Monongahela National Forest
The Seneca Creek Backcountry and Gandy Creek Area straddles the Randolph and Pendleton County lines. The Gandy Creek Area lies in Randolph County on the west slope of Allegheny Mountain and Seneca Creek Backcountry lies on the east slope of Allegheny Mountain in Pendleton County, within the Spruce Knob National Recreation Area (NRA). The entire area is bounded on the north by WV SSR 7, on the east by the Spruce Knob NRA boundary, on the south by FR 112 and WV SSR 40, and on the west by WV SSR 29. The towns of Whitmer and Horton are in the northwest corner of this area, and Spruce Knob Lake is on the south. Spruce Knob, the highest point in West Virginia, is in the southeast corner of this area. Most of the trails can be accessed by WV SSR 29 or from FR 112.
Spruce Knob is 4861' above sea level. Lowest elevation is 2150' at the northern terminus of Allegheny Mountain trail on WV SSR 7. The steep sides of Allegheny Mountain are dissected by deep drainages and toe ridges, making the area extremely rugged. It is typified by spruce forest, heath barrens, and rock gardens. Vegetation consists of second-growth spruce and hardwoods, blue and huckleberries, rhododendron, mountain laurel, and wild azaleas. Various camping facilities are available in the area and Spruce Knob Lake provides fishing, although not swimming, and non-motorized boating for anyone camping in the nearby campground. Fishing in the lake and creeks, and hunting in the area are permitted subject to West Virginia state law. The area is approximately 19,600 acres in size and provides sixty miles of trails.
This area was logged during the early 1900's. The forests have grown back, but the old railroad grades can still be found. Some are now used as trails. The area was purchased by the federal government after the Weeks Act was passed in 1920. Spruce Knob Lake was built in 1952 to provide flatwater fishing opportunities and is periodically restocked by the WV Division of Natural Resources. In 1965, the Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area was established by Congress. The Forest Service was directed to manage the NRA for outstanding opportunities for outdoor recreation, scenic qualities, and other scientific, cultural, and historic values. During the Monongahela National Forest planning process in 1985-1986, the entire Seneca Creek/Gandy Creek area was designated as a semi-primitive non-motorized area, with management objectives emphasizing opportunities for a variety of dispersed recreation activities and a largely natural and undisturbed environment. This re-emphasized the intent of Congress in declaring Seneca Creek as a NRA, and added that the management of the recreation opportunities in the area would be primitive rather than developed facilities. Gandy Creek was included in the primitive recreation decision because of its outstanding opportunities for this type of recreation.
Wildlife to be found in the area includes black bear, wild turkey, and Northern Virginia flying squirrel, as well as more common species such as white-tail deer, small rodents, and songbirds. Management of the area emphasizes animals that require more remote habitat and a limited amount of disturbance.
Native flora includes red spruce, mixed hardwoods such as the oaks, the maples, black cherry, beech, birch, rhododendron, mountain laurel, and many species of moss, ferns, grasses, and wildflowers. The severe climate and strong west winds create deformed, one-sided spruce trees on the high ridges. Spruce Knob receives more than 40 inches of precipitation annually, but the east side of Spruce Mountain receives much less, creating a distinctly different ecosystem. The deep drainage of Seneca Creek is almost another world from the Gandy Creek drainage to the west or the North Fork of the South Branch of the Potomac River to the east.
Most of the trails are marked with blue blazes and signs, although they may be overgrown. Some maps of the area may no longer be correct in trail names and numbers. During management planning for the area, some trails were combined and names and number were dropped. All trails still exist on the ground, however.
Judy Springs Trail FT #512
Length: 0.7 miles
Average hiking time: Approximate hiking time: 0.5 hours
This is a short connector trail between Seneca Creek trail (#515) and Huckleberry trail (#533). It leaves Seneca Creek trail in a small meadow, ascends through forest and over a small stile into a grazing field. Follow rock cairns NE across the field to the junction with Huckleberry trail. During the summer, the meadow is filled with a variety of wildflowers and attended by songbirds and butterflies.
Seneca Creek Trail FT #515
Length: 5.0 mile
Average hiking time: Average hiking time: 2.5 hours
This trail follows Seneca Creek from its southern headwaters to a junction with Horton trail (#530). There is a parking area with a bulletin board at the southern trailhead, but this trailhead is generally inaccessible during the winter since FR 112 is not plowed. The trail starts on an old road on the east side of the creek, which is small at this point. It traverses spruce groves and meadows, fording small streams that flow in from the east. At 0.9 miles, it intersects Tom Lick Run trail (#559). It passes beaver ponds and crosses more small streams, coming to a junction with Swallow Rock Run trail (#529) at 2.2 miles. The trail crosses Seneca Creek at about 2.7 miles and continues on the west bank. It has a junction with Judy Springs trail (#512) at 3.5 miles. Just past the junction with Judy Springs trail is the start of Bear Hunter trail (#531). Seneca Creek trail continues north on an old railroad grade, crossing the creek west to east at 3.7 miles, then east to west at 4.1 miles. The trail crosses the creek west to east for the last time at 4.8 miles, just a short distance above a high falls. The trail has a junction here with Huckleberry trail (#533). It continues another 0.2 miles to its terminus at Horton trail.
Big Run Trail FT #527
Length: 3.1 mile
Average hiking time: Average hiking time: 2.5 hours
This trail connects WV SSR 29 to FR 112 in a steep ascent up the west side of Allegheny Mountain. The lower trailhead is marked by a hiker symbol sign and the trail number. The upper trailhead has a parking area near the trail sign. There is a footbridge at the lower trailhead that crosses Gandy Creek. The trail follows and old road through a field and then continues up Big Run. At 1.8 miles, the trail connects with the southern end of North Prong trail (#528). At 2.7 miles, there is a double blazed turn and the trail enters and open valley. It follows a small stream on the north side to a spring, then turns right and ascends through the woods to the upper trailhead.
North Prong Trail FT #528
Length: 2.8 mile
Average hiking time: Average hiking time: 2.25 hours
This trail connects Big Run trail and Allegheny Mountain trail (#532). The trail follows the north fork of Big Run from the Big Run trail for 0.7 miles. The trail forks in a clearing, and the trail follows the northerly branch. It connects with an old road at 1.2 miles, where Elza trail (#556) joins it. Do not cross the bridge, but continue northeast, passing beaver ponds and traversing an open valley. Turn into the woods and ascend a hill to a clearing at 2.3 miles. The trail continues southeast to its terminus at Allegheny Mountain trail near a stand of pines, a clearing, and a spring.
Swallow Rock Run Trail FT #529
Length: 3.2 miles
Average hiking time: Average hiking time 3.0 hours
Swallow Rock Run trail connects WV SSR 29 to Seneca Creek trail (#515). It starts just below Gandy Creek bridge at a scenic area and is signed. The trail crosses a ridge and then crosses Swallow Rock Run. The trail follows the run on the south side, taking the southerly fork of the run. It crosses to the north side of the run 0.2 miles after. the fork and continues to follow the run. It crosses a clearing and continues through the woods to the top of Allegheny Mountain, where it intersects the Allegheny Mountain trail (#532). It descends the east side of Allegheny Mountain to Seneca Creek in a generally southeast direction. There is no bridge to cross Seneca Creek to get onto the Seneca Creek trail.
Horton Trail FT #530
Length: 3.5 miles
Average hiking time: Approximate hiking time: 3.5 hours
This trail connects WV SSR 29 to Seneca Creek trail (#515). The trail has had a variety of names. Just beyond Lower Two Spring Run is a hiker symbol sign and a parking area in a grove of pine and spruce. There is also a dirt road on the south side of the run with room for car or tent camping. The trail follows an old logging road and does not cross the run. The trail tread turns to a footpath and continues up the narrow valley at a gentle grade. The trail is intersected by an unmarked trail and shows signs of healing blazes. It passes a small rhododendron thicket and a rock outcrop and is not particularly obvious, especially when snow-covered. It follows the right fork of the run to a second fork where there are three slash marks on a tree. The trail then follows the left fork of the run and intersects with Allegheny Mountain trail (#532) on the ridgetop. There is a spring, a pond, and a sign declaring Allegheny Mountain trail. The trail then angles southeasterly and descends the mountain to Seneca Creek just below the upper falls and meets Seneca Creek trail.
Bear Hunter Trail FT #531
Length: 1.0 mile
Average hiking time: Approximate hiking time: 0.5 hour
This trail is a short connector between Allegheny Mountain trail (#532) and Judy Springs. It descends the east slope of Allegheny Mountain, crossing to the north side of a run after 0.3 miles. It continues down the mountain to its terminus at Seneca Creek trail (#515).
Allegheny Mountain Trail FT #532
Length: 12.4 miles
Average hiking time: Approximate hiking time: 6.5 hours
This trail connects WV SSR 7 to FR 112. There is a footbridge at the parking area on Whites Run and goes through a meadow with large apple trees. It switchbacks up through rhododendron thickets and then enters a hardwood forest. It crosses a gas pipeline clearing and continues up the ridge. It swings west and intersects the Horton trail (#530) and Spring Ridge trail (#561) at 6.2 miles. From here on, the trail is an old forest road that the WV DNR still uses to occasionally maintain openings for wildlife. It passes Bear Hunter trail (#531) at 7.7 miles, and Swallow Rock Run trail (#529) at 9.1 miles. North Prong trail (#528) is reached at 10.1 miles. Here the clearings become more numerous. Since they are periodically mowed and are intended for use by wildlife, camping is not recommended here. If you must camp in the section from here to the terminus at FR 112, please camp on the grass at the edge of an opening and remember to remove any rocks or logs you may bring in. The grass of the opening is more durable than the forest floor for camping impacts and removing rocks or logs and firewood helps protect DNR employees while they maintain this area. Tom Lick trail (#559) is reached at 10.3 miles. Continue another 2.1 miles along the ridge to FR 112.
Huckleberry Trail FT #533
Length: 5.9 miles
Average hiking time: Approximate hiking time: 3.0 hours
This trail starts at the parking area of Spruce Knob observation tower and runs along the ridge of Spruce Mountain to a low gap where it turns westerly and descends toward Seneca Creek. It crosses Lumberjack trail (#534) at 3.8 miles and continues downhill on an old rock road. There is a large pasture to the left. The trail meets Judy Springs trail (#512) at 4.5 miles. The trail has a rocky tread as it continues down through a field, marked with rock cairns, and terminates at Seneca Creek trail (#515) at 5.9 miles.
Lumberjack Trail FT #534
Length: 3.3 miles
Average hiking time: Approximate hiking time: 2.5 hours
This trail follows an old railroad grade from FR 112 and terminates on Huckleberry trail (#533). The trail is marked by a hiker symbol off FR 112, and parking is available. After crossing a field, a hemlock grove at 0.6 miles with a spring. Occasional sinks occur in the area and after the trail swings northeast, the stream goes underground. The old railroad grade, marked by arrow signs, leaves the valley and continues sidehill to the terminus on Huckleberry trail. Occasional cross ties and bridge footings can still be seen. This part of the trail is poorly drained and tends to be soggy in wet weather.
Bee Trail FT #555
Length: 1.4 miles
Average hiking time: Approximate hiking time: 0.75 hours
Bee trail starts off WV SSR 29 and crosses a footbridge over Gandy Creek. It passes through a grassy field and then into a hardwood forest on an old forest road. At 0.8 mile, it turns to a singletrack trail and begins a steeper ascent up Allegheny Mountain. At 1.1 mile, there is a faint trail junction with a former location for this trail. Bear left at this point and continue straight up the mountain through open woods. At 1.4 miles, the trail enters a wildlife opening and intersects the Leading Ridge trail (#557).
Elza Trail FT #556
Length: 2.0 mile
Average hiking time: Approximate hiking time: 1 hour
This is a connecting trail between WV SSR 29 and North Prong trail (#528). There is a hiker sign off WV SSR 29 pointing to a jeep road, and down the road is a trail sign. The trail follows the road until it crosses the creek, then turns left and crosses the run. It goes up a ridge and then angles sidehill, climbing toward the head of the drain. It bears right, crosses the old location of Bee trail and then crosses Leading Ridge trail (#557). It goes through a wooded patch, down an access road, and crosses a bridge before ending at North Prong trail (#528).
Leading Ridge Trail FT #557
Length: 5.1 mile
Average hiking time: Approximate hiking time: 2.75 hours
This is actually a woods road used to maintain wildlife openings. It starts at WV SSR 29 and is marked by a hiker symbol. It intersects Elza trail (#556) at 2.8 miles, Bee trail (#555) at 3.5 miles, and ends at Allegheny Mountain trail (#532).
Tom Lick Trail FT #559
Length: 1.1 mile
Average hiking time: Approximate hiking time: 0.5 hour
This is a connector trail from Seneca Creek trail (#515) to Allegheny Mountain trail (#532). Starting from Seneca Creek trail, it passes through an opening, crosses a bridge, then follows a woods road to its terminus at Allegheny Mountain trail.
Fire and Water
If you must have a fire, please keep it small and use only dead and down branches. We encourage the use of lightweight camping stoves. They are less damaging to the environment and more efficient for cooking. Join us in an effort to keep Seneca Creek Backcountry/Gandy Creek Area free of blackened rocks, sterile soils, and forest fires.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication