The Steepest Highway in West Virginia Will Make Any Driver’s Palms Sweat

Written by Micky Moran
Updated: November 14, 2023
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Key Points:

  • The West Virginia Highway 72 goes through the northern part of the state.
  • West Virginia has many animals, like river otters, black bears, and white-tailed deer.
  • This highway’s pavement has many chips and missing chunks, posing a risk for drivers at higher speeds.

West Virginia’s authorities consistently maintain 36,000 miles of highway within the state. Of all these highways, the steepest is a scary path for anyone to take. Many drivers use West Virginia Highway 72 daily, but the lack of maintenance makes it hard to be safe. Please take a look at the steepest highway in West Virginia and all of the ways that it poses a danger to drivers.

What Makes West Virginia Highway 72 So Scary?

Biking along West Virginia Highway 72 puts you at risk for dangerous turns, even at low speeds.

©Race Across America / CC BY 2.0 – License

Among the many beautiful and smooth highways in the country, the West Virginia highway stands out. Over the years, this north-central highway continues to twist and turn through the countryside, following a local river most of the way down. The path is relatively short, but the twists and turns make any experienced driver feel a bit apprehensive. With a width that barely allows for 2 lanes, it takes you down the Appalachian Plateau, which is dangerous with the many blind turns.

The highway’s steepness makes the damaged pavement even more difficult to drive. Some of the areas of the highway have a little maintenance, sealing chips in the gravel that make the road slightly uneven. This patchwork is only an indication of what’s to come with chunks of pavement missing or thinned. Some areas have such severe damage that the road is nothing but dirt. Due to the loose gravel, cars with worn tread on their tires slide easily if they take the turn too quickly.

Wildlife Along the Steepest Highway in West Virginia

West Virginia is on the other side of the Appalachian Mountains, which means that the local wildlife continues to thrive. The destroyed pavement along Highway 72 means you must keep an eye out. Though the speed limit matches other highways, watch out for wandering deer, raccoons, and other common wildlife, like the ones seen below.

White-Tailed Deer

White-tailed deer buck with antlers walks down suburban street.

This medium-sized deer weighs up to 300 pounds as an adult, showing their white tails to express distress.

©Amy Lutz/

The most common animal to see in West Virginia is a white-tail deer, but it is also the top choice among hunters. To manage the population, the state allows over 200,000 people to hunt them. They are so abundant that nearly every county in West Virginia has them.

Though males predominantly grow antlers while females do not, an average of 1 out of every 10,000 males also has them due to freemartinism. Their diet determines how large the antlers are, allowing males to compete against each other. While some deer leap across the highway during quieter times, they aren’t aggressive toward humans.


A bobcat with detailed fur markings sharpening its claws on a log

Since the 1800s, bobcats have remained the only cat predator in West Virginia.

©Jeff Westhead/

The bobcat continues to thrive as a mesocarnivore, meaning only about half of its diet is meat. The rest of the diet is the fruit and insects around them. Also known as a red lynx, their beautiful markings and soft fur are not an invitation to come closer. They work as solitary creatures, hunting during the day while sleeping at night.

West Virginia’s bobcats are the only wild cats in the entire state. During the 1800s, West Virginia also had eastern mountain lions that are now extinct. Though bobcats typically stay away from busy highways, their population across the state is enough to keep your eyes out. Avoid provoking these predators if you want to stay safe.

Black Bears

A single wild black bear cub searches for food along a hillside overturning rocks among young evergreen trees. The young bear is only a couple of months old. There are flies on its fur and face.

These bears aren’t afraid of humans, which leads to many collisions with vehicles on the state’s roads and highways.

©Dolores M. Harvey/

Black bears are West Virginia’s state mammal, with 12,000+ in their population. They prefer counties on the eastern side of the state near the mountains, and Highway 72 falls outside them. The Division of Natural Resources recorded 10 collisions in 2019 due to the way that their dark fur blends with the road until it is too late to stop. Though the bear population used to stay in the mountains, all of West Virginia is now susceptible.

These bears are not at risk of extinction, making them one of only two bear species to have steady numbers. There are twice the number of black bears of any other species, and they prefer to live in forests. The biggest concentration is around the Appalachian Mountains, east of West Virginia’s steepest highway.



Trapping raccoons or any other animal in West Virginia without a permit is a crime, but that doesn’t stop them from sneaking across Highway 72.

©ad-e-motion/iStock via Getty Images

Raccoons are one of West Virginia’s biggest pests, and they live anywhere. These nocturnal animals find that forests and cities offer the same comforts, and they eat various plants. The proximity to the nearby river gives it plenty of plants and invertebrates to consume, though they only live about 3 years in the wild. While these creatures look curious and touchable, they act in fear and may harm you if you get too close.


Coyotes Playing Around

West Virginia has been a coyote home for over 50 years because of the drastic drop in other predators.

©Dan J Rozak/

Coyotes seem to find their way into every habitat, and West Virginia is no exception. They thrive in rural and city neighborhoods. Even within the state, their color and size vary, but the dusty pattern on their coat blends with the deteriorated asphalt of the highway. These predators populated much of West Virginia, resulting in the launch of hunting competition.

Related closely to the wolf, coyotes usually grow to about 40 pounds. They sometimes attack humans, so stay in your car to create more distance between you and them. Clapping your hands scares them off without getting closer.

River Otters

river otter sticking tongue out

River otters live within the same river that West Virginia Highway 72 follows.

© Burditt

At one time, the entirety of West Virginia’s river otter population was destroyed, but conservation efforts made it possible to reintroduce them. Once local officials reintroduced them in the 1980s, West Virginia continued to offer a home for river otters. While the river otters stay away from the highway, they are no more than a short walk away in the nearby water.

While they enjoy playing with each other, this same kindness and social interaction does not invite you to play with them. They prefer to spend their time in the water, searching for food while they engage with each other. While they enjoy swimming, they also walk on land like other mammals.

Notable Landmarks and Tourist Attractions Along West Virginia Highway 72

If you take the treacherous path along the northern highway, the main view will be Cheat River. This river follows most of the highway, calling it the nickname River Road. With a 10-acre campground and 78 miles of river, much of the landscape along this highway features a lush assortment of local trees. The type of species varies, but a group called Friends of the Cheat encourages residents to plant more trees along the path.

Driving south, you pass the Etam Deep Space Network Earth Station. Deep Space Network LLC purchased the area in 2020, creating a landscape of massive satellites along the side of the road. Then, just before the southernmost point of the highway, you pass two other notable spots – Five River Campgrounds and Red Creek.

Where is West Virginia Highway 72?

The only way to experience West Virginia Highway 72 is by driving along it. Starting West Virginia Route 32 near Red Creek, this highway takes you to West Virginia Route 7 near Kingwood. Due to the width and damage along this highway, local ordinances prohibit trucks from using it.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Jon Dawson / CC BY-ND 2.0 – License / Original

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About the Author

Micky Moran is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering mammals, travel, marine life, and geography. He has been writing and researching animals and nature for over 5 years. A resident of Arizona, he enjoys spending time with family, going on adventures across the United States with his wife and kids by his side.

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