High, winding mountain roads gave way to narrow, rutted dirt lanes, which finally led to relatively well-groomed gravel forest service roads leading deep into West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest. Though we had never hiked these trails before, it’s the kind of drive that makes you feel you are onto something special, as if an unseen curtain will suddenly shimmer in relief against the landscape–and then be pulled back.
From the small parking area we headed down the Seneca Creek Trail for a mile or so before turning to climb Allegheny Mountain. The summit is forested and there is little view to be had in summer, but the shade was welcome in the heat. The early part of the hike is dense with spruce, hemlock, and ferns, lending an enchanting “north woods” feel.
After walking the ridge a bit, we descended steeply across the mountainside, on a narrow, well-eroded trail. Near the bottom we crossed over Seneca Creek, where the trail begins to run parallel to the creek. At first it seems an average mountain stream, nice enough without being particularly remarkable. Then you come upon the falls. After nearly seven miles of uphill climbing followed by a treacherous descent, the falls and their swimming hole might as well have been Shangri-La on this hot, late-August weekend.
We pushed on a bit to make camp, then backtracked to enjoy the falls and explore the surrounding area. Then back up to camp, on a hillside above the stream, where we enjoyed my favorite no-cook summer backpacking meal: rehydrated whole-wheat couscous with sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts, dried herbs and nutritional yeast. Yum.
After dinner we trekked back down to the creek to watch the last light of day play with the water for a while before retiring.
Up early the next morning, we packed up just in time for a light rain to begin falling. Fear not to hike in the rain my friends, especially a gentle shower on a warm summer’s morning. Alas, however, the rain did force me to drop my phone into a drysack, meaning I was unable to capture any of the truly stunning stream scenery on the hike out. Please trust me and imagine, if you will, a twisty creekbed dark with layers of black rock, that often rise in cliffs alongside the water. Multiple small waterfalls spurt everywhere over these rocks, and springs flow in from the side. Even in late August the water flowed with confidence and abundance. For miles we walked alongside the creek before the rain gradually receded, and in a swampy area we stumbled upon a rarely-seen surprise: a beaver dam, with a perfectly-gnawed tree alongside:
Senses filled to the brim, we prepared to take leave of this entrancing place as we pushed through several meadow clearings laden with the last wildflowers of summer. If it can be so, we will surely return to Seneca Creek.