Beartown is actually a jumble of large boulders, crevasses, and overhangs that seem like they would make a great place for bears (or some type of magical forest creatures?) to live. Much of the sandstone surface is pitted from erosion, adding to the mystique. We were there on a beautiful summer day, with dapples of sunlight forcing its way through the verdant leaves and dancing on the ground around us.
A trail leads from the parking area down a short distance to where the boardwalk starts. The boardwalk provides an easy way to explore Beartown, with views from up above as well as down inside the rock formations. Just be careful on the steps that take you up and down—especially since your eyes will be busy staring at the incredible combination of rocks, trees, moss, ferns, etc.
There are several signs along the way, conveying educational information. The boardwalk itself actually forms a circle, but you can choose to start in either direction. There are a few places where short extensions (spurs) off the main boardwalk provide unique perspectives, but the main pathway will take you back to where you started. Once you arrive back at the beginning, I would recommend reversing course and retracing your route around the boardwalk again. It may surprise you to see things from a different vantage point on your way back.
While you are in the area, you might want to also check out Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park—their respective entrances are only three miles apart on opposite sides of Rt. 219. These two nearby state parks share a common superintendent as well as other resources. In November 1863, Droop Mountain was the scene of the last major battle for the control of West Virginia during the Civil War. The Confederates held the high ground, but determined Union troops fought their way up this hillside to force the rebels into retreat. A log cabin near the park offices houses a small museum, plus there are a number of educational signs around the park providing insights into the battle.
There is a really nice observation tower that provides an awesome view of the small town of Hillsboro and rest of the valley below, as well as the ridges beyond. It was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression years. I climbed it as a youngster when my family visited years ago, and felt like a youngster climbing the steps again during our recent visit. There are also a number of intriguing hiking trails that I hope to explore on a future visit.
If you find yourself in the area, these two state parks provide a nice respite from everyday life, while teaching visitors about nature as well as our history. They make for a wild and wonderful combination!
[I wrote this story for the October issue of "Two-Lane Livin'" magazine.]