Hike West Virginia's North Fork Mountain to Chimney Top
If you've never heard of the North Fork Mountain to Chimney Top hiking trail you're missing out. What might be the best hike in the entire state of West Virginia, North Fork Mountain to Chimney Top is packed with sweeping ridgeline views, a lush subalpine vibe, and some of the best backcountry camping in Appalachia. There's simply no way to oversell this one. It's fantastic if done as a day hike, but even better as a short overnight backpack.
Trailhead elevation 1,120'
Don't miss The ridgeline view from the ledge to the south of Chimney Top, ridgeline hammock camping
Hiking to Chimney Top
In its entirety, the North Fork Mountain Trail runs nearly 25 miles, but to reach its best view, Chimney Top, you're looking at a roughly 5.2 mile round trip out-and-back from the northern trailhead located on Smoke Hole Rd. There's a parking area for a half dozen vehicles and you can legally park on the side of the road if the lot is filled up.
The trail winds its way through a mix of oak and other hardwoods gaining roughly 1,300' of elevation inside the first 1.7 miles. This is the most physically demanding segment of the trail, but not the only. Blue, diamond shaped trail markers are nailed to trees, but with no intersecting trails it's pretty tough to get turned around on.
You'll find mountain laurel, rhododendron, azalea, various wildflowers, mountain holly, and large fern beds throughout the first 1.7 miles. Several switchbacks help during the ascent, but make no mistake, it's a bit more challenging than it might appear on paper. In general, there aren't any wildlife concerns such as bears or mountain lions, but we've spotted a couple rattlesnakes over seven times hiking and backpacking the trail. At roughly 1.7 miles you'll reach North Fork Mountain's sandstone capped ridge and make a sharp left heading south. Table Mountain pine line the ridge to the right and a hardwood forest fills the view to the left. Shortly after this you'll encounter a small unsigned overlook with a view of New Creek Mountain to the north. Keep your eyes peeled because it's somewhat easy to pass up. The cliffs here, much like those on the rest of the ridge, are more than 100' tall. It's a solid view and we definitely recommend stopping here, but what lies ahead is much more impressive. The photo below is what you can expect to see at the small overlook.
From here, the trail follows the ridge becoming increasingly more rocky with a lot of exposed tree roots. At roughly 2.4 miles you'll hopefully find a rock cairn along the trail marking the spur trail leading up to Chimney Top. It's not always there and the spur isn't the easiest to spot, so just keep your eyes peeled to the right side of the trail once you're 2.3/2.4 miles in.
The spur is very steep, but short lived. Once you reach the top, and you'll know when you're there, you'll find several large sandstone formations known as Chimney Top. The easiest way that we've found to get up on top of Chimney Top is to climb up from the right side, but there's probably more than one way. It looks a little sketchy, but it's a breeze. The photo below was taken from Chimney Top during sunrise in late October. You'll have incredible views of the ridgeline, North Fork Peak, River Knob, Castle Rock, and a slew of other mountains that seem to go on forever.
To the north you'll find New Creek Mountain and another endless sea of mountains. If you decide to backpack the trail make every effort to be on Chimney Top for sunrise. You'll likely never forget it.
Below and to the left of where you climb up to get onto Chimney Top you'll find a small ledge that you can carefully walk along to get the view in the photo below. In our opinion this is the best view in the entire state and come fall it's even more spectacular. Again, use extreme caution. A fall here would result in a long nap.
If you're backpacking to Chimney Top you'll find several spots to throw down a tent along the cliffs and plenty of excellent spots to hang a hammock. There's also room for one or two tents at the top of the spur trail before the climb up Chimney Top. There aren't any water sources along this stretch of the North Fork Mountain Trail, so keep that in mind when packing. It's also a fairly popular mountain biking trail, so there's a decent chance of running into bikers in the warmer months. If you're looking for another awesome hike in the area and aren't afraid of heights be sure to check out Seneca Rocks!
Have a blast, be safe, enjoy the incredible views, and make a ton of memories out there!