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

These two sisters with their bicycles pose at the Watoga State Park entrance sign. Sisters Rachelle (L) and Sara (R) had more than one Top 10 List when visiting Watoga as a family each year as part of the Bott family.  📸: David Bott, 1987.
By the time that sisters Rachelle (L) and Sara (R) Bott made it to Watoga, each had more than one Top 10 List. The Bott family have visited Watoga for more than seven decades. 📸: David Bott.

While struggling recently to somehow narrow down an expansive list of the Top 10 Things to Do at Watoga State Park for this blog, John Denver’s smash hit “Country Roads” became stuck in my brain — for days. Other songs did also.

Notably, tomorrow, April 12, 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of Denver‘s signature song.

Watoga does “remind me of my home far away.” In fact, I grew up in the park. But until I am in the park visiting my old haunts there, those memories of country roads seem oh so distant.

Of course, that is until I get to go back to my favorite places at the state’s largest park. So, here are five of my “must-do’s” at Watoga (in no particular order). Moreover, the next five will round out the Top 10 in a future blog.

Tall tees of green, red, orange and yellow are captured in a reflection on Watoga Lake in the Fall. Number one on many Top 10 Lists is the 11-acre Watoga Lake. Photo courtesy of Tana Shifflett - Facebook.
Certainly number one on many Top 10 Lists is the 11-acre Watoga Lake. 📸: Tana Shifflett – Facebook.

1. A Definite Top 10 — Watoga’s Fishin’ Hole

Watoga Lake is 11 acres with paddle, canoe and rowboats available. Fishing opportunities abound, ranging from trout and bluegill to largemouth bass and channel catfish. Stroll the circumference of the trail around the lake while casting a line to take in nature’s beauty on full display.

Location: From the southern entrance to the park, travel five miles. The lake is just a few steps from the CCC Museum, the gift shop, and the park’s office.

“What a fine day to take a stroll and wander by the fishin’ hole.

I cannot think of a better way to pass the time o’ day . . .”

The Fishin’ Hole, by Andy Griffith.

A stunning view of the Greenbrier River and Droop Mountain to the south along the Monongaseka Trail. Photo by the Watoga State Park Foundation.
A miles-long view of the Greenbrier River and Droop Mountain to the south along the Monongaseka Trail. 📸: Watoga State Park Foundation.

2. Watoga’s 40 Miles of Trails

Watoga provides visitors with many opportunities to explore, hike, and bike with 40 miles of trails. My fave is the Brooks Memorial Arboretum Trail, a 4.5-mile loop, rated easy to moderate. However, there are 12 other trails to explore throughout the park.

Location: The trails are well marked throughout Watoga’s 10,000-plus acres of this recreational playground. The park office and the Internet have maps of the trails system.

At Watoga, it is easy to find “your” trail. Maybe listen to Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way”?

Ann Bailey Lookout Tower at sunrise. Photo by Watoga State Park Foundation.
Especially stunning is the Ann Bailey Lookout Tower at sunrise. 📸: Watoga State Park Foundation.

3. Ann Bailey Lookout Tower

Take a hike to the observation tower named in honor of Revolutionary War scout Ann Bailey. You will not be disappointed by the panoramic vista of the Greenbrier River and the farmland in the Little Levels district of the Hillsboro area. Remember your camera or phone.

Location: East of the T.M. Cheek Memorial. Park at the Ann Bailey Trailhead. You can then hike or ride your mountain bike for three miles along an old roadbed, traversing along the top of Pyles Mountain and Workman Ridge. Along the way, you are sure to see or hear something you have not for a while. Please note that this trail is rated as moderate to difficult.

Once there, The Who’s classic tune “I can see for miles and miles and miles” makes the trek worth this journey. There are several of these song-like views in Watoga.

T.M. Cheek Memorial Overlook - it's just one of several Top 10 views at Watoga. | 📸: Watoga State Park Foundation, Inc.
T.M. Cheek Memorial Overlook – to be sure, it’s just one of several Top 10 views at Watoga. | 📸: Watoga State Park Foundation.

4. T.M. Cheek Memorial Makes Our Top 10

With expansive views of the Greenbrier Valley and Kennison Mountain, it is well worth your time to take a seat for what lies before you. During your visit to the T.M. Cheek Memorial, there is also a hillside picnic area – the perfect spot for lunch with your family or friends.

Location: Travel east from the park office past the Buck’s Run cabin area, along a winding, country road.

While there, have a seat on Vernon’s bench. He was my dad and friend. In effect, we kept going back to try to solve the world’s problems while taking in the view. The theme song to “Friends” comes to mind.

The photographer loved how this park bench near the Brooks Memorial Arboretum seemed to be inviting her to take a seat and enjoy the snowy view. Snow lines both sides of the stream as rhododendron are on a hill across from the creek. 📸:  Angela Hill©.
A winter scene near the Brooks Memorial Arboretum. 📸: Angela Hill©.

5. The Brooks Memorial Arboretum

Not only is this a naturalist’s dream come true, but the Brooks Memorial Arboretum is a place where you can take in the smells, sights and sounds—rhododendron in bloom, mountain streams flowing gently, and songbirds a chirpin’. Even so, it is not as quiet here as you may imagine.

Location: From Seebert near the Greenbrier River, it is just a few miles as you travel toward the park office.

After all, the Arboretum is where I penned some of my first words as a young writer. Think of Barry Manilow’s hit “I Write the Songs.”

Watoga – A Top 10 Song Worth Listening To Over and Over

For Watoga’s Top 10 List of Forever Hits, you too can enjoy spring’s symphony of birds, summer’s mesmerizing lightning bugs, fall’s rustling leaves, and winter’s howling winds to mention a few.

So as I cross the Greenbrier River at Seebert to return to the city, those words to “Country Roads” begin playing again. I am at peace knowing that Watoga, my forever Wild and Wonderful home, will always play the right tune for me when I return.

About the Author

John C. Dean, a writer and editor, grew up in Watoga where his favorite sights and sounds melodically filled the air throughout the year. You can reach John with your list of the Top 10 Things to Do at Watoga State Park by emailing him at .

Watoga Trail Report February 17, 2018: Opinions About Logging Watoga State Park

The NW section of Honey Bee Trail was littered with limbs from yesterday afternoon winds. There is one tree down on this section requiring a chainsaw, but is an easy step-over.  Opinions about logging Watoga State Park.

Here are some of the comments from the folks who use and love Watoga State Park.  It is clear they do not want to see this wonderful park logged.

Opinions About Logging Watoga State Park

“What a shame.  Before long we will have no mountains.  We are known for our mountains.  It all comes down to the all mighty dollar!””

“Nothing is sacred any longer, it’s all about money.  So sad”

” I hope our legislature rethinks this terrible proposal to log in Watoga.  I have posted about my long connection and affection for Watoga and hope it continues to be protected and respected for time unlimited.”

” We had a wonderful week hiking the beautiful trails that are right out your front door when you stay in one of their cabins.  We hiked over 50 miles this week by combining different trails to form loop trails and were in many areas of the park.  The beauty of nature is quite evident when you are deep in the woods and have a feeling of peace and contentment like no other!  To even consider logging in this beautiful park is so wrong!!  Watoga State Park should be maintained as it was created for people to get back one with nature.  Once that is destroyed it can never be recreated.  Logging should never be permitted in Watoga or any state park!!!”

Happy Hiking,

Ken Springer

Why Watoga State Park Should Be Spared from Logging

Why Watoga State Park should be spared from logging.  Speaking as an individual who has a fair amount of familiarity and interest in Watoga State Park, I see the logging of the park as contrary to the intentions of its design and conception nearly 80 years ago.   As a volunteer trail worker I have tread every foot of the 40 plus miles of trail here many times over.  I am often deeply moved by the wisdom of those who saw the unique qualities of this park so many years ago and recognized the need to protect and preserve it for future generations.

Monongaseneka Overlook of Greenbrier River Feb, 2018One only has to walk out Ann Bailey Trail to once again marvel at the peace and tranquility that these old growth forests and meadows provide.  The Arboretum, dedicated in 1938, was intentionally built as an “outdoor laboratory”.  Those who venture out on her trails can learn about the many species of trees, plants and shrubs found within the park.  At least one area of the park hosts one of the rarest orchids in North America, the Small Whorled Pogonia.  It is so decimated it is considered an endangered and protected species.

An Appeal for the Beauty of Nature

I am not an anti-logging proponent by any means.  As a former park ranger I recognize that logging is a necessary industry here in West Virginia.  I know when done properly it can be a sustainable and environmentally friendly industry.  But what I am appealing to now has far more to do with preserving a relatively small area of forest for reasons that have nothing to do with money.  Rather, it has everything to do with respect for history and the wisdom to keep some areas of great beauty sacrosanct just because it is the right thing to do.
I know that I am not alone in this sentiment.  I hear this from the people who come to Watoga year after year.

Some families have been visiting the park for several generations.  When asked why,  they most eagerly tell you it has to do with the atmosphere of the park.  Some call it a sense of wilderness.  Just yesterday I talked with Carlene and Jon Cox of Parkersburg who stay in one of Watoga’s cabins several times a year.  They pass several state parks on their drive down to Watoga.  And when you ask them why they do not hesitate to explain that it is the quality and length of the trails here.  Such sentiments speak loudly to what has been preserved in this one park.

Experience of Rock Run

I, like many folks I know, came here on a visit and ended up moving here.  Why? In my case it was my first visit. I came here to camp and hike.  My first morning here I put on my hiking boots an d started up Jesse’s Cove.  I was awed by its beauty.  Rock Run tumbling from one pool to the next; columbines and Christmas ferns hanging from moss covered cliffs and this wonderful path that ascended the stream flanked by steep hillsides clad with towering trees.  I have heard other people compare such places to entering a vast cathedral.  I felt it that day.  And I still feel to this very day.  So much so I made this area my home.


Yes, Watoga State Park offers these kinds of experiences because it is truly unique, one of a kind.  Don’t we have an obligation to protect these kinds of places that do so much for the soul.  To do so is truly an act of wisdom and demonstrates the very best of humanity.  A masterpiece is always better left untouched.

Watoga Trail Report February 13, 2018:

First a big Thanks to Carlene and Jon Cox for reporting trail conditions on the trails that they are hiking at Watoga this week.  Watoga trail report.

I returned to Bear Pen Trail today and removed smaller diameter trees on Bear Pen up to North Boundary and one on North Boundary.  There is one tree on North Boundary that will require a ” lift of the kilt ” to get over.  This and the one on Buck and Doe will be cut with a chainsaw ASAP.

I had plenty of time to consider why I feel so strongly about Watoga State Park on my recent drive back from Florida.  Why am I so attached to this one geographic location on the entire globe?  After all,  I sold my log home on Summerville lake and moved right across the river from Watoga, and that after only one visit .


Musings of  Former Natural Resources Officer

It is not like it was the first park I had ever seen. I was a DNR officer in Ohio for many years.  I worked and lived in a great number of parks, including the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.  There is something truly special about this park.  Although some reasons are emotional and I do not have the words to adequately express these, the more objective things include its history, the phenomenal natural beauty here, the wonderful and dedicated people who work in the park, and the friendly and simpatico people who visit the park over and over.

I hope that over the next several trail reports you will be so kind as to indulge me in expressing these things.  I will make my case for why this park is so special and why we need to make every effort to love and protect this park. If we do this, the generations that follow us can enjoy this same affection and serenity we find when we cross the Greenbrier River and enter Watoga State Park.

Thanks and Happy Hiking,