Boardwalk through the wetlands of The Nature Conservancy's Cranesville Swamp Preserve.
Cranesville Swamp Boardwalk through the wetlands of The Nature Conservancy's Cranesville Swamp Preserve. © Kent Mason

Places We Protect

Cranesville Swamp

Central Appalachian Mountains

Cranesville Swamp's lush forest and wetland is home to an exceptional variety of plants and animals.

At Cranesville Swamp, the elements of wind, water, mountains, and temperature have created a landscape that is both beautiful and rare.

In combination, these climactic elements have produced a natural occurrence known as a “frost pocket” —  an area where the surrounding hills capture moisture and cold air that conspire to create a landscape more reminiscent of habitat found much further north in Canada. 

As weather travels west-to-east across North America, the hills surrounding Cranesville Swamp channel precipitation and chilled air into the valley, which make the preserve one of the coolest and soggiest spots in West Virginia.     

Before You Go

Download the Cranesville Preserve Guide (pdf)

What We're Doing

The greatest threats to Cranesville Swamp Preserve and its wildlife result from climate change, the impacts of historic logging, incompatible development, invasive species and deer overbrowsing.  Since 1960, our work here has included: 

  • 18,000 red spruce and 1,150 white pines planted over 300 acres
  • Continual monitoring for new invasive species and management of existing invasive species (e.g. autumn olive, cattail)
  • Water quality research
  • Trail enhancement and nature interpretation projects to improve educational opportunities
  • Saw-whet owl and flying squirrel research 
  • Water bars installed across abandoned logging roads to reduce erosion

Resources for Download

If you want to see, hear and smell the swamp’s plant and animal life — take a hike! There are five trails to choose from, all less than 2 miles long. There are some wet and boggy areas, so please bring proper footwear.

One of the highlights of the preserve is the 1,500-foot boardwalk, which allows for easy exploration over the wettest parts of the bog. 

What to See

The cool, wet environ of Cranesville Swamp has over thousands of years fostered the formation of peat – made of compacted sphagnum moss that creates a nutrient-poor environment as it breaks down

Few trees can survive in the resulting bog, but tall eastern hemlock, red spruce and tamarack prevail in the acidic environment.  Lower to the ground, plants like sundew, cranberry and sedge thrive in open areas.  

Throughout these rare and diverse wetlands communities, visitors to the preserve can witness a spectacular range of birds and mammals.  Lucky visitors may spot the rare northern water shrew, or catch a glimpse of a bear rummaging through the shrub thickets surrounding Muddy Creek. 

Patience and binoculars may afford others a glimpse of any one of the more than 100 bird species found at Cranesville, such as alder flycatcher, Blackburnian warbler, or the saw-whet owl – which nests in stands of red spruce and hemlock in the conifer swamp forest.

Cranesville Swamp Preserve
A window into ice ages past, Cranesville Swamp is located in a 'frost pocket,' an area where the surrounding hills capture moisture and cold air that conspire to create a landscape more reminiscent of habitat found much further north in Canada. The wetland communities throughout this large site are of exceptional quality and integrity.

Cranesville Swamp Preserve Located in the Central Appalachian Mountains

Know Before You Go

Although all trails are fewer than two miles and not difficult to walk, hiking boots are recommended as some trails may be muddy.

We encourage you to use sunscreen when appropriate, avoid poison ivy along the trail, and use insect repellant to protect against chiggers, mosquitoes, and ticks—especially deer ticks— which can carry Lyme disease.

Camping, pets, bicycling, and motorized vehicles are not permitted on the trails.

  • Bring plenty of drinking water, sun protection (sunscreen, hat, sunglasses), rain gear, and bug protection. Binoculars, field guides, and a camera may be useful.
  • Wear socks and waterproof shoes.
  • Wear light colors to help you spot and remove ticks.

The following are not permitted at Cranesville Swamp Preserve:

  • Pets
  • Biking and mountain biking
  • Camping 
  • Driving an ATV or off-road vehicle
  • Smoking
  • Horseback riding 
  • Removing any part of the natural landscape 
  • Snowmobiling
  • Geocaching 
  • Cooking or campfires

Planning a visit to Cranesville Swamp? Before your trip, download our self-guided audio tour to your handheld device. Naturalists Rodney Bartgis and Kevin Dodge discuss bog plants, birds, bears, and how the area will respond to climate change.

Resources for Download

  • Step 1: Download the Cranesville Swamp audio tour map. The numbers marked on the map correspond to the audio files in the tour (note: disregard the number posts on the trail.)
  • Step 2: Download and save the mp3 audio files to your handheld device. Play the corresponding track when you reach a waypoint along the trail. Listen to them all or pick & choose based on your interests!
Audio Tour Files (mp3)
  1. Cranesville Habitat and Man's Role
  2. Red Pines
  3. Hydrology of Cranesville Swamp
  4. Powerline View
  5. Star Violet
  6. Origin of Water in Cranesville
  7. Climate Change
  8. Red Spruce
  9. Logging the Wetland
  10. Evaporation and Transportation
  11. Similarities and Differences
  12. Roads

Support Our Work in Cranesville Swamp

TNC has been working to mitigate the threats to this unique landscape through land acquisition, forest and swamp habitat restoration, wildlife habitat research, and education efforts. You can help us.