Eastern Region Viewing Area
LOCATION and PHOTOS
Nightcaps (Anemone quinquefolia var. minima) is a diminutive variety of the common wood anemone (Anemone quinquefolia). Nightcaps can be seen on the rich, limestone-derived soils on the lower slopes of Shaver’s Mountain. Photo by Ron Polgar.
Forest: Monongahela National Forest
District: Cheat-Potomac Ranger District
Description: The Mylius Trail (Trail No. 128) is a prime location for viewing the delicate display of spring ephemeral wildflowers, which bloom during the brief, sunny window of time between snowmelt and leaf-out of the hardwood forest canopy. From early April into early May, the ground is awash in subtle hues of white, yellow, pink, and other colors as the small forest floor herbs race to complete their flowering before the emerging tree leaves block the sunlight. Although spring ephemerals occur in many locations throughout eastern North America, the Mylius trail is a good place to see an especially diverse display because the trail crosses four different geologic substrates. Some of the geologic formations have produced soils that are high in calcium, magnesium, and other plant nutrients, which contribute to the wildflower diversity.
The trail begins adjacent to the Glady Fork River in a mixed mesophytic forest composed largely of northern red oak (Quercus rubra), sweet birch (Betula lenta), yellow birch (B. alleghaniensis), eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera), and red maple (Acer rubrum). Over the first 0.3-mile or so, the trail follows the gentle upward grade of Forest Road 28 through this mesic forest. After leaving the road, the trail begins a steep climb across richer soils derived from limestone and a type of calcium-rich shale. These rich soils support a forest dominated by sugar maple (Acer saccharum), American basswood (Tilia americana), and white ash (Fraxinus americana), along with the other tree species encountered earlier. It is on this rich slope that the wildflower display is at its best. As the trail reaches the top of Shaver’s Mountain, the geologic substrate changes to highly acidic, nutrient-poor sandstone. At this geologic transition, the vegetation abruptly shifts to a mixed forest of red spruce (Picea rubens), eastern hemlock, red maple, and yellow birch. Beyond the crest of Shaver’s Mountain, the trail crosses into Otter Creek Wilderness and descends to the Wilderness’ namesake creek, where it ends at the intersection with the Otter Creek trail. The wildflower display along this last segment of the trail is much more subdued due to the nutrient-poor soil and the year-round shade cast by conifers and dense thickets of great laurel (Rhododendron maximum).
From the trailhead to the top of Shaver’s Mountain, the trail covers approximately 1.8 miles and gains about 850 feet in elevation. From the top of Shaver’s Mountain to Otter Creek is approximately 0.8 mile, with a loss of approximately 250 feet in elevation. The trail is not a loop, so a trip to the top of the mountain and back will be a 3.6-mile round trip, whereas a trip to Otter Creek and back will be a 5.2-mile round trip.
Wildflower Viewing: Nearly every spring ephemeral wildflower known to occur in mesic forests in eastern West Virginia can be found along the Mylius trail. Cutleaf toothwort (Cardamine concatenata) and crinkleroot (Cardamine diphylla) are two of the earliest bloomers, appearing in early April. Dogtooth violet, more popularly known as trout lily (Erythronium americanum), carpets the forest floor with small yellow flowers in early to mid April. The yellowish-green flowers of blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) appear just as the leaves of the plant are unfolding. Carolina springbeauty (Claytonia caroliniana) adds a touch of pink to the display, while the relatively large flowers of spotted geranium (Geranium maculatum) and red trillium (Trillium erectum) are among the more easily noticed blooms. Nightcaps (Anemone quinquefolia var. minima) and dwarf ginseng (Panax trifolius) are two of the smallest showy plants to be seen along the trail. Several species of violets, including common blue violet (Viola sororia), sweet white violet (Viola blanda), and roundleaf yellow violet (Viola rotundifolia) are common all along the trail. The various violet species bloom at slightly different times throughout the early spring, ensuring that some color is present at all times during April and May. Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) is one of the latest blooming of the spring ephemerals, making its appearance in early to mid-May. It is also one of the few spring wildflowers that grow in the acidic spruce-hemlock-northern hardwood forest at the top of Shaver’s Mountain and beyond. This list is just a small sample of the wildflower species to be seen along the Mylius trail in April and May.
Safety First: Be prepared for cold weather in early spring. At this elevation (2,300-3,200 feet), occasional snow and ice can occur up to the end of April, and freezing morning temperatures are possible until late May. Much of your hike will be spent climbing a steep slope, so you need to be in good physical condition to attempt this route. Be sure to take enough food and water for what is likely to be a daylong hike. Although the trail is marked and well used, you should have a topographic map and/or a GPS unit to help prevent you from getting lost. The narrow roads leading to the site have many blind curves, which necessitate low speeds and careful attention to hazards, such as deer and oncoming cars.
Directions: If you are coming from the town of Elkins, drive 12.2 miles east on U.S. Highway 33 and turn left on Sully Road (State Road 12). If you are coming from Seneca Rocks, drive 22.7 miles west on U.S. Highway 33 and turn right on Sully Road. Proceed north on Sully Road for 4.8 miles, then turn left on Forest Road 162, which will be a gravel-surfaced road. The trailhead entrance is located 0.1 mile ahead on the left. It is marked by a sign.
Ownership and Management: U.S. Forest Service, Monongahela National Forest, Cheat-Potomac Ranger District.
Closest Town: Elkins, West Virginia.