Summary:  The 18.6-mile Whites Creek Trail loop in the Irish Wilderness of Mark Twain National Forest

References:

The following is best read while listening to Rev. Dwight Frizzell’s Irish Wilderness historiophonic meditation “Whiskey in a Jar”: 

Trip Report:  October 3-5, 2009

Irish Wilderness

After narrowing down our hike choices to distance and loops I settled on the Whites Creek Trail in the Mark Twain National Forest Irish Wilderness.  Monika and I would hike for three days and spend two nights along the trail.
Camp Five Pond

We left early  morning and arrived at Camp Five Pond trail head before noon on Saturday.  No other cars were in the parking lot and the air was cool.  It would be a perfect day for a hike.

Chuck and Monika

After signing in at the registration desk, and snapping our evidence photo, we headed across the the pond dam to begin our hike for the day.

Camp Five Pond Jct

After following the spur from the Camp Five Pond trail head, we reached the Whites Creek Trail.  Here you have the option to travel the North or South Loop.  We intended to camp the night at Bliss Spring so headed in that direction.

Goomba

The hike was a mix of oaks and pines and the ground was scattered with green leaves that I assume had fallen the day before in heavy rain and wind storms.  An occasional mushroom would pop out from the forest floor.  I learned from Monika that mushroom is goomba (or “goombah”) in Hungarian.

Blow Down

The trail is in general good condition.  An occasional blow down has been cut up by the Forest Service.  Between Camp Five Pond and Bliss Spring there might be a total of 3 or 4 recent nasty blow downs but these are easily traversed.  The trail is very easy to follow and recent horse traffic may have made a difference (aside from dodging the manure) compared to earlier trip reports that I read about trail conditions.

Rolling Trail

Between Camp Five Pond and Brawley Pond trail junctions, the trail has several dips.  After crossing the dry Whites Creek and climbing out of the valley, there is a small area at the top with a few pines where people have camped.  Monika and I stopped here and had our tuna pesto and cheese wraps for lunch.

Brawley Pond Jct

Not far from our lunch spot we came to the Brawley Pond junction.  Passing by this point to the North there is a large stand of beautiful Pine forest.

Bliss Spring sign post

After a few more dips and a few hints of the Eleven Point, you follow the side of a steep valley to where Bliss Spring is located.  On the way down you can actually hear babbling water but it is much further than you expect to get to the very bottom.  Once to the sign-post turn right to go a few feet to the spring, straight ahead to the Eleven Point or turn left to go towards Whites Creek Float Camp and Cave.  The directions are fairly obvious, but the sign-post is rotten, and some of the directions have broken off.

Bliss Spring

The Bliss Spring comes out of the hillside here and flows down the valley.  There is a significant flow and will keep your ears flooded with the sound.

Bliss Spring

The camp area here is small but secluded and scenic next to the spring.  An established fire ring is here and we were delighted to find someone left a grilling grate.  We feasted on grilled steaks and toasted to our first day of hiking.

Bliss Spring Cave

If you visit Bliss Spring, make sure you walk a few feet above the main spring and see the small  cave.  We took our time Sunday morning, cooking breakfast (egg, cheese and bacon burritos).  Suddenly we heard voices and a LARGE group of High School students tromped through our camp.  It was an Environmental Sciences class that camped on a gravel bar below Bliss Spring and they were checking out the spring.  Very weird to think you are all alone and then see such a large group!

Rocks Along Eleven Point

This day we would be headed to Whites Creek Float Camp for lunch and on to Fiddler Spring.  As you climb out of the Bliss Spring Hollow, there are nice black rock formations along the trail.  You get a few peeks of the Eleven Point and then you head up to some glade areas to this….

Eleven Point

The Eleven Point River finally comes into view!  It is a breathtaking view but unfortunately the only clear one for the rest of the hike.  Not far from here we found a baseball cap that someone left laying on a rock.  Maybe someone was resting and took it off and forgot it.  Either way, it looked like it had been there for a while.

Eleven Point Tree

Across the valley we could hear gun shots and dogs howling.  We would not find out until later what that was all about.  After more black rocks and scrambling up Orchard Hollow, we met our one and only other backpacker on the trip.  Mr. Florida (we didn’t exchange names only homes) had started also at Camp Five Pond after we did but in the opposite direction.  He had stayed last night at Fiddler Spring and intended to get past the Brawley Pond junction.  I shared with him our lunch stop the day before.

Yellow Flowers on the Glade

While passing around Orchard Hollow there was what appeared to be a hunting camp (fire ring and a red sled tied to a tree), sink holes, and a scared deer, the trail then flattens out into open woodlands again.  The sound of dogs got closer and closer.  I grabbed a stick for defense and prepared myself for battle.  Two little hounds came out of the woods with their tails wagging and barking as they followed a scent.  Each had a radio transmitter on their neck–hunting dogs!  I threw my stick away but still wondered where the hunters were located.  As the trail head down towards Whites Creek, we came across some nice glades with blooming yellow flowers.

Small Cave

Along the Whites Creek there are some small caves.  The largest cave goes back maybe 50 feet and takes a small amount of rock scaling to reach.

Whites Creek Grotto

The grotto along the creek is scenic and Whites Creek itself is mostly dry along this section.

Float Camp sign post

When we reached the turn-off for the Whites Creek Float Camp, there is a solid marker there.  We headed on a 0.3 mile spur to the float camp for lunch.

Boat Launch

The boat launch pictured here is very nice and a short trip up Whites Creek from the Eleven Point.  The camp has multiple camping areas with fire rings, picnic tables and a pit toilet.  Monika and I enjoyed chicken salad on a tortilla and were back on the trail.  No one was in camp (on a Sunday afternoon).

Float Camp broken signs

Headed out of Whites Creek Float Camp you come across a rotten Irish Wilderness sign.  You can also see a registration box in the background.  This box was empty, no maps, and may not get refilled very often.

Whites Creek Cave

As you head up and away from Whites Creek, along the hillside is Whites Creek Cave.  This gaping hole in the ground in much larger than it looks from pictures.  Peeking through the bars (it is currently closed but usually closed this time of year to protect the bats), you can see a large cavern.  The trail meanders along the steep hillsides.  At one point we met another pack of hunting dogs but no hunters to be seen.

Fiddler Spring

A very steep decline gets you to Fiddler Spring.  Not as large as Bliss Spring, Fiddler has a less rocky and a larger flat area to camp.  A  fire ring is set in the middle here.  The spring itself had plenty of water flowing and comes out of the ground directly under an 8 foot tall boulder.  We made camp just in time for some light showers.  I cooked noodles for us, reaching out from the shelter of the tent and eventually cut the wet chill of the night with a roaring camp fire.

Monday Morning

The night was rainy and cool and we were woke up by owls and howling dogs.  I could have also sworn I heard something like a cow horn blowing–hunters calling the dogs??  Monday morning we made some oatmeal, packed up camp early and headed out to what looked like a beautiful sunny day.  The sun was flowing through the trees and making everything glisten from the rain the night before.

Fiddler Spring signage

Shortly after leaving Fiddler Spring we came across this sign post.  I am not positive the sharp decline into Fiddler Spring was the Whites Creek Trail.  Either way, we got to where we were going.  The area around Fiddler Spring in general is worse in regards to blow downs.  It is possible the spur to the spring and the trail have kind of melded over the years but again, it is easy enough to figure out where you need to go.

Beaver pond

The trail follows the Whites Creek and crosses in a couple of dry spots.  This particular crossing looks to be along old beaver activity.  You cross the beaver dam here.

Beaver damage

This is some of the beaver damage along the creek.  It is really quite amazing.  Not long before the trail begins to climb out of the creek valley, there is an established camp site.  An old sign post is there but has nothing attached.  The trail begins ascending out and away from Whites Creek and mostly follows an old logging road through the flat top woodland area almost all the way to Camp Five Pond.  We made really good time on this section of trail.

Camp Five Pond

A view of our final destination… Camp Five Pond.   Mr. Florida had already beat us back to the parking lot and must have found the cap along the trail as it was sitting on our windshield.  Our hike was over and the Irish Wilderness has been conquered!

3 Comments on Irish Wilderness – Whites Creek Trail

  1. robert says:

    i went there a few months ago and they are now keeping it lock because of white noise syndrom

  2. Chris says:

    Wondering how the trail looks more recently. Thinking about doing the loop spring 2011.

  3. John says:

    Does anyone have up to date information about the trails up there…other than hot?

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