About 185 million years ago, a seven-mile thick sheet of sedimentary rocks began to buckle and fold. Wind and water wore away the softer layers, wearing down the mountains, and creating a region of rolling plains. Then the plains themselves were violently uplifted and broken. The rivers that had previously rolled gently over the plains turned into raging torrents that cut deep gorges and canyons. One such gorge is the Smoke Hole, where the South Branch of the Potomac River squeezes between North Mountain and Cave Mountain. For over 20 miles the river has carved a half-mile deep canyon, with nearly vertical walls.
The misty fog that often lies along the river as it runs through the "hole" makes the name appropriate. Where the name really came from is uncertain. Some old timers call the canyon "Smoke Holes" and claim Native Americans used the caves for smoking meat. Others say it was the moonshiner's stills that gave the gorge its name. Regardless, the canyon is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful areas in West Virginia. The remote, rugged landscape provides a unique recreation experience, whether you are fishing, hunting, hiking, canoeing or camping. The roads into the area are narrow and winding: take your time and enjoy the scenery.
At a Glance
For more information contact the Potomac District Office at (304) 257-4488 or you can contact the Seneca Rocks Discovery Center during the summer months at (304) 567-2827.
Located at the end of Smoke Hole River Road, the Big Bend Campground contains 46 campsites in three loops. Each site has a picnic table, lantern post, fire ring, and parking place. Piped water and flush toilet are available April through October. You can take a short walk on the one-third mile trail that runs along the turn in the river that gives the campground its name.
River and Stream Fishing
Fishing is extremely popular along the river throughout the canyon. Streams are stocked with rainbow and golden trout by the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources from January through June and then again in October. Large and smallmouth bass are also plentiful.
State fishing licenses with a national forest stamp are required. Special regulations apply to the area between Eagle Rock and Kimble Cabins (designated with signs and cables across the river). This area is managed for "catch and release" only from March 1 through May 31. Special bait and tackle regulations apply. General regulations apply June 1 through February 28.
The North Fork Mountain Trail follows the ridge top along the western rim of the canyon. This 24-mile trail has countless views of the Smoke Hole canyon and North Fork valley. Drinking water is not available so remember to bring your own. From high points, the Blue Ridge Mountains are visible to the east.
Small Game Hunting
Squirrel, grouse, turkey, deer, rabbit and bear hunting is popular in late fall. Most of the land in the Smoke Hole is managed by the Forest Service and is open to hunting subject to West Virginia hunting regulations. Be aware of private land and do not trespass.
Caves are common in the area. Some are home to the endangered Virginia big-eared bat and are therefore closed to visitors during critical nesting or hibernation periods. Many caves are located on private land.