Hiking Otter Creek Wilderness, Part 1November 20, 2017
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!