Watoga State Park’s Half Marathon and 5k Races

On Your Mark, Get Set, Go!

In mid-August, Watoga State Park’s Half Marathon and 5k Races return to West Virginia’s largest state park.

5k runners start the second leg of Watoga State Park's Half Marathon and 5k races. Photo by the Watoga State Park Foundation, Inc.
5k runners start the second leg of Watoga State Park’s Half Marathon and 5k Races. Photo by the Watoga State Park Foundation, Inc.

Running and walking enthusiasts prepare to be “on your mark” for details about the Sixth Annual Watoga State Park Mountain Trail Challenge Half Marathon and 5k events. Next, let’s “get set” with August 14, 2021 as a key date on your calendar. Now, it’s time to “go!” Tell your friends, family and fellow racing comrades. Of course, it is best to register as soon as possible. Early birds do receive discounts. Registration details are here.

All race proceeds benefit the park through the Watoga State Park Foundation, Inc.

Are You On Your Mark For Watoga State Park’s Half Marathon And 5k?

So, when is this? Details? Where? Course descriptions?

When and Where: The races will be Saturday, August 14, 2021, Watoga State Park, 4800 Watoga Road, Marlinton, WV 24954.

Start and Finish Lines: Both of Watoga’s Half Marathon and 5k Races start and finish at Watoga’s Beaver Creek Campground. At the old airstrip here, Gov. William C. Marland would land his plane in the mid-1950s to stay at a Watoga cabin in the woods. These days there is plenty of space (acres and acres of grassy flat land) for runners to stretch, warm up, and spread out before the races begin.

What and When: First up is the Half Marathon. It begins promptly at 8:30 a.m. and ends at 2 p.m. The 5k starts at 8:40 a.m., ending at 2 p.m. We’re almost ready to “get set” for the races.

Serious looks are on the faces of the half marathon runners as they are ready to take on a challenging 13.1-mile course at Watoga State Park's Half Marathon and 5k Races. Photo by the Watoga State Park Foundation, Inc.
Half Marathon runners are ready to take on Watoga’s challenging 13.1-mile course. Photo by the Watoga State Park Foundation, Inc.

Course Details: The 13.1-mile half marathon course challenges runners. Experience Watoga’s, beautiful shade trees, flora and fauna at elevations ranging from 2,560 feet to 3,200 feet. Occasionally, admire the uniqueness of part of Watoga’s 40 miles of trails as you traverse along the Allegheny Trail, Busch Settlement Trail, and Honeymoon Trail to mention a few.

View the Half Marathon course map here.

Get Set By Knowing Your Course

Up next is the 5k, which is open to runners and walkers alike.

Course Details: Along this 3.1-mile route, you will experience the beauty of tall pines, hemlock trees, and other hardwoods before traveling west into the woods. Certainly, take in the clusters of dense rhododendrons along Beaver Creek as your course joins the Allegheny Trail, making this journey a breathtaking finish as you return to the airstrip.

See the route for the 5k here. Please note that the 5k course may be slightly modified from years past. Likewise, take a look at this 2019 YouTube video of racers, course challenges, and the scenic beauty that awaits you at the park’s Half Marathon and 5k Races .

It’s Time To Go!

Now that you’ve found your mark, became set, you’re ready to go by deciding which race to enter. Here is the registration site for both races.

Regardless, it is not too early to explore lodging options here at the park and places to stay or dine.

Additionally, our volunteers will be along the trails and other unexpected places cheering you on, staffing first-aid stations and providing needed hydration at Watoga State Park’s Half Marathon and 5k Races! Let’s go, racers!

About the Author

While growing up at Watoga for more than 16 years, John C. Dean explored parts or all of the race routes, including the “Road Not Taken.” Moreover, say hello to John along with Jack and Max, his two black Labrador Retrievers, along the wooded park’s Half Marathon and 5k Races’ panoramic vistas on August 14. He won’t mind if you ask how he liked spending a day lost in Watoga’s expansive woods. John is a journalist, writer, and legal editor. He also is a member of the Watoga State Park Foundation, Inc. Board of Directors. John can be reached at .

The Top 10 Things To Do At Watoga State Park — Part 2

A log cabin build by the Civilian Conservation Corp in the early 1930s is nestled neatly again a backdrop of tall tress as spring and green begins to emerge in 2021. Cabin 34 - the "Honeymoon Cabin," is a Top 10 choice for newlyweds. 📸: John C. Dean
Cabin 34 – the “Honeymoon Cabin,” is also Top 10 choice for newlyweds. Photo by John C. Dean.

In Part One of the Top 10 Things to Do at Watoga State Park, we utilized a musical theme. This blog has a historical angle. This list is not ranked in any particular order.

Stay at a Historic Cabin or at One of Three Campgrounds — A Top 10 Must-Do

To fully enjoy what Watoga offers as the state’s largest park, plan on staying several days or a week or two at one of its 34 cabins or at one of 100 camp sites.

Experience a rustic cabin built with pine and chestnut logs in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Legacy cabins utilized native stone for foundations, chimneys, and fireplaces. All cabins have undergone extensive renovations and updates to kitchens, bathrooms and fixtures, except for Cabins 16 and 19 (Vacation cabins). Classic cabins (Cabins 3, 8-9, 14-15, 18, 28, and 33) feature various room layouts and bedroom options. If you’ve never stayed in a cabin at Watoga, this should be on your Top 10 list.

Interior of a Legacy Cabin (Cabin No. 11) highlights new furniture and interior upgrades. A fireplace takes center state as does the wood work and hewn logs from the 1930s.Photo by John Dean.
Interior of a Legacy Cabin (Cabin No. 11) retains both its historic charm almost 90 years after being built, and has upgraded amenities.
Photo by John C. Dean.

Moreover, for camping enthusiasts who prefer a more rugged experience, you can “rough” it at Laurel Run Primitive Campground. But, the Beaver Creek and Riverside campgrounds have more modern conveniences with electric hookups, laundry centers, and bathhouses.

From the Riverside Campground, you can cast a line into the Greenbrier River or hike on the 78-mile Greenbrier River Trail.

Bordering Beaver Creek Campground is Calvin Price State Forest. Enjoy a nature-filled hike in the eastern part of this 9,500-acre forest along the Allegheny Trail. Meanwhile, you may hunt with the proper license.

Joggers along road at Beaver Creek Campground.  Photo by Watoga State Park Foundation.
Joggers along road at Beaver Creek Campground. Photo by Watoga State Park Foundation.

Locations: Cabins are in strategic locations of the park. Beaver Creek Campground is just past the park’s north entrance. Riverside Campground is near the River Cabin Area, close to Seebert. The Primitive Campground is off of Kennison Run Trail.

Watoga’s Dark Skies

How dark are the skies here? Really, really dark. The pitch blackness envelopes you, making it difficult to see the person standing right beside you. Admire the Milky Way Galaxy, other constellations, Supermoons and a sky unlike any you’ve ever seen before. Scientists estimate the universe is 13.8 billion years old.

On a clear night at Watoga State Park, the 11-acre lake sits below the Milky Way Galaxy. A Top 10 Dark Sky of the Milky Way Galaxy over Watoga Lake on a clear night. Photo by Jesse Thornton©
A Top 10 Dark Sky of the Milky Way Galaxy over Watoga Lake during a clear night. Photo by Jesse Thornton©.

There are so many stars, you’ll have difficulty choosing which ones to wish upon. Catch a glimpse of one of the 13 astronomical zodiac constellations depending on the time of year. For even more amazing sights, bring your binoculars or telescope to focus on a definite Top 10 favorite. Stay tuned for potential history-making news about Watoga’s dark skies.

Just look up while you’re here.

Locations: All around you.

The Swimming Pool

After exploring the park’s many trails and scenic overlooks, you can take a break at the swimming pool, the first-ever built at a state park. It’s also the last major project completed by CCC workers in 1940. Notice the stonework as you walk up the steps to the main entrance to the pool.

Once there, relax, grab a bite to eat at the snack bar, or complete a few laps as the children enjoy the water slide. The main pool’s depth ranges from three feet to eight feet, with a separate wading area for toddlers. While the water was brisk in year’s past, it is much warmer now thanks to solar panels.

A nice summer day greets a young visitor as he slides down the slide. Youngsters always list the pool in their Top 10. Photo by Stanley Clark©.
Without doubt, youngsters list the pool in their Top 10. Photo by Stanley Clark©.

Location: Next door to Cabin No. 20, near the Activities Center.

Lightning Bugs — An Enlightening Top 10

Remember when you were younger and chased after lightning bugs as soon as darkness fell? You may still want to do so. We know your children will, especially at Watoga where different species of those mesmerizing lightning bugs thrive. We think the fascination with lightning bugs is a perennial mainstay of the Top 10 things to do at Watoga.

Recently, the Division of Natural Resources confirmed the existence of a colony of synchronous fireflies in a still-secretive location. Time will tell if Watoga will be the next Great Smoky Mountains National Park for firefly watching. However, there could be a firefly festival in the Watoga’s future. One state expert thinks that Watoga and West Virginia may become the new lightning bug capital of the U.S.

In a secluded area at Watoga, a synchronous firefly (Photinus carolinus) pauses before liftoff to search for a mate. Photo by Tiffany Beachy©.
A synchronous firefly (Photinus carolinus) pauses before liftoff to search for a mate. Photo by Tiffany Beachy©.

Likewise, we’ll be releasing more details about this Watoga wonder in June’s issue of Wonderful West Virginia magazine.

Location: Almost everywhere in the park you can see different species of fireflies. But the location of the synchronous fireflies will not be revealed until a conservation management plan is put into place at Watoga to protect their habitat.

Have A Top 10 Get Together With Friends And Family

Watoga gets you away from it all. You can feel the stress melt away. So take a walk. Enjoy your surroundings. Listen to how quiet it is. Relax.

Since Watoga’s opening in 1937, it’s been a place to get together [link to book maybe] For decades, families have held family reunions and picnics at many different places in the park.

Presently, the remodeled Activities Center, is the new gathering place for weddings, receptions, birthday parties, meetings, and more.

The brown sided wood building at 2,100 square feet is atop a hill not far from the swimming pool. This is a photo in the early fall of 2020.
With more than 2,100 square feet available, the former Rec Hall building (now the Activity Center) hosts a variety of events. Photo by John Dean.

Locations: Pick your spot in the expanse of 10,100 acres.

Create Your Own Top 10 At Watoga

When you visit Watoga, immerse yourself in a bygone era, complete with today’s modern amenities. Create your Top 10 (or 50), make lifelong memories, and catch a lightning bug or a shooting star. Relax and sit around the campfire roasting marshmallows. Maybe later tell a captivating ghost story or two. The dazzling display of lightning bugs and star-filled skies are awaiting your arrival at Watoga.

Then when you are home, let us know what your Top 10 things to do at Watoga are.

About the Author

For his first 16 years, John C. Dean lived in the park. Even today, he’s fascinated by the hypnotic display of majestic lightning bugs. John’s inspiration to be a writer came from many nights looking upward at Watoga’s dark sky treasures. Recently, he was elected to the Watoga State Park Foundation’s Board of Directors, but will continue writing about park news and its history. You can reach John at .