East Coast Isolation: Mountain Biking in West Virginia

A guide to exploring the best mountain bike trails in Slatyfork and Snowshoe, West Virginia.

You don’t end up in Snowshoe, West Virginia, by accident. It is, decidedly, in the middle of nowhere. The nearest town of any size – Marlinton – is 30 miles away, and its population barely cracks a thousand people. From Atlanta, where I live, it was a nine and a half hour drive, the last hour of which I had no cell reception. Even at the top of the 4,700′ high mountain where the resort itself sits, I had no signal. Any direction you look, you are completely surrounded by a lush, green, and dense forest.

As someone who has spent his entire life on the East Coast, I have never felt so remote or so isolated this side of the Rockies. Adding to the feeling of isolation was the distinct lack of other people when I arrived late one Tuesday evening. Summer is the slow season for Snowshoe, and since the bike park is only open from Thursday to Sunday, there were very few folks around.


Since the park was not open on Wednesday, I needed somewhere to ride. After talking to the Bike Park Manager, Philip Yates, he suggested a ride in nearby Slatyfork and put together a 25-mile loop for me. Philip asked me what bike I had brought with me and I told him it was a hardtail. Apparently, for the trails in Slatyfork, that would not do.

“Friends don’t let friends ride hardtails in Slatyfork,” was his reply.

And with that, he leant me his week-old 2017 Specialized Stumpjumper. Now, I am no stranger to hard trails on hardtails, but since he was offering…

The trail system in Slatyfork is an easy 15-mile drive from the resort. Just head south on Highway 219 through Slatyfork – essentially just a post office – and turn right onto Mine Road. Then, drive a few miles up the wide, tree-covered gravel road and park at the Tea Creek trailhead.

Lush trails

From the trailhead I rode the Gauley Mountain, Red Run, and Right Fork trails up to the Scenic Highway. After taking in the view at an overlook, there was a rowdy descent down the Tea Creek Mountain trail. In mountain biking, what goes down must get back up, and in this case, I took Bannock Shoals. This four-mile climb featured a steady, but not too steep, grade. Even so, I was losing some enthusiasm by the midway point. Since it was getting late in the day, I opted to shortcut the last couple miles of the loop Philip had laid out. That turned out to be a good decision, as the sky opened up just as I got back to my truck.


I ended up covering 23 miles and 3,100 feet of climbing, but it felt like much, much more. In many places, the trail was a soft, mossy bog. My tires would sink down a couple inches into the green velvet carpet, sapping speed and energy. The climbs were not as steep as some of our trails in the Southeast, but they were even more technical. To add further difficulty, the roots and rocks that punctuated the climbs were also covered in moss. Not only that, sections of the trail were overgrown with all manner of stinging and scratching plants. My forearms and shins were shredded when I finished.

I only saw one other human during my ride, and that was a motorcyclist at the overlook – I had the woods all to myself. When I stopped to take some photos, I noticed how quiet it was. No people. No distant traffic noise. Just the sounds of the forest slightly muffled by the abundant moss.

Scenic overlook
Scenic overlook

While I could have done the ride on my hardtail, I was extremely grateful that Philip was kind enough to lend me his bike. I actually think a 29er full suspension would have done even better on the trails in Slatyfork. In between all those roots and rocks were awkward holes where the 27.5″ wheels on the Stumpjumper often got hung up.

These are true backcountry trails: remote, raw, and relatively unmaintained. If you go to Slatyfork looking for an easy cruise on some flow trails, you will be disappointed. However, if you are out to challenge yourself, they are worth the trip. I would certainly set aside a day to check them out.

Snowshoe Bike Park

After the taxing ride in Slatyfork, I was looking forward to some laps in the bike park. I headed over to the Mountain Adventure Center first thing on Thursday morning to get setup with a Specialized Demo 8.


Snowshoe is unique in that the resort sits at the very top of the mountain instead of at the base. Being atop a ridge means you have your choice of which side of the mountain to descend. The Basin Area of the mountain features about 800 feet of vertical ending at the picturesque Shavers Lake. On the opposite side of the ridge is the Western Territory, which nearly doubles the amount of descending to 1,500 vertical feet. Since it had been over a year since I had ridden a DH bike, I decided to ease into things and started on the Basin side.

I did a few laps on the main blue run – Upper Dreamweaver to Lucid to Lower Dreamweaver – to get acquainted with the bike. Apart from a handful of chunky sections mostly at the top, the trail was fast, flowy, and smooth. The trail was well-built with berms everywhere. Even though it was fairly late in the season, the trails were in great shape – no big holes or braking bumps.

The black diamond trails were highly technical

Once I felt sufficiently warmed up, I thought I would try my hand on one of the black diamond trails. Just choosing one at random, I ended up on “E.” From the get-go the trail is one steep tangle of roots and rocks after another. The overnight rain had soaked everything, which made for an even wilder ride. It took every bit of concentration I could muster to make it down the hill in one piece. There was no grade inflation here–it was most definitely a black diamond trail.

After that white-knuckle experience I took a break to grab some lunch and let the some of the moisture burn off. Once back on the bike, I headed over to the Western Territory to explore the trails on that side of the mountain. Sadly, many of the trails on that side were closed because of the Pro GRT race taking place over the weekend. The trails that were open turned out to be a blast, though.

A section of the Pro GRT race course from the chairlift

It was a little slow going at the top of the hill since I had to cross over the race course a couple times, but once I made it to Ninja Bob it was smooth sailing. Well, at least smooth in the sense that I didn’t need to stop. Ninja Bob to Ball-N-Jack to Powerline is an all-blue run from top to bottom. Compared to Dreamweaver in the Basin Area, these trails were faster and packed in many more features – jumps, drops, and one particularly long rock garden. When I think of “bike park trails” this is exactly what comes to mind – expertly-built trails that maximize the fun. An advanced rider will appreciate the endless berms which negate the need for braking on much of the trail. I would hesitate sending a beginner down these trails, but any intermediate rider could handle them. None of the jumps are true doubles, and the drops all have ride arounds.

Once I could confidently ride the blue run without stopping I checked out the two black diamond runs that were open: Missing Link and lower down, Sweet Dream. Missing Link was incredible – it turned out to be my favorite trail on the mountain. Just like the blue runs, Missing Link was chock full of berms, but these were steeper and tighter. Some sections even had a little exposure–overcooking a berm here would have you launching down the mountain. There were some jumps as well, but again, no true doubles, so the penalty for coming up short was low. Sweet Dream was worth checking out once, but calling it a black diamond was a stretch. It had a drop or two and some rocks, but nothing larger than what I found on the blues. I preferred the flowy goodness of Powerline over Sweet Dream to finish the run.


For the rest of Thursday and half of Friday I ticked off most of the remaining open trails on the mountain. Back in the Basin Area, I rode everything except for “A,” one of the double black diamond trails. The entrance into the trail was so steep and sketchy looking that I just could not muster the guts to drop in. I did, however, ride all the other black diamond trails along with B and I, both of which were double black diamonds. The differences between the blacks and double blacks mostly boiled down to the grade. There were some skinnies on the double black trails, but even some of those had ride arounds. As for jumps, there were none to be found – at least none that were manmade.


Just for the sake of trying it, I took my trail bike out in the park. On some of the Basin blues, I actually preferred it to the Specialized Demo 8 as I could get up to speed faster. Once on the black diamonds, however, I was quickly wishing for more bike. I managed to make it down E without dabbing, but it was damn-near terrifying on the shorter-travel bike. As for the Western Territory, a legit DH bike was better-suited to the higher speeds. So while you can ride your trail bike in the park, a DH bike is really the right tool for the job.

Snowshoe Backcountry Trails

For a change of pace from the bike park, Snowshoe also has some backcountry singletrack on their property. I ventured out for a couple rides on these trails to see what they were all about.

I started my first backcountry ride late one afternoon following a full day of riding in the park. Following Snowshoe Drive to South Mountain takes you to the Cheat Mountain Ridge Trail. It is more of a chunky gravel road than a trail, but there are stretches of singletrack that parallel it, which the crew in the bike shop called Bear Scat. Since it was late in the day, I decided to stick to the main trail. After a couple miles on Cheat Mountain you will see a well-marked trailhead for 6000 Steps on your left.

Checking out the Fire Tower is a must

From here you can head down the mountain, but if you have the legs, continue past the 6000 Steps trailhead for about a mile to check out the Snowshoe Fire Tower. Climb up the 100′ tower – carefully, because the railing is missing in places – and you have stunning 360-degree views of the surrounding area. Trust me, it is well-worth the extra bit of effort to get there.

Looking west back towards the resort from the top of the Fire Tower

Once you have had your fill of the scenery, head back down to 6000 Steps for a grin-inducing descent down to Shavers Lake. If the Ball Hooter lift is still running, you get an easy ride back to the resort. In all, this loop was about 10 miles long with minimal climbing – assuming you take the chair lift.

The following day, I decided to tackle a longer loop in an effort to hit as many of the backcountry trails as possible. I pieced together my own route based on the map I got from the shop, but as it turned out, I really should have asked for a route suggestion. While I thoroughly enjoyed my ride, some of the trails I rode were seldom-used.

Loamy, rooty, mossy goodness on Snowshoe’s backcountry trails

I began my ride as I had the night before, but instead of riding Cheat Mountain, I followed the meandering Bear Scat singletrack. Much of this trail was slow speed, pedally, and technical. As an East Coast rider, I felt right at home. The trail was similar to what I had ridden in Slatyfork, just drier since I was at the top of the mountain. Again, I stopped to check out the fire tower because it is so damn cool. Instead of heading back to 6000 Steps I continued on Cheat Mountain, which becomes Fire Tower Trail.

Fire Tower trail is a 4×4 road that heads more or less straight down the mountain. At the bottom, I paralleled some train tracks on McDonald Way, which opened into a beautiful clearing full of wildflowers. From here, I went up Pole Axe, which was an overgrown doubletrack. The weeds here were above my head in some places, and the only way I stayed on track was by the little bits of orange ribbon that showed up every 100 yards or so. It was an eerie experience pushing my bike through the weeds, made even scarier when I came across a black bear cub and its mother.


After pushing/riding for the better part of an hour, I finally came upon a trail intersection. Here I saw that the “trail” I was on was marked as closed coming from the other direction. Oops. I guess that explains why it was so overgrown.


Once I was back on trails that were actually open, the riding improved greatly. I rode Headset Adjustment to Lower Beaver Dam, and pushed my bike up Upper Beaver Dam, which put me in a clearing on top of the mountain. From here you can see the resort just to the south. I drank the beer I had brought along, laid in the grass, and soaked up the sunshine. When I got back on the bike, I headed down Upper Beaver Dam, since it was the gnarliest piece of singletrack I had seen. Eventually I made it back down to Shavers Lake, where I stopped for some much-deserved food and beer at the Boathouse. In all, the ride was about 20 miles long with 2,000 feet of climbing.

End of the Trip

Phil Kmetz launches this road gap in the men’s pro race after sliding out further up the hill

When Sunday rolled around, I was sufficiently smoked. In four days I had ridden over 130 miles between Slatyfork and Snowshoe. Rain had rolled in on Saturday night and it continued to pour throughout the morning, leaving me with zero motivation to ride. I did head down the hill to catch some of the Pro GRT race/slip-n-slide contest. Racers were sliding out all over the track in the challenging conditions.

Just staying upright on Sunday was a struggle
Just staying upright on Sunday was a struggle

I went into the trip without any idea of what to expect, and I left completely enamored with the place. The riding – both the singletrack and bike park – is top-notch. Riders of all abilities can find trails suited to their skill level. If you are looking for great riding, beautiful scenery, and a relaxed atmosphere, Snowshoe should be on your short list of places to visit. I certainly will be back again next summer, but this time with a few friends to share in the isolation.

Thanks to Snowshoe Mountain for making this trip possible!


More information