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Highland Scenic Highway, WV

Cross-country skiing along the Highland Scenic Highway. Photo by Attila Horvath.

Ever dream of closing the roads to motorists to allow for car-free outdoor adventure? That dream is a reality all winter on West Virginia’s 43-mile Highland Scenic Highway, in the heart of the Mon (Monongahela National Forest).

“It’s wide open skiing,” says Gregory Moore, cross-country ski instructor and manager at Elk River Ski and Snowboard, “The snowmobiles usually keep it pretty groomed. Some days you’re definitely busting trail (but) it’s pretty much groomed for miles.”

Once the snow is too deep for four-wheel drive, snowmobiles are the only motorized traffic on the road, which isn’t plowed all winter. And if even those are too much for you, try one of the side trails from the highway, like Red Lick North, about one mile west of the highway’s eastern terminus at US-219.

Greg likes to telemark ski, but says the highway is just fine for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing – “Whatever you can get out on,” he says.

2010 has already been a great season. “There’s at least a 36-inch base. It’s pretty incredible and it’s solid, too,” Greg says, “The trees are all covered in snow. It’s just a huge winter wonderland.” The highway gets a lot of attention, so don’t forget to check out the trail up to Gay Sharp Knob, another 4,000-foot-plus peak just east of the US-219/Highland Scenic Highway junction.

Summer, of course, is another great time to visit the highway, either to road bike it (“It’s kind of like the Blue Ridge Parkway, but not as long,” Greg says) or to access the hundreds of miles of mountain biking trails that surround it. Make your base at the Tea Creek Campground, at the epicenter of a number of trails.

Where it’s at: About four hours from Pittsburgh; from I-79 south of Morgantown, WV, travel about 50 miles south to US 33 east (exit 99) and travel 35 miles to Elkins; merge with US 219 south and travel 57 miles to the parking area at the junction of US-219 and WV-150, a.k.a. the Highland Scenic Highway

Contact: Monongahela National Forest, www.fs.fed.us/r9/mnf or (304) 636-1800

Digs: Morning Glory Inn ($79-$149/night), www.morninggloryinn.com or (304) 572-5000

Grub: Elk River Restaurant, www.elkriverinnandrestaurant.com/restaurant.htm or (304) 572-3771

Gear and Outfitting: Elk River Snowboard and Ski has equipment rentals, www.ridesnowshoe.com or (304) 572-4173