Willis River Trail, VA Camp & Hike


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During the weekend of May 27-28, 2001 Frank Maida and I did a Camp & Hike of the Willis River Trail within Cumberland State Forest, VA. I arrived at Bear Creek State Park around 10AM the morning of May 27th of Memorial Day weekend. There was some rain on the way down but it was clear when I got to the park. I wanted to get there early so I could do some fishing before we started the hike. My fishing reel did not act right during the first few casts. It seemed to be only reeling in half of the time. Then I got a hit on the line. It was a big fish so I started furiously reeling it in. Then the reel broke. The fish was still out there fighting so I started pulling the line in by hand. After some effort I pulled in a good size (between 1 and 2 pounds and about a foot long) smallmouth bass. I had a hard time getting the hook out because the fish had swallowed it. A nice gentleman from Elkton, VA came over and helped me out. He tried to fix my fishing reel afterwards but the main gear was in 5 pieces and floating around within the reel. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.

So I went and secured a campsite, set up my tent, and went to wait for Frank around 12 noon. Frank was right on time. He set up his tent. Then, from about 2PM till about 4PM we hiked miles 16-11 of the Willis River Trail. We staged one car at the western terminus and another at the Bear Creek Market. It was a nice, level, easy hike. The blazes were white and well spaced. We started at Winston Lake, passed and crossed a number of streams, the Cumberland Multipurpose Trail, some side trails and forest roads. The terrain was a lot like the Bull Run/Occoquan Trail , VA or Prince William Forest, VA. The guide book said this stretch would take 3 hours. We did it in 2. And that's with me being 50 pounds overweight. The weather was perfect. Sunny, in the mid 70's and low humidity. It sprinkled a bit around 5PM but the rest of the evening was clear.

We spent the remainder of the evening talking, making a fire and eating dinner. We retired around 10PM and went right to sleep. Then, between 12 midnight and 1AM there was a lot of thunder, lightning and periods of heavy rain. Thank God my tent stayed dry. I went back to sleep around 1AM and slept through until 6AM. I got up to a light rain. It stopped and the sun even peaked through while I was eating. While I was eating my camp stove had a "melt down". It had been leaking gas. I replaced the O ring that was causing the problem and it appeared to be working. Then, after about 5 minutes of boiling water, I saw gas squirt out of the O ring, which immediately ignited! Then it was a race against time. If the fire got in my gas bottle, the bottle could explode or become a projectile. So I was furiously beating the flames with a wet rag and trying to turn off the gas valve of the stove before total meltdown occurred. I succeeded! The top of the bottle was completely melted. It was probably a matter of seconds before the gas inside the bottle ignited. I guess I'm going to go back to the brand of stove that I had before this one.

The rain then started up again. Frank was thinking of staying over 1 more night. I decided to leave my tent up during today's hike in the hope that the rain would quit before we got back. The question never came up about whether we would hike today or not. We came too far to give up now.

So we shuttled the cars again. One car was again at the Bear Creek Market, the other at the eastern terminus. Today, we would hike miles 1-10. It was raining heavily as we started the hike around 8:40AM. I wanted to take a picture at the beginning of this leg. Wouldn't you know that I forgot film and batteries. So I'm sorry but there are no pictures for this one.

There was a neat swinging bridge over the Willis River. However, we were going the opposite way so we could not cross it. Again, we followed and crossed various creeks, dirt roads, the Willis River and paved roads. The terrain was a lot like yesterday. The only differences were that some of the streams were deeper. We had to scout upstream for crossings. And some of the banks of some streams were tough to climb. But we did it. We broke for lunch around 11:30. The rain was letting up but still coming down. It was a warm rain so it was pleasant to walk in. A lot of this area is a wetlands like filter for water going to the Willis River. Unfortunately, it is not potable due to farm runoff. The land was logged in past years and now is selectively clear-cut. So some areas were beautiful forest while some were in the reforesting stage.

The most interesting part of the hike is when it again reached the Willis River around the 7 mile mark. The trail was well blazed but had a lot of vegetation growth along it. Some kind soul took a weed whacker to some of it. But a few miles were overgrown and tough to follow. We pulled away from the Willis River just before the 8 mile mark, then traveled some stream bed trails, old road and connecting trail before coming to the intersection of VA 622 and 623. We then road walked about a quarter mile and returned to my car at the Bear Creek Market. The guide said that this stretch would take 6.5 hours. We did it in a little under 5 hours.

This hike is a great activity along with camping at Bear Creek State Park, VA. The park has swimming, archery, boating, fishing and hiking as activities that are available. The staff was very nice to us. The folks at Bear Creek Market were also very nice for allowing us to park our cars there (with permission) while we were hiking. It would make for a great 2 day or even better 3 day weekend. If you don't like a lot of "ups", the Willis River Trail is for you!

Mike C



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