Cheat River Byway
Running perpendicular to Old Route 7, the Cheat River Byway follows along the boulder-laden Cheat River. Several whitewater rafting companies run this wild river, which is also well known for its 30 technical rapids, perfect for kayaking. During the spring thaw and rainy season, the Cheat’s rapids rank in the Class II-IV range with maybe a Class V following really heavy rains. Across the river, permit-carrying hunters love the Briery Mountain Wildlife Management Area and its many deer, grouse, squirrel, and turkey.
All along this 14-mile stretch of roadway, motorists can see the remains of an industrial past. Quarries, lumber mills, mines, railroads, and a cement factory dot the landscape in Mountaineer Country. During the Civil War, the battle for the three viaducts over the creeks beside the Cheat River was quite fierce. Union forces held off vastly superior numbers of Confederates to protect these vital transportation routes. Today, the cannons used to defend Rowlesburg are still on display and the viaducts are still in use and are easily visible from the roadway.
Northwestern Turnpike Byway
After you’ve spent a weekend rafting and sightseeing on the Cheat River Byway, you can reach the Northwestern Turnpike at Macomber. Don’t worry, this is a former turnpike built in 1838; nowadays, this companion to the National Road is toll-free U.S. Route 50. Grafton, on the western part of the byway, is home to the Mountain State’s first national cemetery and is also the resting place of the Civil War’s first casualty. This hallowed ground is close to historic Grafton’s B & O rail station and repair shop. Today, visitors can learn about the wonderful beginnings of Mother’s Day at Grafton’s Mother’s Day Shrine. Nearby Tygart Lake State Park offers boat rentals, hiking, camping, and a restaurant. Pleasant Creek Wildlife Management Area has many hiking trails, camping, and hunting.
Further east, Cool Spring Park has a wide collection of antique industrial machines, as well as a restaurant and gift shop. Visitors and the occasional grazing sheep, love to see the antique steam engines and old locomotive. For a glimpse of some of Mother Nature’s colossal creations, head to Cathedral State Park and see the amazing 500-year-old Centennial Eastern Hemlock. Thought by many to be the oldest hemlock on the East Coast, this venerable tree resides in one of the last virgin hemlock forests east of the Mississippi River.
But giant trees and wild rivers are only two reasons to travel the North Central Byways. Visitors could easily spend an entire week rafting the Cheat, then touring the old railroad sites, then hiking and boating in Tygart Lake State Park. The raw and untamed beauty of this region helps keep motorists coming back year after year. After all, isn’t a breathtaking break from bumper-to-bumper traffic what you want in a scenic road?