I first heard about Spruce Knob mountain of West Virginia last fall as my quest for seeking dark skies expanded. I read about it over the winter months and knew I was going to make the trip at some point during the warm months of 2016.
On a spur of the moment in July I decided to go! My previous plans for the day had been thwarted and something made me check the weather for Circleville, WV. Conditions were looking great and the moon setting after 11pm would buy me some travel time, why not?
“If you’ve never been to Spruce Knob be sure to check out my tips at the bottom of the page.”
I called for a reservation at the Canaan Village Inn and they had a vacancy. The front desk closes at 9pm but they were happy to leave a key with my name on it at the un-locked front desk. That is some real country hospitality!
I rely heavily on my GPS and had told the hotel clerk this. She knew it wouldn’t take me to the hotel directly so gave me some easy directions from a landmark I was sure to see. The GPS took me to the town of Davis with no problems. From there her directions were quite accurate and the hotel was easy to find.The room was nice, basically I just slept & showered but there was a TV and free WiFi. I was still over an hours drive to the top of Spruce Knob mountain. The moon was still out and that bought me some time.
Finding the mountain turned out easy. From my hotel location I used the “Points of Interest” on my Garmin, spelled out Spruce Knob and it came right up! I was relieved. Once I exited the interstate 2 hours earlier, the roads became very rural. There wasn’t going to be any asking for directions at this point as it was nearly midnight.
From the bottom of the mountain, the road is approximately 7 miles long with many bends, several are “hair-pin” curves. Average speeds of 15-20 mph make it a long ride, however, the road is paved and well maintained. I was pleasantly surprised at this.
Once on top I saw a large parking area. It was difficult to get my bearings because it was very dark. There was one truck, seemed like a young couple enjoying the evening so I drove on down to the lower lot away from them. There were other cars parked but later I concluded these were overnight campers, off into the woods somewhere for the night.
I got out of the car and the milky way came to view immediately, arched from horizon to horizon. There were many stars, absolutely beautiful! I set up my tripod and started taking pictures. Within an hour the stars and milky way became even clearer, as my eyes adjusted to the dark and the moon had set for over an hour. It was dark up there!
The truck couple left and it was just me! I wanted to go to the look out tower and had to take a path into the woods to do so. I grabbed a flash light from the car and entered the pathway. I have to admit I was a little “creeped out” walking in complete darkness on top of that mountain through the woods.
After about 5 minutes I made it to the tower. My nerves were settling down. Once I made it to the top of the tower I felt pretty comfortable. My main concern in the back of my mind was stumbling upon a bear! Perhaps unjustifiable fear but it was something I couldn’t completely shake.
I enjoyed the view for 1/2 hour or so and then made my way back to the lot through the dark, wooded path. Not nearly as creepy this time. If I weren’t alone I don’t think it would have been very scary for me. Maybe just a little at the beginning of the path.
I decided to take another set of pictures so I set up the tripod in the lot. My eyes were well adjusted to the dark at this point but it was still dark. You couldn’t make anything out more than 15 yards away.
I no sooner set up the camera and I heard something very big run across the lot! Of course I couldn’t see anything, but it was running and it was big, not a fox or racoon. This animal was thumping across. I heard the twigs and leaves snapping when it entered the woods, near the path I just came from, and assumed it was on it’s way somewhere other than where I was!
“I have many more pictures in the photo gallery at the bottom of this page”
I was creeped out all over again. Bigger and better than before! This time I had shivers up my spine…my neck…you know, like a crazed cat! I shined the flashlight but couldn’t see anything. I decided it was probably a deer and if it were a bear it wasn’t interested in me or I’d be dead by now. Whatever it was I knew it was running.
I stayed for about 1/2 hour snapping pictures and then decided to head to the hotel. It was 4am and the Milky way was starting to dissipate.
My plan was to go home in the morning but the morning was so beautiful I decided to go back to the mountain and see it in daytime hours. The drive there was scenic with many sights to pass the time. The Seneca rocks view as spectacular. The small mountain towns seem unreal, as if they are from a movie.
The ascent to the top of the mountain was very enjoyable. I took pictures of flowers and some of the landscape views. When I got to the top there were actually people there this time. (I’m rarely up before 2pm and it was 11am) Walking the path to the tower wasn’t scary at all. LOL I saw a few deer and convinced myself that’s probably what I heard the night before.
The smell of pine is everywhere. It was a breezy but a beautiful warm day, all sun and low humidity. The view from the tower is breathtaking! A 360 degree view of mountains for 100 miles in each direction? I don’t know how far!
I took one of the trails and I think the views were even more spectacular! The trails are very short and easy to walk. They are basically flat and the one I took was only 1/2 mile that takes you right back to the tower. I would recommend taking a trail because of the many spectacular views and the easy walk.
I decided that since I was already there I’d take a trip to Spruce Knob Lake and then head home. The road to the lake is not well maintained like the road to the summit. It is not paved. It is gravel and rock, very bumpy. I drive a Toyota Corolla. I never hit bottom but I had to drive very slow. I think I averaged under 10 mph. A pick up truck or even a small SUV would have been an easier and quicker ride than my tiny car.
It’s a long drive, about 10 miles. Approximately 2 miles before the lake I watched a bear cross the road in front of me. He came down a hillside and stopped in the middle of the road about 30 yards ahead of me, turned his head and looked at me for about 2 seconds. I tried to get a picture but barely got the camera on and he took off. He was beautiful & gave me a great view because he paused and showed me his profile and then looked directly at me.
I made it to the lake. Very peaceful. There were a dozen people there, most of them fishing. Some Canadian geese were present. There is a path that appears to encircle the entire lake. I started to walk it but 100 yards into it I decided to turn around. The scenery was pretty, a little “buggy” though (probably because of the water) and the thoughts of that bear were fresh on my mind as the forest became thicker!
It was getting late, about 4pm. I decided to stay one more night at the hotel as I was very tired. I checked in, got something to eat and relaxed a bit. Slept until 2am and headed back to Butler, PA! Got home about 7am, just in time for a good nights sleep!
Tips & things to consider:
- Once off the interstate the roads get rough, even the “main” ones.
- There are no 24 hour gas stations for many (like 25-50) miles. Make sure your tank is filled before you enter the wilderness, especially at night.
- It gets cold on the mountain after sunset. The temperature is 10-20 degrees cooler than on the bottom and the wind is steady all the time. Gloves are a good idea if you’re staying out past 1am. (even in July & August!)
- Have water, snacks, flashlight and a blanket or jacket. Mother nature is brutal and there are no modern comforts on the mountain.
- There is no cellphone service. Make sure you have a spare tire and jack.
- If going to the lake be warned that the trip is almost 10 miles and very rough from the summit. You will have to drive very slow unless you have an SUV in which case your top speed might hit 10 mph!
- At night the mountain produces a lot of dew. I lost many very good pictures because I wasn’t aware of this and didn’t notice until I downloaded my camera images. Make sure you wipe your camera lens often if taking pictures at night. Even if you are not taking pictures, be aware that it will get wet up there as the night goes on. I can’t even imagine how bad it must be in August!
- Make sure you have tissue, paper towels, wet wipes ect. There is no electricity or water on the mountain. The bathrooms often lack TP.
- Cherry Springs or Spruce Knob? Both are Bortle Class 3, classified as rural sky. Both are nice and for different reasons. I think Spruce Knob is a bit darker but you have to battle the dew if taking pictures. The parking lot is paved and large with 3 sections. Less bugs and great for lawn chairs. Cherry Springs is more commercial, offering a paid area for serious astronomers and a short term parking area and viewing area for free. Not nearly as much of a “treck” to get there but still very rural for PA. Read about my August 2016 trip to Cherry Springs and take a look at my once in a lifetime shot of a falling star in just the right place at the right time!