Dry River Trail
This is the fourth installment. Check back each week as we count down to number one!
CONTRIBUTION BY ELIZABETH KANE
History: This area was logged in the 1890s, and sections of the first five miles of trail follow vestiges of an old logging railroad bed. Originally there were three shelters along the route, but only Dry River Shelter #3 remains. The trail was closed in August of 2011 after being absolutely ravaged by Tropical Storm Irene. The storm both widened the river’s path and washed out significant sections of trail. It was reopened late in 2014 under a new designation as a primitive wilderness trail. A sign near the trailhead warns of ‘navigational challenges’.
Beta: Approximately 9.6 miles long, 4,250 feet of elevation gain from US 302 to Lakes of the Clouds Hut.
Erosion and water crossings pose the most salient of the myriad of perceived challenges in this excursion. Be prepared to get wet, muddy and exert far more energy than you would a typical valley hike. In order to eliminate many of the original water crossings, the trail was rerouted and climbs and descends small bluffs and sidewalls. This adds both more elevation change and technical footing than you would expect. When simply looking at this trail from a topographic map, you may fail to recognize that the terrain lines do not tell the entire story. Be prepared for a long day out, and to be highly alert in staying on trail.
Why: As long and drawn out as the route along the valley may be, ascending Oakes Gulf from deep within the sheltered wilderness is an experience unparalleled in the Southern Presidentials. The path into and through the gulf is littered with blowdowns, but the views start early as you ascend, and only become more incredible as you climb upward and out. In Spring, both the swollen waterways and mud season trail conditions would make this trek far less enjoyable. In Fall, the foliage is remarkable and walking along the valley floor on a sunny day is reminiscent of being within a kaleidoscope.
The valley is slung between the Montalban Range and the Southern Presidential ridge, which offer several peaks with wide-spanning views. From a backcountry camping standpoint, this area is paradisiacal. A few designated tent site areas (see WMNF backcountry regulations) and Dry River Shelter #3 are all befitting of those who prefer a remote setting with abundant water and access to two incredible ridges. For those seeking a more comfortable evening exploring this area, the AMC’s Lakes of the Clouds Hut is situated at one terminus of the trail, with more amenities available. See the AMC website for operating dates and reservations.
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