Wild and Wonderful Christmas Tree Adventure

West Virginia gets a bad rap.  For many folks, talking about West Virginia conjures up images of coal country or depression era photos of barefoot children. But for those in the know West Virginia is an East Coast adventure mecca, filled with wonderful people and gorgeous scenery.  Getting away from the hubbub of the holiday season at Yonderlust, my partner and I took a quick weekend adventure to indulge in some of the best WV had to offer, including sport climbing, hiking, and harvesting our Christmas tree.

Fayetteville is the undisputed adventure capital of West Virginia, and at only 4 hours from Durham, it’s an accessible drive after work to get a jumpstart on the weekend.  On our trip itinerary looked like this:

Day 0: Drive from Durham to Fayetteville, hit camp and went straight to bed

Day 1: Explore Fayetteville, New River Gorge National Park plus sport climbing on Summersville Lake

Day 2: Visit the Cranberry Wilderness to cut down a Christmas Tree and drive home

We woke up with the sun and checked out some views from the bottom of the New River Gorge before heading to breakfast at the Cathedral Cafe, a local staple in an old church with great vegan options.  We then visited Waterstone Outdoors, a local outfitter, and the New River Gorge National Park Visitor Center before heading out to go climbing. The New River Gorge and its surrounding area is a global climbing destination, famous for its miles and miles of unbroken cliff line. If climbing is not up your alley, there are plenty of of hiking and biking trails well worth anyone’s time, and in the summer and fall peak seasons, the whitewater rafting and kayaking is world class. 

Hiking into climb at Whippoorwill (Photo: Kendall Wimberley)

Our climbing area of choice was Whippoorwill, a stretch of cliff line along Summersville Lake, about 25 minutes from downtown Fayetteville.  It’s a great winter location, with most of the routes in the sun and boasting a decent number of moderate difficulty climbs. In the summer, when the lake level is up and the bases of the climbs are underwater, you’ll find people deep water soloing here from kayaks and pontoon boats. 

Wear sturdy shoes if you’re planning on going past the first 20 or so climbs closest to the parking lot! (Photo: Aidan Baird)

Before retiring for the evening we headed back into Fayetteville for some Beyond burgers from Secret Sandwich Society.  When we woke up, despite the sunny and 60 degree forecast, we were greeted with a drizzling, cold rain, a reminder to always have a rain plan when adventuring in Appalachia.

We grabbed breakfast at Tudor’s Biscuit World, a West Virginia staple, before heading east towards Monongahela National Forest. Once reaching the forest, we stopped at the Falls of Hills Creek and at the Cranberry Glades Botanical Area to do some hiking. It being the offseason, it felt like we had the entire forest to ourselves. The Falls of Hills Creek are three spectacular waterfalls which can be seen along a stunning 0.8 mile (1.6 mile round trip) trail. The Cranberry Glades are a unique ecological marvel, where one can see plants and ecosystems normally found at much higher latitudes, left nestled in the Appalachian mountains during the last ice age. A bit crunched for time, we elected to do just the 0.6 mile boardwalk hike through the Cranberry Glades, but with a little more time, the 7.1 mile Cowpasture Trail would be a great option to see some more of the unique scenery.

We then headed up to Big Spruce Overlook to harvest our Christmas Tree.  Every year the Forest Service opens up parts of some national forests for people to harvest their own Christmas trees.  This helps to contribute to responsible forest management plans, and the permit sales ($5 a piece) serve as a small source of revenue.  The inspiration for this trip was finding out that Monongahela National Forest was the closest national forest to Durham where one can cut down their own tree.  Following the regulations and maps provided by the Forest Service, with our permit in hand, we headed into the woods to select our tree.

“I hope that’s good enough to make it 5 hours” (Photo: Kendall Wimberley)

With the tree strapped to the top of my station wagon, we began the scenic drive through the mountains back to Durham.  One of the mottos of the Forest Service Christmas Tree Program is, “Bring home a story”. Though the tree may not be the prettiest I’ve seen – and it required quite a bit of driving – I can say the story alone was worth it, and we’ll probably do it again next year.  Plus, we got to visit some great places that I can’t wait to go back to again! 

If you want to talk about things to do in West Virginia, or are still looking for some gifts to go under your tree, come see us at Yonderlust!

Pro tip: If you’re driving through Appalachia and see a pipe coming out of a spring, grab your water bottle and take a swig! (Photo: Kendall Wimberley)