A few weekends ago, we headed out to Otter Creek Wilderness for a short trip. I’ve been there a few times. In fact, it was the location of one of my first backpacking trips. I quickly discovered why people used poles, thought the Green Mountain Trail was challenging, and learned just how many stars you could see at night.
We’d been tossing around the idea of posting a low-mileage DC UL trip to Otter Creek for a few weeks. While it is a bit of a drive, it really is a wonderful spot, especially if you time it so you can enjoy the swimming holes in Otter Creek. The loop itself is about 15 miles, give or take. The campsite we had our eye on is very close to one of the deepest swimming holes, but its location calls for an uneven split – 10/11 miles and 4 miles. The weather, however, was looking perfect for swimming hole fun on Saturday: low 80s and a low chance of rain. We opted for the shorter half on Saturday to give people time to enjoy some swimming and explore nearby trails. We had a plan!
Our path for Saturday took us along the Mylius Trail, which goes up and over the ridge before descending to the Otter Creek Trail. The water was flowing nicely in Otter Creek, but was low enough that careful hikers could rockhop their way across. (Of course, we did have the “just wade through it” group.)
We made it to the campsite in good time, arriving around 2 p.m. – quite early by DC UL standards! People quickly got down to business: setting up tents, eating lunch, and enjoying a quick break before it was time to swim. The weather didn’t want to cooperate with our plans, though. Most of our crew had time for a quick dip before a downpour cut short the swimming time.
A few of us decided to explore the Moore’s Run Trail, while others hung back hoping for fairer weather. Moore’s Run is a gentle climb to the top of the ridge – so gentle that you barely feel as though you are climbing. You could continue the loop – in fact, I did this trail on a previous trip – to see the bogs along Moore’s Run and then connect it with the Yellow Creek trail. It’s just one of the many variations you can take in Otter Creek.
Planning Tool: Map for Otter Creek
The next morning found us up bright and early for our 11 mile jaunt out of Otter Creek. The first few miles took us along the Creek, but a series of blowdowns have rerouted the trail up higher. I remembered one from an earlier trip but the other one was new to me – at least, I didn’t recall it. We bobbed along the trail – sometimes along some serious underbrush – and arrived at our last crossing of Otter Creek. Now it was time to climb up the Green Mountain Trail, which most certainly cannot be described as a gentle climb. It also has one of the more dramatic conclusions to Once the top is gained, the trail levels out for the remainder of the hike. The bushwhacking, however, continued. I think we were all getting tired of rhododendron in the face.
I also promised everyone that we’d have an obvious turn from Green Mountain onto Shaver’s Mountain trail, having remembered a “trail abandoned” sign and gate at that intersection. Whether the trail was rerouted or the sign removed, we had no indication that we had actually changed trails. After consulting with the map, we knew we were headed in the right direction. Still, a few may have wondered if they inadvertently signed up for a 20 mile day. We arrived at the intersection with the Mylius Trail and began the happy descent down to the cars. Beer and good food at the Alpine Inn quickly followed.
It is a long drive but Otter Creek is worth it. It certainly offers a wilderness experience and is less crowded than its more popular neighbor, Dolly Sods. In the warmer months, it has one of the best swimming holes you can find.