|After all the bigger wilderness signs in Virginia, |
this one looks like someone left it in the dryer too long.
My latest wilderness sign selfie features a personal size sign!
Access to Big Draft Wilderness is from the Blue Bend Recreation Area, in the far south portion of the Monongahela National Forest. Blue Bend includes an exceptional campground, with 20 beautiful sites along Anthony Creek. The campground also has a CCC-era pavilion, flush toilets, and warm showers. Park in the day use area (no fee) and follow signs to a footbridge over Anthony Creek, which feeds into the Greenbrier River.
On the other side of Anthony Creek, most folks will take a left, as it leads away from the wilderness border and towards a riverside beach. Trails are easily followed here, but not well marked. I went straight past a kiosk with a map, and that took me where I wanted to go - onto the Blue Bend Loop Trail, taking the loop clockwise.
Every trail description I read before this hike described the trail in a counter-clockwise direction, which means taking the trail along Anthony Creek for about 1.5 level miles before climbing over Round Mountain. I wanted to front load my elevation gain, so I climbed the mountain first. I think the trail descriptions I saw recommended the opposite direction because I passed the three nice overlooks early in my hike. So within the first mile-and-a-quarter of my 12 mile hike, I'd already burned the best views of the entire day. Each overlook was in the same direction, and each was at a switchback when the trail was at the farthest east points in the loop.
|The view northeast from the highest of the three consecutive views|
at switchbacks on the Blue Bend Loop Trail.
I was interested to see the trail shelter that predated this area's establishment as a wilderness area. From the descriptions in trail guides I had read, I pictured this shelter sited along the trail when it was following a ridge, possibly with views to the south nearby. But it wasn't anything like that. Instead it was in a wooded area that dipped down from the rest of the trail, with no views to be found nearby. It was also in a sloped area, so there isn't much opportunity to camp nearby - limiting my interest as a boy scout destination.
|Trail shelter on the Blue Bend Loop Trail.|
|Although you can't really tell from this photo, |
camping around the trail shelter was not optimal.
|The Blue Bend Loop Trail descends from the shelter to Anthony Creek |
and the intersection with the Anthony Creek Trail.
|Anthony Creek from the eponymous trail.|
|Another Anthony Creek view, from the trail.|
|Anthony Creek Trail heads towards the Blue Bend Campground on the left,|
and the South Boundary Trail on the right heads towards its trailhead on Big Draft Road.
|This is a typical campsite in the USFS Blue Bend Campground. |
It is probably site number 10, next to Anthony Creek.
There is an adjoining day use picnic area with free parking and pit toilets. The day use area is the jump off point for non-campers who want to hike these trails. There are also beaches along each side of Anthony Creek that are accessed from this parking lot. And the picnic area has a large, depression-era picnic shelter with an enormous stone fireplace. This can be rented - I think it said it cost $25 to reserve. That area could handle a very large group.
|The picnic Shelter at the Blue Bend Campground is huge and reservable.|
It is a similar design to the shelter at Sherando Lake in the GWNF.
|The fireplace in the shelter.|
As a side note, I was greatly assisted in my hike planning by my copy of the Monongahela National Forest Hiking Guide, written by Allen de Hart and Bruce Sundquist for the West Virginia Highlands Concervancy. There is now an 8th Edition (2006) available (link), though I used the 7th Edition (2001). These folks have been publishing these guides since 1972, and cover virtually every trail in the Monongahela National Forest. It is also available in CD format (Link) (Sample Chapter). I recommend it highly, even though it takes some getting used to at first - there are many abbreviations that require some decoding. You can see this in the sample chapter, linked above. But these authors really know their trails, and profits are plowed back into conservation efforts in the state. A win win.
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