Laurel Fork Wilderness, WV Camp and Hike

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This Camp & Hike Trip took place between May 23-25, 2003 within the Laurel Fork North and South Wilderness Areas, WV.

Friday, May 23, 2003- Left Bristow, VA in rainy conditions. It rained in various intensities the entire way. It kept raining until I got to the Laurel Fork Wilderness, WV Campground. Then, miraculously, it stopped. It remained cloudy the rest of the day but no rain. Someone's prayers helped.

I put up my tent, ate and waited for someone else to show up. Charlie Johnson and his grandson Daryl did at around 5:30PM. They set set up their tent, we talked till about 9:30PM, then we retired.

Saturday, May 24, 2003- It rained very strongly during the night, but we stayed dry. We awoke at dawn. First Doug Knowles and his nephews Michael and Alex pulled in. They got to the campground around 4AM, could not find us and were sleeping across the loop from us. Next, Bill and Chris Isham and their granddaughter Madelyn pulled in around 7:15AM. They were sleeping up on the forest service road. We all then ate breakfast, got packed up and headed for the nothern trailhead of the Laurel River Trail. The plan was simply to hike back to our campsite.

We got started around 9ish. We hiked to the Laurel River and basically followed it the entire way back to the campsite. But it was how we followed it that made this hike interesting.

First of all, there were no blazes, cairns or accurate descriptions of this trail. We basically hiked between 2 mountain ranges and along the river in a southernly direction. However, the trail was very faint. We knew that we would have to cross the river at least once. It was very cold and knee deep when we did. We then decided that we were going to stay on the eastern side of the river all the way back to the campsite. We did. But in order to do so, we had to utilize faint trail, some old roads and alot of bushwacking. I had my compass so, when in doubt, I just pointed it south and we walked. In the back of our minds we were all wondering if we would make it back to camp. I was thinking "What did I get us into?" Others were thinking of how to ration food, how to construct shelter or that we would have to huddle together to keep warm that night.

The scenery was beautiful along this hike. We saw lots of wildlife and, even though we were walking against the river, it was a very gentle up.

As usual, we found our way back to camp by around 5:30. One of the guides said this stretch that we did was 9.5 miles. The sign at the campground said 11 miles. It felt more like 12 miles. If you do hike this section of trail, be prepared to make your own trail as there is no defined path for this stretch. When we got back to camp we all ate a big meal, then had hot dogs and marshmallows to top it off. I was stuffed. We were all glad that we made it back safe. We then retired and had a peaceful night.

Sunday, May 25, 2003- Everyone slept in except me. Most were up by 8AM, ate and were packed up and ready to hike by 10AM. Doug K and his nephews Michael and Alex left for Baltimore, MD since it was a long drive. So Charlie J, Daryl, Bill I, Chris, Madelyn and I drove to the Middle Mountain Cabins and planned to hike the Camp 5 Trail to the Laurel River Trail and then hike north and back to the campground. Again, there were no blazes in this wilderness area. Almost immediately, we took a wrong turn and ended up walking around a huge open area with a stream down the middle of it and numerous beaver ponds at intervals along it. This was a very beautiful area. We walked around it, took pictures and were about to hike back to the van when we thought we stumbled onto the Camp 5 Trail. So we hiked it until we reached the Laurel River Trail and ate lunch.

It was then 1:00PM. Do we hike back to the van or back to the campground? Being the hard core hikers that we are, we all agreed to hike north and back to the campground. The trail we hiked today was more pronounced than yesterday and mostly hugged the western slope of the Laurel River Valley. There were also some rock cairns to guide us along. We had 3 stream crossings. However, we managed to keep our boots on (and mostly dry) by shimmying across fallen trees that just happened to be lying across the river where we needed them.

We took a couple of breaks and made it back to the campground by 4:30. The guide said this stretch was about 4.5 miles. With the wrong turn we made, it was probably about 5.5 miles. So we made good time. By the time we shuttled the cars and left the Laurel Fork Wilderness, it was about 5:30PM.

This was a great hike. It didn't rain during this hike at all. We didn't see any deer or bear but saw a lot of their tracks and scat so we knew that they were there somewhere. The Laurel Fork Wilderness Area, WV is a beautiful area that deserves to be explored. Again, be advised that you will get wet hiking this trail, and that campsites at the campground are tough to come by. The locals utilize this area extensively. The majority of campsites were occupied by trailers, RV's and popups from WV. You will also have to blaze your own trail when in the Laurel Fork North Area. But you will experience, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful wilderness areas in WV.

Mike C

More Pictures

Lunch break at the 5.5 mile mark
  Lunch break at the 5.5 mile mark.
  By Charlie Johnson
 Scenic view of Laurel River, WV
  Scenic view of Laurel River, WV.
  By Charlie Johnson

Group picture before the hike
  Group picture before the hike.
  By Charlie Johnson
 Daryl and Madelyn at beaver pond
   Daryl and Madelyn at beaver pond.
  By Charlie Johnson
Daryl and Madelyn taking a break
  Daryl and Madelyn taking a break.
  By Bill Isham
Beaver dam views
  Beaver dam views.
  By Bill Isham
Charlie, Daryl & Madelyn
  Charlie, Daryl & Madelyn.
  By Mike Calabrese


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