Winter is my favorite time to go hiking. The sunlight is refreshing after so many days spent indoors; the chilly air is only motivation to get moving along the trail. And you see things you might not notice during the summer months, when leaves are fully out on the trees. There are several wonderful hikes within Holly River State Park that are perfect for winter hikes!
The Tramontane Trail, a moderate 2.7 mile loop hike, is one of them. Because we were staying in the park in one of the cabins, we walked just 50 feet to the trail head and started the hike.
We left from Cabin 9, before the sun had crested over the mountain top. Along this hike, the ground was still frozen, and there was even snow despite temperatures being in the 40s the previous days, on north- or east-facing slopes. But on southern facing slopes, mud lurked beneath the leaf cover, making especially our descent from the ridges potentially treacherous.
The hike goes straight up the mountain from Cabin 9 along the park road, sharing the path with several other trails, including Salt Lick, Wilderness and Potato Knob trails.
A huge fallen tree made us detour briefly off the path (but we did let the park know and they promised to take care of it), adding briefly to the steepness of the climb. At this point, the trail flattened out a bit, giving us a bit of a breather before twisting around and heading back up hill.
There were several stream crossings — like 10 or something like that — we lost count.
We met some wildlife, from a safe distance. The deer seemed unconcerned with us, almost disdainful, it seemed, in their complete unconcern. They were beautiful, even if we are used to seeing them. I never get tired of them. They continued browsing whatever foliage was available to them in the winter and we continued on our way after taking a dozen or more photos of them!
After flattening out briefly, the trail resumed its upward trajectory — the top of the mountain seeming to shift continually away from us, leading us ever higher. Then we crossed a ridge and headed slightly downhill, encountered another water crossing, and continued at a very slight slope uphill.
Soon, to our right were some rocks piled by the trail — remnants of one of the homesteads and family subsistence farms that were relocated in the 1930s. Look uphill through the trees and you’ll see the foundations of a larger building — a barn? A house? To the left, an old stone fence.
The trail looked like an old cart road as it curved through the mountain side. Eventually, we hit a high ridge and walked along it past a mountain meadow.
When the trail intersected with the Ridge Road Trail, we explored along that trail for a bit, before returning to the Tramontane Trail. The Ridge Road Trail provided some lovely vistas over the hollows between mountain ridges, overlooking the Left Fork of the Holly River. Without leaves, we could easily see across the valley to the mountain ridge on the other side, although it would have been even prettier when leaves are out on the trees — the old growth stands of trees would create almost a cathedral-like sensation.
Once back on the Tramontane Trail, we were in for a steep, knee-stressing descent down the mountain that left a burn in our quads the following day. We were grateful we’d taken the direction we had, because we couldn’t imagine having to go up as steeply as we were going down. Hiking poles definitely came in handy as we picked our way down the mountainside.
During this descent, we passed alongside a creek tumbling down the mountain and Mystic Falls that were indeed hard to see and harder to photograph.
Holly River State Park is a state park located in Webster County, West Virginia. Situated on the Left Fork of the Holly River near the town of Hacker Valley, it is the second largest park in the West Virginia state park system with a total of 8,294 acres.
Located in a narrow valley in the Mountain Lakes region, the park is surrounded by heavily forested mountains, some reaching more than 2,800 feet in height. The 42-miles of trails through the park’s dense forests provide hikers peaceful solitude and access to some of nature’s spectacular beauty.
Eventually, the trail deposited us near the activities center of the park, where we followed the road back up to our Cabin — we were staying in Cabin 10, the only one open during the winter months. We felt as if we had the park to ourselves!
Getting there: 680 State Park Rd, Hacker Valley, WV
Hours: daily, 6 a.m. – 10 p.m.