In part one of Hiking Otter Creek Wilderness I covered the general idea of what makes hiking in Otter Creek Wilderness so special to those that cherish nature and adventure. Part two features the western trailhead of Otter Creek Trail, which begins at the confluence of Otter Creek and the Dry Fork River near Hendricks, West Virginia. If there was a “most popular” entrance, this would be the one. Particularly if you are coming from Canaan Valley via country road (CR) 45 to Rt. 72, which is just a half-mile south of the Canaan Valley Resort main entrance. For those coming from Davis, Thomas, or Parsons, use Rt. 219 until you come to the intersection of Rt. 72 and signage for Hambleton and Hendricks.
A meager USFS wooden sign identifies the entrance to the parking lot of Otter Creek Trail.
Possibly the most thrilling part of your day is getting to the trailhead at the mouth of Otter Creek. A robust swinging foot-bridge safely spans the whitewater of the Dry Fork River. At lower water levels 3-D, checker board like rock formations make up the riverbed, a perplexing result from millions of years of erosion. Once across the Dry Fork swinging bridge, hang a right to access the river bank and in another 50 feet will be the sign for Otter Creek Trail.
There are lots of options at this point for day hikers, nature photographers, and overnight campers in the 20,698 acre Otter Creek Wilderness Area. Either way, there is only one way in and out. Meaning that day hike options are hiking an “out and back” on the same trail, or, as I call it, hiking in a “lollipop” shaped loop. Keep in mind, views are remarkably different when walking up river vs. downriver; with the upriver views being more revealing.
History is present at all moments when hiking Otter Creek Trail, from the headwaters to the confluence of the Dry Fork River, men were logging Otter Creek Wilderness 120 years ago. Railroad grades built mostly by hand starting in 1897, now support the majority of the trail system in Otter Creek Wilderness.
Notice the hand-laid, dry stacked stone supporting the entire rail grade in the above picture. Remarkable
Otter Creek is a clean, cold tributary continuously fed by springs flowing from high above the valley floor. A healthy population of Native Brook Trout is found in Otter Creek along the 11.8 mile stretch of Otter Creek Trail. This truely is a special place, join Tucker County for your next mountain adventure.
Since 1983 Davis, West Virginia and the Alpine Festival organization has played host to the annual Leaf Peepers Festival, celebrating incredible fall colors that descend upon Tucker County in late September and early October. The annual Leaf Peepers Festival always falls on the last full weekend of September, this year’s big event is September 22nd, 23rd, and 24th. In case you were not aware, Tucker County has some of the best uninterrupted fall color found anywhere in the United States!
It is not possible to mention Leaf Peepers Festival without including Tucker Community Foundations charitable event, the Run For It 5k/run and 3k/walk race, on Saturday morning. This event draws folks from all over the region to compete as individuals or teams, for the benefit of whatever cause one desires. FYI, this is a very competitive event for charities, a LOT of money is raised and given away during the Leaf Peepers Festival.
Good times kick off early Friday evening with live music, food vendors, Firemen’s Parade, and inflatable rides for the youth, or young at heart. This is definitely the most casual of all evenings, minus the blare of the fire truck horns, as candy is tossed out of the precession of vehicles.
Saturday is the big day in Davis and the action starts early in the morning with the Run For It race. Expect well over 1,000 participants to crowd out the Davis Fire Department and staging area. The vibe is electric as all the dedicated teams’ ramp up their enthusiasm for a sprint to the finish. If this is your first experience, being part of a team is not necessary unless you find a worthy cause right of the bat, and there are plenty!
The West Virginia Appalachian Craft Show brings select vendors that are one of a kind and 100% original to the inside of the Davis Fire Hall all day Saturday and most of the day Sunday. We work very hard to insure there are no duplicate vendors and all items are genuinely handmade.
Craft vendors are not limited to the inside. Outside, another three dozen merchandise and food vendors have an extensive setup around the perimeter of the event tent. Looking for that WV made gift? This is where you want to be! For those skiers and snowboarders out there, Driftland Ski and Sport has a huge ski swap all weekend, best bargains you will find anywhere! Driftland is located next door to the Davis fire hall.
You will not go hungry or thirsty during the Leaf Peepers Festival. Food vendors galore are on hand selling everything from shaved ice, to BBQ, to the delicious Tucker County Rotaries grilled chicken. The irresistible smells permeate the air starting early in the morning; it’s a two-lunch kind of day. Under the big tent, craft beer is served up from our local breweries all weekend, and so happens to go well with all foods!
Sunday does not lag in activities, unlike the event staff and volunteers who have been hard at it since Friday. The Leaf Peepers Car Show takes over all of the outdoor vendor space with muscle cars, vintage works of art, and plenty of the classics. Canaan Valley Resort is where you will find one of the most fun yet competitive golf tournaments out there, The Fall Colors Golf Tournament. Before we settle in for a long winter in Tucker County, the Leaf Peepers Festival is our “end of year” blowout. Join us for 2017, the Leaf Peepers Festival will not disappoint!
Yellow Creek, Otter Creek Wilderness Area.
Making the trek to the mountains, for myself, has always been about true solitude and adventure. As a young man in college, I often found myself in Otter Creek Wilderness in search of unmapped views I had heard about from locals. Elusive small virgin Hemlock stands left behind from clear cutting 100 years ago, stir the mind of a past history, when vacations and a casual stroll in the forest were nearly unheard of. Having a deep understanding about the history of the area will make anyone visiting Tucker County appreciate the hardships of mountain life and the rejuvenation of a decimated forest.
Otter Creek Wilderness is a vast area with four access points on the north, south, east, and west sides of the wilderness area. This is going to be a three part blog, beginning with the western terminus outside of Parsons, West Virginia. Driving from the Davis, West Virginia area, take Rt. 219 south into the city of Parsons. Make a left onto Central Avenue, then another immediate left, following signs for Brooklyn Heights Rd., Wildlife Viewing Areas, and Wilderness Trailheads. Travel approximately 2.5 miles on paved road until taking a right onto Forest Road(FR) 701. Despite the vandalism of the zero in 701, the sign is visible to an unfamiliar eye.
FR 701 connects into FR 324, completing the fantastically maintained gravel road system. I almost forgot to make the point; this is the best US Forest Service road I have even been on in Tucker County! Trailheads found along FR 701 and FR 324 are Big Springs Gap, Turkey Run, Moore Run, and Yellow Creek Trailheads. Each location has an obvious sign, albeit this is what I found when exploring the area for the very first time!
Moore Run trail head sign on the left. Trail sign damaged by wildlife is not uncommon.
The drive on FR 701 is picture perfect.
The plan was to hike Big Springs Gap down to Otter Creek for a view and to scope out how well the trail intersections are marked. A common theme here is minimalism, on every level. Pulling into the first parking lot, I was greeted by a Fernow Experimental Forest informative trail and signage. Since no signage screamed Big Springs Gap, I continued south on FR701. Should have looked closer, this was the correct lot.
My expectations were not far off, the signage is minimal, and going to plan B was to drive to the dead end of FR 324, which is also the parking for Yellow Creek Trail. At some point, when confused or lost, a bearing needs to be found, orientating oneself on the map. Bingo! Made it to the obvious dead end and not a single sign, other than a scarcely used trail in the back left corner of the gravel lot. A short exploratory walk down trail, revealed an aging official sign for Yellow Creek Trail. Good to go!
Again, anticipating no trail signage, I am aware the first trail intersection I should come upon in approximately 0.5 miles will be McGowan Mountain Trail on the left. Marked by only rock cairns (purposely stacked rocks) I exit the fairly overgrown Yellow Creek trail head to an inviting merger with McGowan Mtn. trail. Taking McGowan Mtn. trail from the north into Yellow Creek Trail seems to be the common route used due to the width and clarity of the trail. The above picture is the end of the 1.5 mile Yellow Creek and Otter Creek trail intersection, showing the lack of signange and a rock cairn designated trail intersection.
100 year old railroad ties lay as they were left over a century ago on Yellow Creek Trail.
Otter Creek Wilderness is that place for me. Sorry Dolly Sods Wilderness, as majestic as you are, you are overplayed, weekends may as well be spent in Davis, since solitude is what can be elusive in Dolly Sods. The difference between seeing one person vs no one, leaves the senses in place for a revolutionary experience. When the sights, sounds, and smells are only driven by nature; accountability is 100% of your own responsibility, no matter how prepared, s%*t happens, and you or your party stand alone. There is no better feeling, this is what it means to be alive!