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.

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.

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.

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.

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©.

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 .