Going Back to Cowen
I have always loved to camp, even as a child. When I got into high school and my friends and I had drivers licenses, that certainly didn’t change. My range just expanded a little. And, one of our favorite places to spend the weekend back then is still a favorite for me today.
On a beautiful backroad that winds it’s way from the little town of Cowen, WV to Tea Creek Campground and the Highland Scenic Highway (SR 150) we would find ourselves spending many weekends fishing, swimming, relaxing, and just enjoying the outdoors. While in the 1980s, this stretch of road was mostly gravel, today it is paved for the entire length of the Williams River Road (I think about 15 miles) and is a beautiful destination.
But, let me back up to the tiny, sleepy, little Town of Cowen, West Virginia. As of the 2010 census, less than 600 people called Cowen Home. But, that doesn’t stop the area from being a booming area for fishermen, campers, motorcycle or car day-trippers, church or school band campers, and many others.
Camp Cowen, located here is a mission of the West Virginia Baptist Convention and annually serves as a church camp and also rents out their facilities for other groups or retreats including many high school band camps, family reunions. It features a staff house, cabins, a dining facility, a kitchen, and additional dorms. With a facility this large and in such a beautiful part of the state, it stays pretty busy.
For us, Cowen also served as our supply stop for the various items we needed for a night or a week of camping the Williams River area. Located just at the intersection where we would turn onto Williams River Road, the Y Mart always served (and still does today) as the ‘last stop’ before leaving civilization. With every thing from gas and typical fast food fair to camping and fishing gear, the Y Mart is a MUST STOP if you are heading into the area. I can’t be clear enough. This will be your last chance to purchase items for the next twenty miles and until after you have found a campsite.
Now, speaking of campsites, you have a couple of options while visiting the area. As I already mentioned, there is always Tea Creek Camp Ground which has vault toilets, hand pump for water, and usually has at least one of it’s 28 sites open for camping.
For me, I prefer to be right along the river (and maybe a little closer to my beloved Y Mart) so I usually try and opt for one of the 30 rustic sites that are available along the Williams River Road and feature easy access to the river for fishing, wading, tubing, etc. If you like a restroom handy, please note these sites do NOT have water and six accessible vault toilets serve Sites #1-20 and are located near sites #5, 6, 8, 11, 14, and 20.
Fishing for trout is popular on the Williams in early spring and the area may be a little more crowded at that time of year.
Highland Scenic Highway
While in the area make sure you do drive all the way through to Tea Creek Campground, just past the campground, you will find an access ramp to West Virginia State Route 150 or the Highland Scenic Highway. Take time to travel this road. You will not be dissapointed. The road is within easy drive to such attractions as Snowshoe Mountain but please be aware that the road is not maintained for winter driving and is closed during most winter months with the only motorized vehicles using it at that time being snow mobiles.
The Highland Scenic Highway, a National Forest Scenic Byway, is the highest major roadway in West Virginia and extends 43 miles from Richwood to U.S. Route 219, seven miles north of Marlinton. The Highway follows State Route 39/55 for 21 miles from Richwood to the Cranberry Mountain Visitor Center. It then turns onto State Route 150 for the 22 mile Parkway section and rises from an elevation of 2,300 feet to over 4,500 feet.
Four scenic overlooks located along the Parkway portion of the Highway provide spectacular views of the Allegheny Highlands. Drivers, however, don’t have to wait until they get to an overlook to enjoy the continual beauty along the Highway. Each stretch of road offers breathtaking scenery, intriguing perspectives, and incomparable glimpses. The heart-stopping dips take your breath away.
While the Highland Scenic Highway is one of West Virginia’s most spectacular automobile events, you will want to get out of the car to take in the smells, listen to the wind, and scan for wildlife. Clear days offer astounding views of cloud inversions, hillsides colored with brilliant spring wildflowers, or a collection of crimson colored leaves across panoramic mountains during fall.
Anyway, if you want to enjoy nature and try something a little different for you or your family without all of the frills of civilization, make sure to visit Williams River.
How to get there
From Cowen, West Virginia, follow State Route 46 to the start of the Williams River Road, designated as Forest Road 86. The first campsites are about 10 miles upstream from Cowen. Twenty-one campsites (administered by the Gauley Ranger District) are located along the river up to the Highland Scenic Highway bridge (State Route 150). Ten campsites (administered by the Marlinton Ranger District)are scattered along the Williams River Road upstream from State Route 150. The Williams River road becomes Forest Road 216, about three miles from State Route 150.