Description - The area includes the entire drainage of the Middle Fork of the William's River and the North Fork of the Cranberry River. These rivers and their tributaries can flash flood during periods of high rain and/or snow melt and can leave visitors stranded. Elevations range from 2400 feet at the Three Forks of William's River to over 4600 feet on Black Mountain. Vegetation includes spruce and hemlock at the higher elevations, and hardwoods with rhododendrons in the understory in the lower elevations. All timber is “second” growth.
The area was still in pristine condition when the Cherry River Boom and Lumber Company acquired it near the turn of the century. Prior to that, the area was difficult to get into and not desirable for homesteading. The advent of railroads into West Virginia, and particularly the Shea engine, which could handle steep grades, spelled doom to the old growth timber. By 1930, the area that is now Cranberry Wilderness was completely logged, and the valuable timber had been hauled to Richwood. Wildfires burned over much of the area following the logging operations. The Forest Service purchased this area in 1934 as part of a 153,000 acre tract that the lumber company was more than willing to sell. The Civilian Conservation Corps converted some of the old railroad grades to Forest Service roads, but they remained closed to public motorized use as part of the Cranberry Backcountry. The area was designated into the National Wilderness Preservation System in 1983 by the Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia, Land Designations Law.
Cranberry Wilderness is 35,864 acres in size. Trails are neither signed nor blazed, although rock cairns are occasionally provided in areas that may appear confusing. Deadfall trees are not cut out of the trails unless going around them will cause unacceptable environmental impacts. In some areas, exposed culverts that present a hazard either to public safety or environmental conditions have been or will be removed. Please, don't disturb or remove the artifacts of previous occupation. Those spikes, chunks of metal, old glass, etc. are part of our heritage. They are our connection to the past; where we came from, who we were and are, and a mark of the effort it took to settle a country. Leave them for others to enjoy.
Wildlife in the area includes black bear, whitetail deer, wild turkey, grouse, snowshoe hare, cottontail rabbit, and a variety of squirrels. There are many species of birds, and several of reptiles including the poisonous timber rattlesnake. Cranberry Wilderness is also home to a small population of brook trout and several amphibians such as salamanders. Catch and release fishing is recommended. Cranberry Wilderness is part of a black bear sanctuary; therefore, no hunting of bear or training of bear hunting dogs may take place here. All other game species may be hunted or trapped during the appropriate season if the hunter has a state license and follows all applicable hunting and trapping laws. Rifles are not permitted in non-hunting seasons. Non-hunting visitors are requested to wear blaze orange during hunting seasons for their own safety.
Cranberry Wilderness has an interesting variety of vegetative types and associated ecosystems. Spruce dominates the higher elevations and gradually gives way to hardwood trees such as black cherry and yellow birch on the middle and lower slopes. Occasional apple trees can be seen near the old logging camps. Many areas, particularly stream drainages, are covered with thickets of impenetrable rhododendron and mountain laurel.
Recreation - Trail System:
Wilderness trails are maintained with a narrower tread and pathway than other forest trails, and are neither signed nor blazed. Trails are marked only at trailheads and junctions and there are no bridges at stream crossings. Hikers should carry a map and compass, and be more attentive when traveling on wilderness trails.
Cranberry Wilderness has approximately 60 miles of trails, many of which follow old railroad grades, logging roads, or Forest Service roads. These trails also connect to trails in the Cranberry Backcountry, providing many opportunities for loop and long distance hikes. Many people like to hike loops through the area. Listed below are several possible loop hikes. Mileage is approximate. Fords indicate streams that may be a problem to cross during high water events. Difficulty is for people in average condition.
Climate - West Virginia experiences four distinct seasons, none of which are extreme. Temperatures in the highlands of the Allegheny Mountains are somewhat more severe than the rest of the state. Generally temperatures during the winter months range from 15 to 40 degrees F. Ample snow accumulation provides for cross-country and downhill skiing opportunities. Spring brings blooming trees and shrubs to the forested regions of the state, as well as warmer temperatures. During this season, March through May, expect mild temperatures between 45 and 70 degrees F. Summers are normally hot with high humidity, especially at lower elevations. Expect temperatures to range from 70 at night to 95 during the dog days of August. Fall brings cool, crisp air to West Virginia and spectacular foliage color changes. Bring a light jacket for this season, which brings temperatures between 35, at night, to 70 degrees F, during the day.
From I-79, take exit #57 and follow US 19 south to WV 55 east. Follow WV 55 East past Richwood and take WV 150 north to access several trailheads on the east side of the wilderness or to reach FR 86 along the north side. The west side of the wilderness can be reached by taking FR 102 off WV 55 past Cranberry Glades to the parking lot at the gate on FR 102 and then walking up the road.
From I-64, take exit #169 and follow US 219 north to WV 39. Then go west to WV 150 and follow directions as above.
WV 150, the Highland Scenic Highway, is not plowed in the winter and is therefore, often impassable to vehicular traffic during winter months, including four wheel drive vehicles!
Cranberry Wilderness is covered by the following USGS topographic quadrangle maps: Hillsboro, Lobelia, Webster Springs SE, and Woodrow. These are available at the Cranberry Mountain Nature Center and the Gauley Ranger Station. Caution is urged when using these maps as trail relocations may cause discrepancies with locations on the maps.