West Virginia: Backpacking at Spruce Knob

Backpacking at Spruce Knob

Over Columbus Day weekend my husband and I went on a two-day trip backpacking at Spruce Knob in Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia. It was a bit of a drive from where we live – three and a half hours – but we figured we could recover from all the hiking and driving on Monday.

Spruce Knob is the highest mountain in West Virginia (4,863 feet above sea level) and a popular destination for backpackers, mountain bikers, and those who just want to see the amazing view. There is a viewing platform 900 feet from the parking lot that you can easily walk to. Actually, the view from the platform isn’t great, but if you take a short 10-to-15-minute walk on a nature trail beyond the platform that circles around the summit, there are several beautiful vistas.

This is the view looking West. As you can see, peak autumn foliage has already come and gone in this area. The rolling hills stretching off into the distance almost looked like winter had already arrived.

However, looking East there were still plenty of trees with beautiful autumn colors.

The Hike

The trailhead is located in the corner of the lower parking lot. We got moving quickly because we’d seen several large groups backpacking at Spruce Knob and wanted to make sure we could get a good campsite. The first part of the hike is straightforward – 4.7 miles along Huckleberry Trail and slightly downhill.

Backpacking at Spruce Knob can be easier. There were several campsites along the trail within the first 30 minutes of hiking. However, none of the close campsite have water sources and we wanted to see more of the trail. That would not be an issue if one wanted to – such campsites are close enough to the parking lot that you can carry water with you.

The path was not difficult and we found ourselves going relatively fast (more than 2 miles per hour), even though we were carrying heavy backpacks. At this time of year there wasn’t that much to take pictures of along the forest trail.

We reached a junction with Lumberjack Trail, which leads on to a location where there’s a crashed aircraft, but we did not go in that direction. Instead, we turned slightly left, following Huckleberry Trail a bit further until we came to the junction with Judy Springs Trail. Not long after turning onto Judy Springs Trail, we came out of the forest into a beautiful meadow.

The meadow was the best view along the trail. Bright yellows, oranges, and reds dusted the hills and the dry grass made for a lovely autumn scene.

Up closer, toward the end of the meadow trail, the gorgeous fall colors were even more evident.

Wildflowers in the Meadow

The meadow was the only place we saw any wildflowers. Most of the flowers we saw were Asters of various kinds. When we visited on October 7, the Goldenrods were already finished blooming. A couple weeks before that, perhaps in late September, the meadow would have been filled with blooming Goldenrods.

Frost Aster

Frost Aster, White Heath Aster, Hairy White Oldfield Aster, or Symphyotrichum pilosum, is a member of the Aster family (Asteraceae) and blooms September to October. A native plant, it grows mostly throughout eastern and central North America.

It was a bit difficult to identify this Aster. In the end, the slender leaves, hairy stem, and numerous petals helped me to figure out which one they were.

Calico Aster

Calico Aster, or Aster lateriflorus, is a member of the Aster family (Asteraceae) and blooms August to October. A native wildflower, it grows throughout eastern and central North America. It favors fields and thickets. The name comes from the fact that the disk flowers in the center are first yellow and later turn purplish red, so that the flowers on one plant or even a single head can include both colors at the same time.

Thistle

I’m not sure what type of thistle this was, but all of the flowers have finished blooming and this is what they look like after. All puffy and brown! With the darkened Goldenrods and brown grasses, the thistles added to the autumn scenery.

Camping

Finding a Camp Spot

After less than a mile, we turned onto Seneca Creek Trail. There were many campsites along the creek and some of the best ones, including the spot at Judy Springs, were all taken by the time we arrived, even though it was only around 2 pm. Since Judy Springs was occupied, we doubled back to a lovely secluded campsite on the far side of the creek. The campsite is located about 6 miles from the trailhead.

Enjoying Camping

The weather was warm in the afternoon and we just hung out at our campsite all afternoon, puttering around collecting wood for the campfire, making a campfire, and roasting marshmallows.

I took some fun macro pictures of marshmallows on fire.

And smoking!

With the creek nearby, it was easy to scoop water and filter it to make our drinks and food. After making roasted marshmallows, we settled down on the rocks in the middle of the creek with some hot cocoa and enjoyed the view. Soon enough, it was time for dinner. And after dinner, we sat around the fire for a bit longer. It was all very relaxing.

The sun went down early and we were snuggled in to our sleeping bags by half past seven, asleep by eight. I didn’t think we were that tired after only six miles of hiking and then hanging around the campsite, but we were beat. The next morning we woke up close to seven thirty to the pattering of rain.

The Next Day

Rain had been in the forecast, so we were prepared with waterproof jackets and pants. However, it was the first time we had to pack a tent in the rain. Even though we kept wiping the water off with our microfiber towels and wringing the towels out, there was no end to it. Unfortunately, that meant a couple extra pounds of water my husband had to carry in his bag (I carried other things). Also, the rain meant we couldn’t take any pictures the next day to share. We shuttled back, taking the same route we hiked coming out, finishing with a log of about 12 miles total. It is possible to do the whole 16.5-mile loop in two days, but we’d tested our limits before at Dolly Sods and decided against it.

To Conclude

Overall, it was an enjoyable camping trip. Perhaps because it was Columbus Day weekend, backpacking at Spruce Knob was extremely popular. There are many excellent camping spots next to the water source of Seneca Creek, making it an ideal destination for backpacking. I wouldn’t be surprised if every available campsite was filled that weekend. However, on most weekends, or if you arrive early enough, even if one spot is filled, chances are you’ll find another.

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