Distance: Day 1: 6.4 miles, Day 2: 6.8 miles
Route: Day 1: Forest Road, Big Springs Gap, Otter Creek, Day 2: Moore Run, Turkey Run
Scenery: Average to exceptional, depending on trail
Water: Everywhere on Otter Creek and at Moore Run crossing Day 2
Campsites: At all trail junctions
Navigation: Well defined tread, not blazed, cairns at most trail intersections and fords
This July 4th weekend my oldest daughter and I backpacked the Otter Creek Wilderness located in the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia. We chose a modest loop taking the Big Springs Gap trail to the Otter Creek Trail to the Moore Run trail and finally the Turkey Run Trail. This loop clocks on my GPS at 13.2 miles total making it an easy overnight hike for most or a long day hike for some.
The weather was perfect for a quick backpacking trip, mid to upper 70’s and mostly sunny. The evening was cool, the overnight forecast was 49 degrees and it was probably there or very close.
The Turkey Run and Big Springs Gap trails each have their own trailhead on Forest Road 701. We chose to park at Turkey Run trailhead and do the half mile walk to Big Springs Gap at the beginning of the trip. I find out much better to pop out of the woods at my vehicle at the end of the trip than have to do additional road walking. Both trailheads have space for about a half dozen cars and had only two each on this holiday weekend. There are large gray colored signs that mark each. The Turkey Run trailhead is actually an old road that has been blocked.
The Big Springs Gap trail is a downhill wooded walk. It is fairly short at 0.8 miles. There is nothing special about the trail. I look at it as purely an access trail to the Otter Creek Trail.
The Otter Creek Trail is a scenic walk along the Otter Creek. This trail was heavily damaged by storms in recent years but has been cleaned up very well. There are a few sections where the trail was rerouted up the hill around the damage. Otter Creek has many waterfalls and offers a beautiful hike. Because of the storm damage there’s a lot of trees in the creek making the water rich in tannins, your filtered water will be discolored. The steepest climbs on this loop are just before and after the Moore Run crossing now that the trail has been rerouted . You will ford Otter Creek four times and Moore Run once through this section of the hike.
We camped at one of the many sites at the intersection of the Moore Run Trail and Otter Creek Trail. Our site was less than a hundred yards up the Moore Run Trail on the left side. It is not visible from the trail but has a bench and table constructed from old railroad rails and rocks next to the fire ring. Another advantage to this site is that it sits near one of the deepest swimming holes on Otter Creek.
The Moore Run Trail was uphill the entire time but since the grade is gradual and the climb is barely noticeable. My favorite section of the trail is where the trail follows along a steep ridge with scenic vistas visible through the trees. Be warned though, some sections of the trail are thick with undergrowth. During our hike water was available from Moore Run prior to reaching the Turkey Run Trail.
Turkey Run Trail had a good initial climb and then was flat after crossing Turkey Run. Do not rely on any water sources on this trail, all sources we passed were not much more than a trickle. The last section of this trail is on an old road. If you parked at the Turkey Run trailhead this is the same road as the one you parked on. Also, the last section of the trail is covered in Stinging Nettle. Not a big deal if you wear pants and possibly long sleeves later in the season. This trail was a typical woodlands walk.
These trails are part of a wilderness area and therefore are not marked with painted blazes or plastic trail markers. We had no problems following any of the four trails. Most trail intersections and fords are marked with cairns, the only exception is the Big Springs Gap Trail. This intersection may be difficult to find if you are coming from the Otter Creek Trail to the Big Springs Gap Trail.
There are decent campsites at all trail junctions we crossed on this trip. We encountered four other groups on this long holiday weekend. We had no issues finding a site away from the others.
All creek crossings where simple calf depth or less for us but this is dependent on the weather. Be warned that a heavy rain can leave you stuck at an unsafe ford on Otter Creek and bushwhacking could prove difficult in the thick Mountain Laurel. You could end up spending and extra night or two if you are not careful.
Overall this was a great hike that my daughter and I both enjoyed. Compared to other trails we hike (I.E Gerard Trail) all of the climbs were mild. We will be back to complete other loops within this trail system as well as others in the Monongahela National Forest.
Typical Cairn marking trail junctions and creek crossing in the Otter Creek Wilderness.