Cranberry River 2016 – Wild, Wonderful, and Trout Fishing
Cranberry River, Richwood, WV
The Cranberry River is formed in southwestern Pocahontas County by the confluence of its North and South forks.The South Fork, the longer of the two at a length of 9 miles, rises on Cranberry Mountain just west of the Highland Scenic Highway before flowing through the Cranberry Glades Botanical Area. The North Fork rises about 2 miles north on Black Mountain.
Since the river flows mostly through United States Forest Service land, it is pretty secluded. However, the Cranberry River has several pay campgrounds, free campsites, and picnic areas along its banks. This is where my two sons and I spent this weekend.
Friday evening, my youngest son and I left home for the roughly two and a half hour drive to Richwood and, ultimately, the Cranberry River. Our plan was to meet up with my oldest son who would be driving over from Virginia for the weekend. Fairly cold at night, beautiful during the day, and fun to be had by all was the forecast.
Unfortunately, my eldest had some car trouble on his way in which kept him from joining us the first night but his younger brother and I did our best to enjoy the trip in his absence.
If you have never been to the Cranberry, I highly recommend it. Located in the Monongahela National Forrest, this beautiful (and Huge) area has something for everyone. Miles and miles of hiking trails, great camping, mountain biking, horseback trails, and unbelievable trout fishing.
For me, my brother, and now my sons, it offers a retreat that is relaxing and beautiful with a little bit of adventure and cold weather thrown in.
Drive In Campsites
While there are river campsites dispersed along the river on your way in and these are normally my preference, for this weekend, these were all occupied and we ended up going the full 13.5 miles from Richwood, WV along the gravel road to the Cranberry Campground which is operated by the National Forrest Service before finding an open site.
River sites are $5 per night and those at the campground are $10. There are two pit toilet locations along the river side sites and the campground features 3 pit toilet areas and a water pump. Pit toilets are glorified outhouses but I will say these are kept as clean as possible for what they are. Along with the fire ring, picnic table, and lantern hooks that each site offers, this pretty much wraps up the amenities available and camping is pretty rustic although a lot of RVs do make use of the sites. It should be noted that cell phone service is not available in the immediate camping area although some service may be available within about a 10 minute drive up the gravel road.
One nice thing about this area is that there are a large number of campsites and campgrounds available so that even during heavy trout season you can almost always find a site within eyesight or a fairly short drive of the river.
Now, if you are ready to do some back-packing or take the adventure up a notch, the next step and literally right next to the Cranberry Campground stands one of the most beautiful places you will ever see. The Cranberry Back-country or Cranberry Wilderness is a 47,815-acre wilderness area in the Monongahela National Forest. In addition to being wilderness, it is a designated black bear sanctuary.
The highest point in the wilderness is along Black Mountain at 4,556 feet and the lowest elevation in the wilderness is at 2,400 feet along the Williams River at Three Forks of Williams River, where it exits the wilderness. This rugged landscape offers a diverse ecosystem and wonderful opportunities to experience the wild side of the “Mountain State”.
On Saturday, we walked into the wilderness from the closed gate next to the Cranberry Campground and traveled about 5 miles, stopping occasionally to fish but overall just loving being out in the warm spring sunshine and enjoying the scenery .
For back-packers, hikers, mountain bikers, horse owners, etc. this has to be heaven. The main trail as you pass the gate closing FR76 to all motorized traffic (horses and bicycles welcome) is the North-South Trail. The route for this and many other trails in the area can be accessed at the WV Trail Inventory website. While our day only covered about 5 miles along the river, the North-South Trail alone extends a full 16 miles from the Cranberry Campground to the Williams River area and the Highland Scenic Highway (SR150). There are many intersecting trails that make this a popular trail for loop hikes.
Campsites can be found at many locations along the main trail. Some of these feature asy access to pit toilets and fire pits, others have camping shelters, and others are completely rustic appearing out of nowhere. If you choose to camp in this area, please remember that it is illegal (and ill advised) to feed the bears so food (including your daily catch) should be properly stored at night. As we traveled the gravel portion of the trail outside the campground, we encountered many bicyclists, hikers, horseback riders, or others that were either out for day hikes or that had large amounts of camping supplies to spend a number of days at one of the sites that the fairly easy beginning of this trail system offered them.
If you don’t want to handle all of the logistics yourself, there are a number of local outfitters that can help you have a wonderful time in the wilderness area. One example is Cranberry Adventures that I am including for no particular reason other than I liked their tag line “Biggest Asses on The River”. Googling for Cranberry River Outfitters will point you toward a lot of options and price range. From guided fishing trips, full equipment camping rentals, horse or mule drawn wagon transport of camping supplies, etc. If you are aware of specific outfitters you would recommend, please share them in the comments below.
If you love the outdoors and are up for an adventure, I believe this jewel of a wilderness area located in the heart of West Virginia will meet your needs.
A couple of comments about the weather. The Cranberry River Valley tends to be cold. While we were there, daytime highs were in the lower 70s range but night time was a different matter altogether. Upper 20s to low 30s seemed to be the standard so tent campers should prepare accordingly. Forecast for Richwood can be found here. Please remember that the temperature in the river valley may run 8 to 10 degrees cooler.
The Cranberry River is a perfect place to trout fish in the early spring, whether fly fishing or using spinning equipment. Icy cold mountain waters flow from the local winter run-off in the mountain tops in rushing shallow rapids and deeper, calmer pools as they flow down stream making it the perfect home for rainbow, brook, golden, and brown mountain trout which are regularly stocked each year.
A valid West Virginia State Fishing License is required, along with a National Forest stamp, a Conservation stamp, and a trout stamp. Please contact the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources for more information on fishing and hunting licensing requirements. Check state fishing regulations for special Cranberry River Fishing Areas including the areas designated as catch and release.
You may want to check the trout stocking schedules in advance of your trip just remember that a lot of folks do the same and immediately following stocking, campsites may tend to fill up quicker.
Making a personal note here. The people that you will meet in the campgrounds and along the trail ‘get it’. These are people that enjoy the outdoors as much as you do and want to assure that these areas are available for generations to come. They are friendly and helpful.
While we were there, two different campers approached not only introduced themselves but provided us with some extra tent stakes and firewood and everyone we met on the trail was very friendly.
Admittedly, the larger crowds following the spring stockings tend to result in heavy fishing in the easier to access areas but overall, everyone is just there to enjoy what nature has to offer. Don’t be shy and you may find some of the best friends you ever made.
While I would love to keep the wonderful secret that is the Cranberry area to myself, I hope that you, the reader, will see the value of this type of place for all current and future campers and fisherman. And, I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.
As in past years, I am already looking forward to the next trip.