Otter Creek Wilderness Area, within Monongahela National Forest, is a unique and special place hidden between two mountains not far from Dolly Sods Wilderness in West Virginia.
Otter Creek hosts over 40 miles of hiking trails for those looking for an authentic wilderness experience. Trails in Otter Creek are well established, but signs, blazes, and other interpretive media are almost completely absent from this section of forest, so be prepared and stay alert. Managed as a Wilderness Area, this is truly a wild place. General goals of wilderness areas include keeping the area wild and natural; humans are to merely be visitors to these special areas. No roads or other infrastructure is permitted. Bikes, wheels, motors, and machines are also prohibited.
There are three trail bridges near this hiking area, but they are all technically outside the border of the Wilderness. When the area was designated Wilderness in the 1970's, trail shelters were demolished. You won't find any cushy infrastructure here, and cell phones don't work. Primitive camping is permitted and campsites exist up and down Otter Creek and throughout the Wilderness area. Please enjoy them responsibly and practice Leave No Trace ethics so that they preserve their fantastic wild and remote feel.
Yes, the Wilderness designation is taken seriously in Monongahela National Forest. So - enter if you are seeking and prepared for a wilderness experience.
Otter Creek was not always a designated Wilderness. In the early 1900's it was severely impacted by the lumber industry. Now, even though it is a second growth forest, there are some beautiful and large trees nearly 100 years old. And for those interested in forest history, it you may still come across some remnants of the century's old logging industry throughout the wilderness area.
For many, the beautiful cascades and waterfalls along Otter Creek are the prizes for exploring this area. With that in mind, we invite you to follow along with us as we navigate Otter Creek Trail from the northern terminus at Dry Fork Trailhead near Hendricks towards the headwaters of Otter Creek.
First, enter the Wilderness via a footbridge high above the Dry Fork River.
This impressive footbridge provides the only access to Otter Creek Wilderness from the north.
Find Otter Creek Trail, and enter the Wilderness as you climb upstream along Otter Creek.
Almost immediately, side streams begin to cascade across the trail on their way to Otter Creek. This elaborate web of drainages is one of the highlights along the trail.
And of course Otter Creek itself is stunningly beautiful. It offers countless cascades and some great swimming holes.
Some sections of the stream are smooth, like this spot which is where hikers cross to access Big Springs Gap Trail.
Almost all of the trail intersections in the wilderness, like the intersection of Green Mountain Trail and Otter Creek Trail shown above, are unsigned and unblazed, so you will want to stay alert and keep your Elkins-Otter Creek Lizard Map handy.
The trail is generally easy to follow, but can become overgrown in areas. Hikers will come in contact with a variety of plants (and spider webs) during a trip into Otter Creek. Wear long sleeve shirts and long pants for this wilderness, and bring your plant identification book. There is a lot to find along this trail!
Expect to get wet every day of the year in Otter Creek. Multiple stream crossings, noted by rock cairns on either side of the crossing, are common. In fact, sections of Otter Creek Trail are impassable during times of high water, so use good judgement in assessing crossings and overall trip planning. A heavy rain may force you to change your plans if you are doing an overnight hike.
The confluence of Moore Run and Otter Creek is a special place. You won't hear any automobile traffic or pinging cell phones here. There is no cell coverage in this part of Monongahela, so take advantage of the opportunity to really unplug and listen to the sounds of the forest. This is why we search out Wilderness Areas, and exactly the experience we hope to have.
For many, a chance to experience these waterfalls in such a remote wild area is the true prize of Otter Creek.
Possession Camp Trail is another wilderness trail that crosses an impressive stream as it climbs away from Otter Creek to Green Mountain Trail. Possession Camp Trail has a few narrow, overgrown sections, but is nonetheless a fun hike to explore.
There are a multitude of remarkable cascades and swimming holes along the entirety of Otter Creek.
Machines, including chainsaws and other trail tools, are not permitted in US Wilderness Areas. Yep, that's right. No wheels or machines. So the trail can, at times, get very overgrown. The treadway can sometimes wash out. So keep an eye out for reroutes.
National Forest Trail Crews and volunteer trail maintainers do spend a lot of energy completing a great amount of work in this area every year. Because of this, some sections of trail are in great shape!
Like other intersections in this area, well-worn paths and rock cairns are the only indication of a trail junction at Otter Creek Trail and Yellow Creek Trail.
Finally the trail reaches the marshy headwaters of Otter Creek towards the southern edges of the Wilderness.
Exit Otter Creek Wilderness area and merge onto an old double track road.
Cross the second of three bridges in this area, and find Hedrick Camp Trail off to the east just ahead. This is the headwater area of Otter Creek and also the Otter Creek South Trailhead.
Hedrick Camp Trail is the only trail in this area that is signed and blazed. The blazes are helpful for hikers to navigate through this marshy section.
The third and final bridge! Yes, it is underwater and it looks like it's been underwater for many years. The beaver population took one look at that new bridge and decided they would make it disappear! After navigating this wet crossing the trail leaves the marsh and begins to climb through a fern understory towards Shavers Mountain and Shavers Mountain Trail.
Keep a close eye out at this point because the intersection of Hedrick Camp Trail and Shavers Mountain Trail can be easy to miss. Being a Wilderness Area there can be no painted blazes or signposts, so rock cairns and hiker's intuition are your only tools. And, of course, your Lizard Map!
Shavers Mountain Trail is a wonderful trail filled with old growth spruce and hardwood trees.
Mylius Trail intersection includes a large camping area (dry), and sufficient cairns leading the hiker through the 4-way intersection. To the east, Mylius Trail leads downhill to Lower Glady Dispersed Camping Area.
To the west, Mylius Trail leads downstream on a smooth path that eventually crosses Otter Creek.
There are a few other trails in this Wilderness, and a ton of other fantastic and remote areas for you to discover with your Elkins - Otter Creek Lizard Map. If you are looking for remoteness and solitude, the Monongahela National Forest does not disappoint!
Our Trail Guru discusses his completion of the first annual unPAved Pennsylvania gravel riding event, and how it has inspired him to ride more. "The rewarding feelings from this event are immeasurable and inspiring in so many ways: My friends and I sat around the evening after the event discussing winter bike gear needed to be able to prep for more events in 2019...especially the full 120-mile unPAved route."
The Ironstone Loop is a vintage route that was made popular by Tom Thwaites and other creators of the Mid State Trail. This loop is roughly 15 miles long and includes classic PA rocky ridge top walking with great views, a historic set of rock stairs that descend off a ridge and climb to the next ridge, a lake, swamps, streams, a newly renovated Shaver's Creek Environmental Center, an old iron furnace, and more! Primitive camping is allowed on state forest lands along this route, too! All of the trails in this area are included on the Rothrock Lizard Map, so grab yours and follow along on a somewhat forgotten loop hike in Rothrock State Forest.