Laurel Fork Backpack

Description: The Laurel Fork trail system is a Special Management Area of the George Washington National Forest located on the VA/WV border. With elevations up to 4000 feet the forest supports vegetation more commonly found in our Northeastern states and Canada than in a central Appalachian forest. Beautiful stands of Red Spruce and Red Pine as well as different birch species can be found scattered among the more common Oak, Beech, Hemlock and Maple. The upper portions of all of the stream valleys support large meadows formed by beaver dams, past and present. Laurel Fork, a tributary of the Potomac River, is the focal point of the area. The trail along it is in rough shape but can still be followed by the experienced hiker with the proper map. The solitude and beauty that it offers is well worth the effort.

This venue contains 28 miles of hiking trails, most of which are either old logging railroad grades or footpaths leading to them. For the most part any elevation change is usually pretty gradual except in a couple of cases.

The hike described here is a moderate 14 mile backpack. Two miles are along a forest road but good time can be made along that segment. Several campsites are shown which will allow you to adjust the mileage covered each day to suit your needs.

Laurel Fork is wide and deep in places. During periods of high water it may be dangerous or impossible to ford!!!

More information about Laurel fork can be found at this Warm Springs Ranger District link.

Google Custom Directions


  1. Turn onto FR106 (Locust Spring Picnic Area) from WV28.

  2. In about 0.5 miles bear left onto FR60 following another sign for Locust Spring Picnic Area.

  3. In another 0.3 miles the road forks. Bear right onto FR142.

  4. Arrive at the Locust Spring Picnic area in 0.4 miles.


Printable/Downloadable Map

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Zipped National Geographic. TOPO! GPS and Universal GPX Files

GPS Text File for Non-TOPO! Users

Trail Notes: All trail junctions are signed. All blazes are blue but are faded and infrequent.

As you face the picnic area the Locust Spring Run trailhead is to the right. It begins as a grassy woods road. Descend through a mixed Hemlock and Red Spruce forest. In 1.20 miles pass the junction with the Buck Run Connector on the left. Continue downstream.

Cross Locust Spring Run and then a tributary that comes in from the right in another 0.36 miles. There will be an old sign strapped to the post for Locust Spring Run Tr. Continue downstream and merge onto a railroad grade. In about 200 yards arrive at the junction of the Locust Spring Run Spur trail on the right. Turn here and climb steeply to another railroad grade. From here the grade is pretty gradual.

Follow the grade for about 1.1 miles. Towards the end you will be able to see an old beaver pond down in the valley. Keep a sharp eye out for a footpath on the left. It is blazed and has a small arrow sign. Take it to the junction of Slabcamp Run Tr and Fr106.

Turn left onto FR106. (This forest road is open to public access so walk single file on the side facing traffic.) In 1.97 miles pass the intersection with FR57 and FR58 on the right. Soon turn left onto signed and gated Bearwallow Run Tr.

Initially the trail switchbacks gradually through a hardwood forest but soon finds itself tracing the edge of beaver meadows and ponds surrounded by Red Spruce. The trail will weave in and out of a couple of small side coves, one with two small bridges, before it begins to parallel the run. It will eventually connect to a railroad grade. Watch out! After about one mile the tread leaves the grade to the left and descends to the stream on a footpath to yet another RR grade. Follow this a short distance to the junction of the grassy Laurel Fork Tr and a small campsite. At this point you have hiked 7 miles.

Turn left (downstream) and cross Bearwallow Run where you will find yet another small site. Immediately turn left as if you were going to follow the run and walk up through the remnants of a grassy road and watch out for a footpath on the right. It is buried in a thicket but it is there and marked by a very faint blaze on a tree. Turn here and again find yourself on a wide trail that parallels a Rhododendron thicket along the Fork. There are a couple of small campsites nestled in it.

Continue downstream. In about 0.6 miles pass a huge campsite on the left. This is the last established campsite for the next 3 miles and there is some rough going and a ford of the Fork to negotiate before reaching the next one. There is a couple of grassy areas along the next mile of the trail that might do in a pinch but plan on getting a good workout before the next established site.

After this last campsite the condition of the trail degrades rapidly. It will alternate from nice and grassy, to weedy and boggy, to hiking through Rhododendron tunnels and then holding on to the side of the bank where the Fork has washed away the old jeep road. At times You may think that the trail has crossed over to the other side and that you have missed the ford but you havenít.

At 2.2 miles from leaving the Bearwallow Run Tr the trail stops. If you look downstream youíll notice that the valley on your side becomes almost a shear drop off. Look across the Fork. Youíll see what appears to be a small beaver slide tucked under the Rhodos. Thatís the continuation of the trail! Switch to your stream crossing footwear and ford the Fork.

Once on the other side walk through another Rhododendron tunnel. In 0.24 miles cross pretty little Christian Run and pass the junction with the trail of the same name on the right. This portion of the Fork is very scenic with flat rocks jutting out into it. Follow the rocks around the bank to pick up the trail on the other side. In 0.52 miles from Christian Run arrive at the junction of Slabcamp Run Tr. There is an old sign in a weedy clearing. (The ford for this trail has actually been relocated. It is now a few yards behind you. There is a new USFS sign on the opposite bank at that location.) Continue through this weedy area to arrive at a very large and grassy campsite surrounded by Rhodos and shaded by large trees. At this point youíve covered about 10.5 miles.

The next ford of Laurel Run is another 100 yards further downstream. Once across the Fork the rest of the trails youíll be using are in pretty good shape.

In another 0.26 miles cross Locust Spring Run. There are a couple of nice campsites here. The tread picks up an old railroad grade and begins climbing gradually above the Fork. In a couple of hundred yards the Laurel Fork Trail turns right on a footpath. There are other campsites on the other side of this ford. You donít want to turn here but stay straight on the railroad grade which becomes the Buck Run Tr at this point.

The grade will soon bend away from the fork and begin to follow picturesque Buck Run with its small falls and chutes. The grade is pretty gradual and requires little exertion. At about one mile cross a small stream and climb steeply for a short distance. In another 0.5 miles youíll come to what appears to be a fork in the run. Cross the first fork, turn left and follow the blazes upstream. Soon come to a crossing made obvious by the placement of 3 logs to form a crude bridge ( really not needed most of the time) and a rock cairn on the other side. Re-cross the fork here and turn left at the cairn.

In a few yards the trail will veer hard right and begin climbing high above the run via several well-placed switchbacks until it reaches another railroad grade. Follow the railroad grade. The next mile is nearly flat. At the end of the grade youíll walk through a towering Red Pine plantation which borders a beaver pond on the right. As the trail curves around the pond it will climb slightly to give you a grand view of the pond from above.

Soon reach the junction of an old woods road. To the left is the Buck Run Connector. Turn right and in 0.33 miles arrive at the end of FR142. Turn left and in a few footsteps arrive back at your car.

Printable/Downloadable Directions and Trail Notes

Critique this outing



Name: JNK556                                                                                                             Hike: Laurel Fork Backpack

Date(s): 10/17-18/14                                                                                               Rating: 4


Critique: Did this hike as posted with Arfcomhkr, and one other friend.  Trails were clearly marked, and for the most part in good shape except for parts of the Bearwallow trail, which is poorly marked in spots, and narrow and rough. The small connector trail where the Locust Springs Spur, cuts from the RR grade, and connects to the forest road is hard to find, we ended up missing it, and just bushwacked the 100yds up the hill to the road.  Rest of the hike was nice, except for the high winds that kicked up our night on the fork.  Laurel Fork trail looked to have been recently blazed, and had zero trouble following it.  Two tough spots where the RR grade has been washed away, and you're trying to tiptoe through were pretty tough, but not impossible.  Crossings weren't too bad, water was up just a bit, and running fast, but nothing over knee high.  Hike out on Buck Run was long, and in some places pretty strenuous, but we've hiked worse.  All in all good trip, the bad spots on the fork give it a 4 out of 5 rating.

*No signs of rattlesnakes on this trip, this late in October, they have probably hid for the winter!*




Name: Lacy                                                                                                                 Hike: Laurel Fork Backpack

Date(s): 08/30 to 09/02/13                                                                                   Rating: 4


Set out early in the morning for a 2 night backpack. The directions were incredibly specific and easy to follow. We didn't get lost even with my complete lack of navigational skills. Some things to note, in the 3rd paragraph of the instructions, when you're looking for the footpath on the left with the small arrow sign--the tree marked with the blaze has fallen down across the path and the sign has come off the tree. We leaned the blaze against the fallen tree, but this may not be a lasting solution. We came across the rattlesnake area, but found the sign (still there!) after passing the "danger zone", so I guess we were walking the opposite direction of the hiker who posted the sign. We didn't see any snakes or signs of snakes here, but just be careful when you start walking on the rocks by the stream. The only snake we saw was a brown unidentified snake on the rocks prior to this area near where the trail erosion was. We saw him as we were trying to avoid a large fishing spider sunbathing with a full egg sack on the rock we were trying to cross. Strangely enough, these two were the only animals we saw on the trip (minus an alleged deer sighting by my partner and the millions of gnats constantly swarming us). It was quiet hike through the woods, rarely even heard birds. Only saw two other groups of hikers on the trail throughout the entire 3 days. Campsites are nice, some have seats built of river stones (some with backrests!) and most sites had extra wood the previous hikers hadn't used still sitting next to the fire pits. We really enjoyed our time out in the woods. Recommend bringing two pairs of shoes as we used one for hiking all day and crossing the rivers, but had a second pair at night for around the campsite. Thanks for the great directions and reviews! We will be using this site for camping trips in the future!



Name: Ben                                                                                                                   Hike: Laurel Fork Backpack

Date(s): 06/29-30/13                                                                                              Rating: 4


Critique: Three of us did the hike as described the last weekend of June, 2013. The area was beautiful and like much of that area looked more like Canada or New England in places. For the most part the trails were in good shape. The two exceptions were the Bearwallow Trail and a few parts of the Laurel Fork trail itself. The upper portion of the Bearwallow was hard to follow. The blazes were faint and the path was almost non-existent in the beginning. The trail does improve once you get on the grade by Bearwallow Run but be prepared to spend some time in the beginning looking for blazes. The Laurel fork trail was for the most part in great shape as it was worked on a couple years ago by the student conservation association. It had nice fresh blazes and they cleared out the rhodos. The only bad part was a couple sections where the side hill had washed out forcing one to walk in Laurel fork a little ways. The campsite by the intersection of the Laurel fork and locust run trail was great though.



Name: Bob Handelsman                                                                                           Hike: Laurel Fork Backpack

Date(s): 06/19-22/13                                                                                              Rating: 5


Critique: A few years ago, I did a post for this hike which I did in 1978 and again in 1979. I always wanted to go back and finally did -- after 34 years. It took us, a 54 year old, a 60 year old and a 65 year old, about 2 1/4 hours to hike down the Buck Run Trail and set up a base camp on the flat ground near the confluence of Locust Spring Run and the Laurel Fork. There are a number of very good campsites there. If you want to cross the Laurel Fork Trail and hike the trail there, it looked easier to cross by the campsite closest to the Laurel Fork and, if going north, easily bushwack over to the trail. The trail going north only goes to the Cold Spring Run trail which is a nice walk but no views on the top. Going south, there are 2 good campsites after crossing the Laurel Fork about 100 yards south of Locust Spring Run. We met a local guy who said he caught about 25 brook trout in the Laurel Fork in an afternoon, the biggest about 13 inches. To fish the Laurel Fork effectively, one needs wading boots for ankle support and a wading staff. CAUTION: IF GOING SOUTH (UPSTREAM) ON THE LAUREL FORK TRAIL, THERE IS A RATTLESNAKE DEN DIRECTLY ON THE TRAIL ABOUT 2/5 MILE SOUTH OF LOCUST SPRING RUN. AT THIS POINT, THE TRAIL GOES DOWN TO THE RIVER AND IS MARKED BY 2 ROCK CAIRNS. THE DEN IS BETWEEN THE 2 CAIRNS UNDER A LEDGE/STEP. When we were there, someone stuck a note on the first cairn warning of 2 "big" rattlesnakes and we saw a shed snake skin estimated at 3 feet in length. The note may not be there for the next hiker.



Name: Matt                                                                                                                  Hike: Laurel Fork
Date: 9/20/2008                                                                                                        Rating: 4

Critique: Great hike. The last part on Buck Run is challenging but really nice with the beaver pond and the Red Spruce stand. The fords of Laurel Run provide some great options for camping.


Name: Bob Handelsman                                                                                           Hike: Laurel Fork
Date: 1978 and 1979                                                                                                 Rating: 5

Critique: Hiked in here twice almost 30 years ago. The first time, we camped for three nights at the point where the Locust Springs and Buck Run trails meet the Laurel Fork. There was a beautiful campsite there. The second time, we took the Locust Springs trail down and hiked over to Bearwallow Run where we camped right on the trail. It was during the week and no one was around. The trail along the Laurel Fork from Buck Run to Bearwallow Run was beautiful. Would like to do it again.

Discovered this trail system from the Wurtz-Scheafer book. I don't know if it is still in print but I still have my copy.


Name: Peter Schultz                                                                                                  Hike: Laurel Fork Backpack (GWNF)
Date: 09-01-07                                                                                                           Rating: 4

Critique: I did the hike over Labor Day weekend with my wife, 11-year-old son, and his friend (all are in excellent shape). It was stellar!  The weather was superb, the river was low, no bugs, lots of brook trout in the creek (very skittish though), neat beaver ponds, etc.

We did the loop over two days, camping at the intersection of Bearwallow Run and Laurel Fork. It's a beautiful little spot. Fortunately, we always hang our food, trash, and the pack that carries the food at least 10' off the ground since we were visited by a small pack of coyotes at night. The burbling creek at night was idyllic.

It was essential that we had the written description from, since the trail blazes are crap for most of the 14 mile loop. The blazes are so bad that one group we met turned around when they got to Laurel Fork because they couldn't find the trail. We muddled along OK because we very carefully followed the written description, but we did go off course 2 times: once on Bearwallow Run and once on Buck Run (where we initially missed the switchbacks). MY REQUEST TO ANYONE WHO DOES THIS LOOP: PLEASE BRING SOME LIGHT BLUE PAINT TO RE-DO THE BLAZES.

All-in-all, it's a wonderful trip.


Name: Tony                                                                                                                 Hike: Laurel Fork
Date: 7/1/2006                                                                                                          Rating: 4

Critique: This Laurel Fork area has some of the most beautiful high mountain hikes in the Virginias. With old growth forests, wetlands, mountain streams, and several large campsites on the banks of the spectacular Laurel Fork River, it has a bit of everything. Laurel Fork is also a great summer hiking spot, with temps generally being 10 degrees cooler than in the lowlands. The only reason I didn't rate this circuit as a 5 out of 5 is the trail along Laurel Fork is currently overgrown, with faded infrequent trail blazes making locating the fording point on Laurel Fork a bit of a challenge. However, a group of us have volunteered to do some trail maintenance in Sept '06 to re-blaze and help clear it. Thanks for another fantastic circuit hike!


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