Thursday, June 26, 2014

Pipestem Resort State Park: Dogwood Trail (Blog Hike #473)

Trail: Dogwood Trail
Hike Location: Pipestem Resort State Park
Geographic Location: northeast of Princeton, WV
Length: 0.7 miles
Difficulty: 3/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: June 2014
Overview: A short after-dinner nature trail.

Directions to the trailhead: From I-77, take exit 14 and follow signs to SR 20.  Turn left on SR 20 and drive north 9.3 miles to the park entrance.  Turn left to enter the park.  Drive the main park road 1.6 miles to the parking area for the Nature Center on the left.  Park here; the trail starts behind the Nature Center.

The hike: Consisting of 4050 acres in and around the Bluestone River gorge in southern West Virginia, Pipestem Resort State Park is one of the crown jewels of West Virginia’s state park system.  The park’s name comes from the locally common meadowsweet plant, the hollow stem of which was historically used to make tobacco and other pipes.  Perhaps the park’s most famous feature is its aerial tramway, which takes visitors down 1100 feet to the bottom of the gorge.
            The park has 2 lodges: Mountain Creek Lodge and McKeever Lodge.  Mountain Creek Lodge sits in the gorge next to the river; it is accessible only by trail or the tramway.  McKeever Lodge sits on the canyon rim and offers several gorge view rooms, one of which housed me for two nights.  An 82-site campground and 26 cabins round out the park’s lodging options.  In terms of other amenities, the park boasts two golf courses, a regulation course and a short par-3 course, tennis courts, picnic shelters, a recreation center featuring disc golf among other things, 20 hiking trails, and the Nature Center.
My long hike at Pipestem is described in the next blog entry, but the night before my long hike I chose to hike the short Dogwood Trail described here.  The Nature Center, where this hike begins, is only open from 12:30 to 4:30, but it has an excellent bird-viewing window.  I sat in a rocking chair beside the window for about 30 minutes and saw several goldfinches, several house finches, a woodpecker, a mourning dove, and some titmice among other birds.
Dogwood Trail trailhead (low-res)
            From the grassy area behind the Nature Center, pick up the Dogwood Trail as it dips across a small meadow and heads into the woods on the far side.  Some frogs were croaking up a tune in the small pond to the left of the trail as I walked past.  After climbing slightly, you cross the much wider horse trail.  Continue straight to stay on the blue-blazed Dogwood Trail.
            The trail continues climbing on a gradual grade and comes out beside the main park road.  Rather than crossing the road, the trail stays about 10 feet below road level on the west side of the road, as directed by trail signs.  Daisies grow on the roadside bank in season.
Daisies beside the park road
            At 0.25 miles, the trail curves left to follow an old dirt road as it descends away from the main park road.  2 minutes later, another sign directs you to turn left and leave the old road.  The balance of the trail climbs and descends repeatedly.  At 0.45 miles, a particularly steep climb and descent makes you wonder if a masochist built this trail.  The descent takes you beside the bottom of some low rock outcrops, thus easing your fears.
Hiking the Dogwood Trail
            You pass the other side of the frog pond as you approach the end of the loop.  At 0.6 miles, the County Line Trail and horse trail enter from the right.  100 feet later, turn right to enter the grassy area behind the Nature Center, thus closing the loop.  Stop in the Nature Center for more bird watching if it is open, or browse the pioneer exhibits throughout the grassy area before returning to your car to complete the hike.


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