Otter Creek Wilderness - Hiking

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Summary

This 20,698-acre natural bowl formed by Shavers and McGowan mountains has several beautiful backcountry opportunities for hikers who are looking for a long-distance trails, wildlife, and remote treks.

Written by

Ashley Halligan

Distance

49.2 miles

Loops range from 0.8 to 11.8 miles, with more than 45 total miles of trails.

Destination Distance From Downtown

116.0 miles

Difficulty

4 of 5 diamonds

Most of the trails are long, and meander through valleys and across mountaintops. It's a backcountry experience for hikers who are comfortable with long-distance hikes, wildlife, and remote exploration.

Time To Complete

3 hours

Because the hiking loops range from 0.8 to 11.8 miles, expect to be hiking for a minimum of 3-4 hours. You can also backpack for multiple days!

Seasonality

All Seasons

Otter Creek Wilderness is accessible year round. Be especially careful on the trail after long periods of rain, because most of the paths zigzag across Otter Creek without bridges, and the water rises and flows fast. Abundant rain can significantly raise water levels, so check the weather ahead of time.

Dog Friendly

On Leash Only

Fees Permits

No

Review

Intro

Once a heavily logged area, Otter Creek Wilderness is a natural bowl formed by Shavers and McGowan mountains, with elevations ranging from 1,800 feet at the mouth of Otter Creek to 3,900 feet at the top of McGowan Mountain. The wilderness area is almost 21,000 acres, and has more than 45 miles of trails, most beginning at 3 different trailheads. Some of the trails follow old logging and farm roads, some follow old railroad tracks, and others pass through old homesteads. The trail loops, which range from 0.8 miles to 11.8 miles, are lengthy and moderate to difficult.

What Makes It Great

Otter Creek Wilderness is a true backcountry experience with remote trails that meander through second-growth spruce forests. And there is so much to see along the way! Wildlife is abundant, and Otter Creek is home to one of the biggest black bear populations in the state of West Virginia. Valley floors and creek beds stretch beneath canopies of spruce trees and enclaves of rhododendron and mountain laurel, and the mountain summits are topped with rocky overhangs where you can gaze out over breathtaking views of the valleys and ridges below. There are also caves and waterfalls to explore between the valleys and summits.

Hiking through Otter Creek Wilderness is a primitive and rewarding experience. Hikers can connect with nature in ways that you can’t on more heavily trafficked parks and trails. With the sounds of the singing birds, wind, and streams flowing through the mountains, your hike is sure to be a calming and peaceful experience.

Otter Creek Trail is the most popular trail. It follows an old logging trail and has access to 7 other trails along its course. The 11.8-mile trail runs from Condon Run Trailhead to Dry Fork Trailhead. It’s a challenging hike that crosses Otter Creek several times, but it has beautiful views of high waterfalls and, near the trail’s end, it crosses the only bridge in the wilderness area—a suspension bridge over Dry Fork.

The Otter Creek Wilderness brochure is a great resource for planning your hike—it includes the trail names and numbers, mileage, and the number of water crossings you will have to face. It also has information about the difficulty of the trails.

Who is Going to Love It

Otter Creek Wilderness is just that—a wilderness—so the trails are not heavily marked, which makes Otter Creek adventures best suited for hikers who are comfortable reading trail and topography maps. Experienced backpackers who are used to the demands of switchbacks and water crossings thrive along Otter Creek’s trails, and in its remote wilderness.

Wildlife photographers flock here, too. Because there’s less foot traffic than some other parks, it gives photographers the chance to find tucked-away viewing areas to set up shop and capture animals that wouldn’t be as close by on busier trail systems.

Cavers also love exploring the caves and 2 miles of passages in the northern portion of Otter Creek Wilderness.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

There are 6 access points with parking areas for Otter Creek Wilderness. Here are directions to 2 popular trailheads—Mylius and Condon Run—which are starting points for many of the trail loops:

To reach Mylius Trailhead: Travel west on U.S. Route 33, and turn right onto County Road 12. Follow County Road 12 for just less than 5 miles to a bridge that crosses Glady Fork. Make a hairpin left turn onto Forest Road 162, and follow that with an immediate left to Mylius Trailhead.

To reach the Condon Run Trailhead: Follow Stuart Memorial Drive/Forest Road 91 1.4 miles north of U.S. Route 33/WV Route 55. Turn right at the fork onto Forest Road 303. Parking is about .5-mile away.

Wear blaze orange during hunting season. Treat any spring or stream water before you drink it. Do not camp within 200 feet of water resources, logging or farm roads, or trails.

Be mindful of wildlife, including black bears and timber rattlers. If there’s been prolonged rain, be ready for the possibility of high-water crossings at Otter Creek.

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Location

Otter Creek Wilderness

Cheat-Potomac Ranger District
Parsons, West Virginia, 26287
39.096495, -79.680896

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