Honestly, it is nice when all of your hikes are full of clear-blue skies, breathtaking views, and challenging terrain.... but two out of three, in this case, ain't bad at all.
Think of it as walking along the cusp of one long westbound wave--one side is moderately sloped with a dry yet lively forest and the other, sometimes only a few strides of the trail, is a rocky, windblown face that lets you see miles of rolling Appalachian hills.
One of the unique things about this stretch of trail is the ability to see the change in forest type as you climb the mountain. Initially the forest is hardwood dominate, oaks and such, and at this time of year very little underbrush.
I was treated with few splashes of color from some wildflowers. Below are the Shooting Star, Carolina Spring Beauty, and Wild Stonecrop.
Next up is the transition to a mix of pines and hardwoods. Some mountain laurel starts to creep in and take over patches of ground, and, in parts of the higher elevations, fluffy bunches of pale green and white "reindeer" lichen seem to foam up from the ground.
After around 1200' of elevation gain from the trailhead, the first expansive, overlook opens up.
Even before you can see the views, you can hear something up ahead. The wind here, this close to the wide open North Fork Gap, was relentless. Imagine constant highway traffic or the roar of a waterfall. Yet, oddly, you couldn't feel the wind unless you were right out on the overhanging rocks. Just five or ten feet into the tree cover and the air was almost completely still.
From this point, the trail turns south with some rolling climbs and descents. However, in many places you aren't more than a few strides from still more expansive, 180-degree views.
As you follow the trail for a bit more, keep an eye out for a sharp rise in elevation on the western edge of the ridge. Around 1/2 mile from first outlook, there will be a trail leading up and to the right. Take this and you will be rewarded with the geologic feature known as Chimney Top.
Looking south here, you can see that the mountain ridge continues on in much the same way: a dramatic wall of exposed sandstone.
So, yes, the lighting could have been better, it could have been a little less grey and a little more green, but what are you going to do? This is spring in West Virginia after all--we must expect some clouds. But, I will honestly say that this is one of the more rewarding hikes I've been on in a while. The effort put in to climb up North Fork Mountain is more than paid off by these relentless, expansive, and secluded views.
Keep in mind, too, that on this particular hike I only just scratched the surface of the North Fork Mountain Trail. For those less inclined to tackle the 1000+ foot climb from the northern trailhead, easier access is available on the southern end at US Route 33.
So, as long as your not too terrified of heights (and even if you are, you don't have to go right to the edge, you know) put this one on your to-hike list as the weather starts to turn and you plan your next adventures.