Monday, June 24, 2013

Moncove Lake State Park (Blog Hike #323)

Trails: Diamond Hollow, Roxalia Springs, and Devil Creek Trails
Hike Location: Moncove Lake State Park
Geographic Location: east of Union, WV (37.61721, -80.35457)
Length: 4.5 miles
Difficulty: 10/10 (Difficult)
Last Hiked: August 2010
Overview: A rugged hike with several steep sections offering much serenity.

Directions to the trailhead: Take SR 3 east out of Union to Moncove Lake Rd., which is listed on the map as CR 8.  A state park sign marks this intersection.  Turn left on CR 8.  Take CR 8 to the state park entrance on the left.  Turn left on the single lane paved park road to enter the park.  Follow the park road across the dam to the medium-sized swimming pool parking area on the right; a small brown sign stating “public restrooms” marks this parking lot.  Turn right to park in this lot.

The hike: Tucked away in extreme southeast West Virginia only one ridge from the Virginia line, Moncove Lake State Park is the perfect destination for a quiet mountain retreat.  Despite the location, this park is quite new, established only in 1990 by setting aside 250 acres of the adjacent Moncove Lake Wildlife Management Area.  Additional land transfers bring the total number of acres to 896, including the 144 acre lake.
            In spite of all of this hike’s great features, it is not for everyone.  Indeed, the combination of remote, primitive trail and persistently steep hills make this hike one of the hardest hikes in my blog to date, perhaps second only to Fort Hill State Memorial in Greater Cincinnati or Dragon’s Tooth in Virginia.  Fortunately, a short-cut option (to be described later) exists that cuts off the hardest part of the hike.
            From the pool parking area, cross the park road and head for the campground check-in station.  An information board to the right gives a map and trail information.  Turn sharply left at the check-in station and walk down the paved campground road.  The Diamond Hollow Trail begins at a wooden sign on the right side of the road that says, “Diamond Hollow Trail, Foot Travel Only.”
Trailhead: Diamond Hollow Trail
            The wide single-track grass/dirt trail immediately begins a long, moderate climb away from the campground.  The Diamond Hollow Trail is blazed with red plastic diamonds, and while you don’t need them to follow the trail at first, they will come in handy later.  The tallest trees in the forest here are broadleaf trees such as maple and oak, but some pines make an appearance as you near the top of the hill.  Mountain laurel provides a persistent and fairly thick understory.
            As you approach the crest of the hill, the trail curves sharply left to continue ascending along the ridgeline.  Sharp turns are marked with double blazes, a fact that will come in handy later in the hike.  Near 0.5 miles, the narrow, orange-blazed Grouse Knoll Trail exits steeply downhill to the right and heads back to the main park road.  The Grouse Knoll Trail intersects the park road nearly 0.5 miles from the pool area to create a very short loop, so you should continue straight on the Diamond Hollow Trail.
Intersection with Grouse Knoll Trail
            The grade eases as you walk along the ridge crest and soon reach the highest point on this hill.  During the leafless months, some partially obstructed views of Middle Mountain unfold to the southeast, but dense broadleaf trees obscure any views the rest of the year.  After topping the hill, you begin a long, moderate to steep descent toward Devil Creek.  While the trail coming up was wide and clear, the trail on this side of the hill is more rocky and harder to discern.  Use the red plastic diamond blazes to guide you.
Hiking along the ridge crest
            At the bottom of the descent, the trail curves left to begin following what appears to be an old logging road.  Near 2 miles into the hike, the Diamond Hollow Trail ends at an intersection with the yellow-blazed Devils Creek Trail, which goes left and straight.  The left fork leads directly back to the campground, but this hike continues straight to head to the southern arm of the Devil Creek Trail.
            As you approach Devil Creek, you will enter a brushy area with thick, shoulder-high meadow greenery on either side of the trail.  The trail here is very narrow, so it is best to wear pants to avoid getting briar scratches and picking up unwanted passengers such as ticks.  Devil Creek doesn’t look like much, but it is in fact the outflow of Moncove Lake.  The trail crosses Devil Creek on a small, shaky bridge constructed out of two small logs with planks nailed to the top.  The bridge is rickety, but it held my 300 pounds and hence will probably hold your weight as well.
            After climbing the steep south bank of Devil Creek, you reach a trail intersection with the Roxalia Springs Trail, which is blazed with white plastic diamonds.  The Roxalia Springs Trail is the hardest trail in the park, considerably harder than anything you have encountered thus far in this hike.  If you are not up to the challenge, you can turn left at this intersection, staying on the Devils Creek Trail, and rejoin this hike at a later point.  For an adventure on steep, primitive trail, turn right to begin the Roxalia Springs Trail.  After a short stint on an old logging road along the creek, the trail turns left and begins climbing Middle Mountain.
Roxalia Springs Trail climbing Middle Mountain
            This climb starts steep and gets steeper.  At first you are ascending along a small tributary of Devil Creek, but soon you pass the upper reaches of the tributary as the grade gets steeper.  The terrain here is rocky, and the trail is very hard to discern.  Rather than trying to stay on an “official” treadway, you will need to simply walk from white blaze to white blaze using whatever route looks most feasible, climbing all of the time.
            3 miles into the hike, you finally reach the crest of Middle Mountain.  Even on a warm summer day, it will likely be cool and breezy up here, so take a minute to appreciate your accomplishment.  On the top of the ridge, the trail curves sharply left and begins following the crest of Middle Mountain, which falls away steeply on either side.  The ridgetop hiking is surprisingly pleasant after the brutal climb you just endured, and a few partially obstructed views open through some small gaps in the trees.  All of the trees up here are stunted due to the rocky soil; most of them are broadleaf but a few are pines.  Due to the large concentration of broadleaf trees in this area, this would be a nice, secluded place to do some leaf peeping in early October.
            All too soon, you begin the descent back toward Moncove Lake.  At first you descend along the ridge crest, but soon the trail rolls off the left side of the ridge and passes some interesting rock formations as it descends.  For the most part, the descent is steep but not as steep as the climb.  Also, the trail here is easier to discern than on the climb.
Rock formations along the trail
            4.1 miles into the hike, the Roxalia Springs Trail ends at an intersection with the Devil Creek Trail, which goes right and left.  If you chose to omit the Roxalia Springs Trail earlier, you will arrive at this intersection from the left.  Turn right to head for Moncove Lake.  Devil Creek and the brushy area beyond it are downhill to your left as the wide two-track dirt trail follows what appears to be an old logging road.  A dense understory of ferns creates a new and pleasant hiking atmosphere.
Moncove Lake
            At 4.4 miles, the trail climbs gradually before it ends at a gate along the park entrance road.  Turn left on the park road and walk across the earthen dam that forms Moncove Lake.  Pass a fishing pier on the right as the pool parking area comes into view ahead.  This sight signals the end of the hike.

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