Big Bend Campground in Smoke Hole Canyon

Campsite Reviews

There is this unique spot in Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia where the South Branch of the Potomac carves its way between Cave Mountain and North Mountain for about 20 miles with nearly vertical walls. Smoke Hole Road runs from Upper Tract, WV to Cabins, WV through the canyon and over the ridges of Cave Mountain. And right in the middle of it is where you’ll find Big Bend Campground. Almost surrounded by its own natural lazy river.


Our trip began by picking up the MotoCamps Mobile base camp in Waynesboro, which was already packed with all the camping gear for this trip ready to go. We only needed to grab some small but important provisions on our way.

We set out north on I-81 to exit 240 in Bridgewater for our first stop, Smiley’s Ice Cream. This local hotspot makes “porch style ice cream” daily in a variety of flavors with fresh cream from right down the road at the Mt. Crawford Creamery. It literally does not get any fresher than that. Even though it was busy, as it always is, we moved through the line quickly and stocked the Iceco freezer with a pint and a couple ice cream sandwiches to enjoy at camp.

From there, we continued northwest, traveling over Shenandoah Mountain on Route 33. This twisty mountain is the gateway between Virginia and West Virginia with breathtaking views. Even though this big mountain had plenty of curves, it was an easy drive over a gradual incline and the MotoCamps Basecamp pulled effortlessly over and down into Brandywine, WV and on to Franklin for a quick stop  at T&K Market for some top-quality hand-cut steaks. This is my secret stash of all things meat. Whenever I’m passing through Franklin, I always stop to see what fresh selection they have available that day. Whatever’s on rotation, there are always generous cuts for a great price.

With dinner and dessert now taken care of, we set out north on Route 220 towards Upper Tract to Swilled Dog Cidery and Distillery. Wait… I actually don’t want to tell you about this place. Sure, stop for some great local cider. They have an assortment of staples and seasonal creations, but do not go into the distillery and do not go try some of the best, world-class, I mean, okay bourbon that only the locals know about. Nothing to see here…  All jokes aside, seriously, if you’re a fan of bourbon, then this is a must-stop. My favorite is the double oaked bourbon. Just don’t tell anyone else.

The last leg of our journey led us into Smoke Hole Canyon, and it was breathtaking. The river rushed by, the rock walls jetting straight out of the water, and I remember thinking that this was surely where the wild meets wonderful. But then the road quickly reminded me to pay attention. As beautiful as this section was, it was also the most technically challenging portion of the trip. But if you take your time and stop often at the many pull-offs to take in the amazing scenery, you will be at Shreve’s Country Store before you know it. Then, it’s an easy pull on the gravel road to the campground.


We could only squeeze in a single night, so we didn’t reserve a spot ahead of time. But if you have time to visit for a 3-day  weekend or longer, I would highly recommend doing so. The lower loop next to the river is my first choice. When we checked in with the camp hosts, Debbie and Gene, they were super helpful and just wonderful people. We instantly felt welcome and like we were visiting old friends. As we hoped, there were plenty of first-come, first-served spots available. Those spots were actually really nice. Each had a fire ring with a cooking grate, a picnic table, and a lantern hanger. But what made them so unique was that each spot was like a secret nook in the laurel and autumn olive. Even though there were 42 campsites with probably well over 200 campers in total, you still felt like you were all alone in the middle of the mountains. But you still had all the amenities of hot showers and running water in the bath houses. It was exactly what we were looking for.


Setting up camp was a breeze, thankfully. It was the dog days of summer, and we were eager to get in the shade and start dinner. I usually set up the trailer while Jen gets started cooking. We were soon joined by a couple of deer who were curious about the commotion. However, our two dogs, Guinness and Stella, quickly announced their presence, and the deer retreated to the laurel.

After we were settled in, I headed back down to the campground host to register and pay for our spot. They also conveniently sold firewood for $8 per bundle, which was great because we had stopped at a roadside stand on the way and bought some wet white oak that didn’t burn well. Debbie, the campground host, told us about all the great activities in the area, including hiking, floating, and fishing. She also warned us about the deer, who are known to come up and snag food right off the table if you’re not careful. Luckily, our two furry snack defenders already had that covered.


Soon it was time to eat. Jen had prepared an amazing dinner as usual then we relaxed by the fire as the night cooled the air. I couldn’t help but think that if we moved some things around in next week’s schedule we could extend our stay. Maybe go down to Shreve’s store and pick up an inner tube and fishing rod and spend the next couple days enjoying the secrets of the Potomac. Laughing around the campfire with our friends Gene and Debbie telling stories. Just maybe we could stay. On this road less traveled.