts families during the summer season and the fully equipped campground is one of the few in the Charleston area. Camping at Kanawha State Forest is remote in nature given the proximity to the states capitol city. Sites cater to camper units of 26-feet or less, pop-up and tent camping. Campsite reservations are available from Memorial Day through Labor Day weekends. The 9,300-acre forest is noted among naturalists for its diverse wildflower and bird populations. Rich cove forest sites provide nesting habitat for 19 species of wood warblers, a feature which draws birders from as far away as Canada. The forest offers some of West Virginias best special hikes in winter, spring and fall.
Walk up Polly Hollow, hang the right up the hill for hemlock falls & up you go. Runs from Polly Hollow to the top of the mountain & intersects the park border road. Was pretty wet slogging in places, even though it had not rained in days. Worth it, once you get near the top. Beautiful at the rocks, but no really good place to stop until the top of the trail.
This trail gets a five star rating because it leads to so many other wonderful trails and you can pretty much go anywhere in the forest from here. The trail itself is a steep climb, primarily up a draw, with a few switchbacks along the way. When the leaves are off you (November through March) you can see the hollow carved by erosion and the fingers protruding on either side as you climb. If you are coming down the trail directly in front of you is the backside of a mountain top removal (MTR) mine that the delusional puppets of the coal industry over at the WV DEP found wisdom in granting despite various obvious violations of WV State Code. If you hear a blast warning (3 long bursts) duck and cover because this trail is within the 1000' bast radius of the mine and according the DEP there is a possibility, however small, that you may be hit with fly rock from a blast. Mostly you don't have to worry about this, and they do not blast on weekends and holidays so you do not need to worry about it at all then.
I thoroughly enjoyed this hike and incorporated it into an extended trip via the many gas well access roads that dot the area. A word of caution though, some of the trails at KSF are not well marked and most of the access roads are remote and DO NOT appear on the park maps or on Alltrails.com. I particularly enjoyed the walk along Wildcat Ridge. We encountered a turkey and lots of bear scat but no bears. The trail covers everything from boggy hollows to breezy ridgetops.
Today is Saturday, April 29, and I am hiking
alone up Johnson Hollow in Kanawha State Forest.
The forest is alive with the sounds of many
different kinds of birds. I haven't been hiking in
a while and this brief respite to write is a
welcome chance to catch my breath from the hill
I have just climbed.
I had forgotten how pretty the bloom is of the
Trillium and some of the other wildflowers. I came
upon a very large Beech tree beside the trail early
on my hike and I was amazed that nobody had carved
their initials or promise of undying love into the
bark of the tree. We always called the beech tree
an Initial Tree, so prevalent is the practice of
inscribing one's initials on them.
Onward and upward, I make frequent short stops
to catch my breath, to listen, to observe my
surroundings. The sounds of the birds and of the
stream are very pleasant. The sound of an
occasional airplane reminds me that there are lots
of other people a relatively short distance away.
I plan to hike nearly five miles and am
annoyed when I find some litter someone left behind early into my hike. Someone could have carried it to a trash receptacle in the
picnic area about 100 yards away but instead left
it behind. I pick it up and put it in a plastic
Kroger bag and tie it to my knapsack to carry it
with me for the next four and one half miles so
that I can put it in it's place. So far the trail
is very litter free. I subscribe to the statement
I so often observed at the Cranberry Wilderness
Area, one of my favorite outdoor locations, "Please
carry out what you carry in." Even better, I try
to carry out more than I carry in, a practice I
learned early in my life from my father. If I
don't, who will? Leave only footprints, take only
pictures and also any litter you might chance upon.
After crossing the main forest service road
and reaching more easily accessible areas I realize
I will not be able to recover all the litter I
encounter that was left behind by others. However,
it is still gratifying to me to know that the woods
are a little cleaner and closer to their natural
state for my efforts.
Having encountered several large trees during
my hike I concur with others who have expressed the
opinion that it would be best to keep loggers out
of Kanawha State Forest.
To choose which trails to follow I used the
trail guide, "Fifty Hikes in West Virginia" by Jim
and Ann McGraw. A useful guide, at least for this
hike the book was published in 1986 and the white
blazes mentioned in the book are gone or were
overlooked by me and are replaced by orange(Johnson
Hollow Trail) and red(Pigeon Roost Trail).
However, the other directions were good enough to
make staying on the trails easy. Johnson Hollow
Trail and Pigeon Roost Trail are also marked at
trail intersections with good signs. On Pigeon
Roost Trail I encountered a large beech tree that
has been used as an "Initial Tree" which appeared
to have one date inscribed back in 1916 although I
could not be certain.
If you go hiking beware of the poison ivy
which was plentiful along the trails although
easily avoidable if you know what it looks like.
Also a good plan is to let someone know where you
plan to hike and when you plan to return. Have fun
and enjoy the outdoors.