Dolly Sods, Canaan Valley, and Blackwater Falls, West Virginia
This first trip report is going to be longer than most reports you will receive from us. As some of our experiences start repeating, we will have less to say about them. Also, at this time, we have more time and energy to write. Future chapters will be briefer.
After 5 months of ordering dozens of maps and studying them, preparing a “Data Book” for estimating hiking and biking dates, talking with ADT coordinators, and talking with many friends about this trip, we were starting to feel that we were “all talk and no action”. We were anxious to get some ADT mileage under our feet or our bike tires.
We had been worried about how to hike a 41 mile segment through the highest elevations crossed by the ADT east of Colorado. This section of West Virginia through the Dolly Sods Wilderness, Canaan Valley State Park, and Blackwater Falls State Park has areas above 4,000 feet elevation and is typically snowbound into late March. Due to an unseasonably warm period as 1996 drew to a close, we decided to go hike it.
Dec. 30, 1996, Monday
We parked the van at the intersection of WV 28/7 and Forest Road 75 and hiked 7.3 miles of muddy gravel road to Red Creek Campground. This point is about 20 miles north of Seneca Rocks. By ascending the Allegheny Front, we climbed over 2,500 vertical feet in 4.7 miles. It was a beautifully warm day. Laurie hiked with a long sleeve top and long pants. I hiked in a tee shirt and shorts. We passed 10 pick-up trucks along the way with bear hunters passing the time while radio-collared dogs did their job in the woods. Several hunters told us we were making good time as they passed along our presence to their uphill buddies via radios.
At Red Creek Campground, we were glad to see a truck belonging to Frodo, an A.T. thru-hiker friend of ours. The sign-in register indicated he was not far ahead of us. The Blackbird Knob trail was glorious in the sunny and cloudless sky. The wind had picked up a little at this elevation, but the views across the treeless meadows were spectacular. The trail was wet and muddy in places, but careful rock hopping kept our feet dry and minimized our impact on the trail. Within an hour we caught up with Frodo and his dog, Coetae. We decided to hike together so we could catch up on each other’s lives in the 3 or 4 years since we had seen each other. If anyone still has the 1996 A.T. calendar, that’s Frodo’s (John Layne) picture of Rainbow Stream in October.
After reaching a peaceful spot I had selected on the map for our campsite by 2 pm, we figured it was too soon to make camp. During our 1987 thru-hike, we had learned to “make hay while the sun shines” for tomorrow it may rain. Proceeding on, we ran into 3 more hikers coming toward us. What a coincidence! It was John and Trudy, and their daughter Emily, members of our hiking club (Natural Bridge Appalachian Trail Club) who live in Lynchburg. They have a house at nearby Timberline Ski Resort on Cabin Mountain on the east side of Dolly Sods. They invited us to stay and have dinner with them. In the hiking world, this is known as “Trail Magic” and we couldn’t believe our good fortune on day number one of our ADT adventure. This was certainly a good omen and an excellent ending to our 13 mile hike today. Frodo, by the way, elected to hike back into the wilderness to spend several days taking pictures.
Dec. 31, 1996, Tuesday, New Years Eve
The last day of 1996 dawned cloudy and cooler — 45 degrees. After a hiker’s breakfast of pancakes, juice, and coffee, John, Trudy, and Emily hiked with us from their house up to the ridgetop where we picked up the trail and we said good-bye. We followed a rough old jeep road for 2 miles before it smoothed out a bit and we descended into Canaan Valley. The wind had picked up with intermittent light rain as we walked along paved roads through the valley and past a tract of the Canaan Valley Wildlife Refuge, purchased by the government in 1994.
Once inside Canaan Valley State Park on the Deer Run Trail, we saw the only wildlife of our whole three day trip. About 10 deer were lying in the leaves not more than 50 feet off the trail. They looked very lazy and not afraid of us at all. The look in their eyes seemed to be saying “Where is our handout? Feed us, tourists!”
Once at the lodge, we took a break and drank milkshakes. From here, we still had 9 miles to make before getting to Blackwater Falls, and almost all of this mileage would be on trails. The trails were in good condition and well marked, but very wet from the recent rains and warm spell. Once more, we were able to avoid wet feet by rock hopping through the wet areas. Much of this section follows the yellow-blazed Allegheny Trail, a long distance trail that crosses the entire state of West Virginia. We reached a trail shelter by 2 pm and again elected to hike on in relatively good weather. We spent New Years Eve in Blackwater Falls State Park Lodge, ate a delicious buffet dinner, and then slept right through all the commotion at midnight at the many parties on television. This had been another great day, 17 miles today.
Jan. 1, 1997, Wednesday, New Years Day
With the difficult mileage behind us and with only 12 miles to hike today, we were more relaxed and took some nice breaks during the day. After eating granola for breakfast in our room and leaving the lodge by 7:30 am, we took a side trail after about 2 miles. It led through the woods for 1/2 mile to a spectacular cliff overlooking the Blackwater River canyon. This is the shot you see on many calendars and on a lot of the West Virginia travel brochures. We took several pictures in the morning light.
In two more miles, we turned left on the Railroad Grade Trail, which was the nicest trail we had seen in this area. It was very straight and went through a mature red spruce plantation. Many rock formations along the way made this an interesting section. Many old railroad ties (logs really, instead of our more modern ties) could be seen in the treadway. We tried to picture the time, long ago, when coal fired engines labored over these grades through this pristine area with flatcars filled with freshly cut timber. Even though it wasn’t so pristine back in those days (they had just cut all the timber), it was difficult to imagine. After two miles, we came to another trail shelter, in a wild and rocky glen with a bubbly stream right in front of the shelter. We stopped to boil some water for hot chocolate and to write in the shelter register. We noted that two other hikers had been there in August who said they were hiking the American Discovery Trail. The trail grapevine says they have made it as far as Illinois so far, and they will set out westward when spring arrives. Perhaps we will catch up to them on our bicycles later this year.
Continuing on, after one more mile of trail, the rest of our hike was all downhill on the Canaan Loop Road and a closed Forest Service road. After several more miles, we stopped and lunched on instant soup, crackers with peanut butter and honey, and more hot chocolate. A hot lunch was a real treat for us as we seldom take the time to prepare one. The hike along Forest Road 244 passed through some great scenery as we paralleled the lively Red Run creek. The road was in much better condition than we expected and we made good time as we descended along Red Run all the way to West Virginia route 72. We walked back to the Red Run creek crossing and stopped at Paul Long’s house. Paul and his wife, Bunny, gave us a ride back to our van which was about 50 miles away by road. We had met Paul over Labor Day weekend while we were scouting this area. He seemed pleased with the fee we paid him and said he would be willing to offer shuttle services to others in the future. With this hiking section completed (the only one in West Virginia), we will arrange a pickup truck shuttle around this area when we arrive at this point on bikes in early April.
Thus, we have now completed 41 miles of the ADT with only 4,890 to go! Our next trip report will be sent to you in mid-March during or after our hike of 210 miles on Ohio’s Buckeye Trail, which is part of the ADT. If you have any questions about anything related to this trip or about the ADT, please send us an email message (HappiFeet@aol.com).
© Copyright, William & Laurel Foot, 1997, Lynchburg, VA.
The Happy Feet