The National Youth Science Camp is held in the eastern mountains of West Virginia in the heart of the Monongahela National Forest. The surrounding areas provide the perfect living laboratory and physical challenges for the NYSC delegates. Seneca Rocks, one of the largest rock faces in the eastern United States, is about 32 miles north of Camp. The New River, one of the oldest in the world and part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers system, is only three hours travel to the south. Also nearby are numerous non-commercialized caves, backpacking trails, and beautiful mountain streams.
Hiking trips take advantage of numerous trails located in the Monongahela National Forest. These trips cover a variety of terrain and enable students to observe wildlife ranging from deer to rattlesnakes. The abundant local plant life includes old growth spruce forests, rhododendron, mountain laurel, and Indian pipe.
Specific hiking trips may include:
- North Fork Mountain (14 miles) This challenging hike begins at 3600 feet on the ridge of North Fork Mountain and runs along the undulating crest of the south half of the peak. Because this ridge lacks natural streams or springs, the group carries all water for the trip. On the second day, the group descends 2200 feet on a steep, but stunning trail which brings the group down to the Seneca Rocks lookout. Camp for this trip is made near the edge of the escarpment, behind and far above Seneca Rocks.
- Dolly Sods Recreation Area – Red Creek (9 miles) This hike starts at nearly 4000 feet, just north of the Dolly Sods Wilderness area and proceeds across a typical “sod” to enter the Red Creek drainage basin. Views on a clear day could easily exceed 30 miles from these upland meadows. Falling through hardwood forest, the hike crosses Red Creek before following it out 1400 feet below where it began.
- Dolly Sods Recreation Area – Rocky Point (11-12 miles) This challenging loop features a 700-foot climb in only one mile of trail at one point. The group traverses peaceful meadows and rocky paths before rock-hopping down a muddy streambed along Red Creek. The group will camp near and search for the Rocky Point Formation which offers wonderful views of several valleys and surrounding mountains.
- Dolly Sods Recreation Area – Rohrbaugh Plains (8 miles) This hike begins at the top of the “sods” where it heads north through an evergreen and rhododendron forest. After reaching cliffs that offer fantastic views of the Red Creek drainage basin, the trail descends sharply to follow Red Creek for the remainder of the trip.
- Laurel Forks – North Laurel Fork (10 miles) Beginning in the woods of the Laurel Fork Wilderness Area, the North Laurel Fork trail alternates between riverside walks, with opportunities for scenic snack and lunch spots, and an old railroad bed, with a wide, grassy trail with a low grade. In between, the trail is moderately hilly and traverses grassy meadows and skips across numerous tiny tributaries to the Laurel River. The trail includes one actual river crossing.
- Laurel Forks – South Laurel Fork (8 miles) This Laurel Fork Wilderness trail begins by following an old woods road to its descent to the Laurel Fork River. Almost always within sight of water, the trail accompanies the winding river through diverse forest ecosystems and meadows which create a scenic hike. The Laurel Fork River is also the home of some impressive beaver dams with many opportunities for exploring the natural history of the area. The trail is mostly flat and camp can be made along the river.
- Laurel Forks – High Falls (14 miles) This challenging hike in the Laurel Fork area begins high atop Middle Mountain, descending 600′ along scenic single track and secondary roads to meet the West Fork of the Greenbrier river. The trail then climbs 600′ up and over the Allegheny Mountain on a steep rocky trail through diverse forest ecosystems to meet the Shavers Fork on the other side, scenic rest stops abound. Make camp along the river within minutes of the 100′ wide, 20′ tall High Falls of the Shavers Fork. On the way out the trail once again climbs over Allegheny Mountain to meet the West Fork Rail trail, a gentle stroll through a meadowed broad river valley.
- Laurel Forks – In a Pig’s Ear (12 miles) The hike begins in the vicinity of West Virginia’s highest point, Spruce Knob, and descends gradually toward West Virginia’s scienciest point: Camp Pocahontas. A secluded forest road leads to the scenic Greenbrier River, which the trail follows for the remainder of the trip. Hiking under plenty of canopy cover, the delegates will encounter beautiful and spooky pine forests, fern meadows, and a few stream crossings. While this hike is long, the terrain is fairly level and allows hikers to look up from the trail to enjoy the surrounding scenery.
- Spruce Knob Recreation Area – Seneca Creek (11 miles) This hike begins atop the highest point in West Virginia: Spruce Knob mountain, elevation 4863-feet. After enjoying the views surrounding the summit, the trip runs north along the crest of the mountain, passing through spruce forest and blueberry glades, dropping gradually into a hardwood forest. Coming down off the west side of the mountain, the trail descends to a large waterfall and swimming hole in nearby Seneca Creek.
The rock climbing program makes use of the Nelson Rocks Preserve, only 18 miles from Camp and known throughout the Northeast for its spectacular views. This location features many climbing routes of varying difficulties and facilitates instruction in climbing and rappelling techniques.
This trip involves whitewater kayaking on the New River and is led by members of the West Virginia Whitewater Association.
In the biking experience, the delegates head off to cycle over a variety of terrain in the Middle Mountain Area of the Monongahela National Forest. The routes cover old railroad beds, mountain roads and grassy trails, and downhill, single-track trails full of switchbacks. On this trip, delegates also have the opportunity to attempt the bridge challenge, where the record still remains at nine crossings.
This overnighter spent several hours hiking ~4 miles while exploring Cranberry Glades, an ecosystem unique to highland Appalachia that features peat bogs, cranberries, and glades. The exploration will be “off-boardwalk,” which is an opportunity granted only by special permission of the Forest Service. The group then hikes 5 mostly flat miles along the Cranberry River in order to make camp and then 6-7 miles back out the next day.
Canaan Valley EcoAdventure
Twenty-four hours of science, research, adventure and fun. Canaan Valley Institute scientists lead delegates through the woods, around wetlands, into streams, and across mountain as they shared information and experiences about their environmental science and research program. Delegates will partake in a wide variety of activities including learning about forest ecology, atmospheric monitoring and map and compass work.
National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO)
Some students also have the opportunity to spend the night at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia, where they learn how to operate a 40-foot radio telescope. They use the telescope to track objects in space and analyze data during the late evening and early morning to complete a research assignment.