A Day Trip to Spruce Knob in West Virginia

It has been several years now since I’ve first laid eyes on the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia. Ever since that first trip to Dolly Sods I have been in love with the area’s scenery.

Here lately I’ve been getting a serious itch to head back out that way again, so I loaded up a cooler and threw my camera in my Jeep to make the 6-hour drive to the national forest. Here’s a quick recap of the trip!

The Original Plan

My original intention was to take advantage of the dark skies that the area has to offer. I went through all my usual means to plan a Milky Way shoot and everything looked like it was going to fall into place. The weather looked very promising, so I went through with my plans and made the long drive to Bear Rocks in the Dolly Sods Wilderness to scout some compositions.

Sunrise at Bear Rocks, Dolly Sods, West Virginia
The sunrise from Bear Rocks, taken during a previous backpacking trip.

Upon arriving at the parking area, however, I was met with two major issues. For one, the weather conditions I was seeing were not at all matching the weather forecasts. Even worse than this, however, was the number of people milling about.

The place was packed! Apparently everyone and their brother had the idea to take advantage of Dolly Sods to help cure those Covid blues.

With this in mind, I decided to move on and head on out to Spruce Knob, an area I had never previously been to.

Spruce Knob

Spruce Knob is the highest point in West Virginia, sitting at just over 4,800 feet tall. It features a couple of very easy to access overlooks with a huge parking lot. The parking lot was nearly full, but there were surprisingly few people out at the overlooks, and maintaining a responsible distance, given the current global health situation, was more than doable.

I spent a bit of time scouting some compositions until settling on one I liked for sunset. I set up my camera and waited for the show. I was very happy with what I got!

Almost Heaven Sunset

The sunset from Spruce Knob, West Virginia.
Almost Heaven Sunset“. Spruce Knob, West Virginia.

The first image I walked away with this evening, and my favorite, was taken about twenty to thirty minutes before the actual sunset began. I just love the golden light that was cast over the landscape as the sun just began to slip behind the distant mountains!

I was even fortunate enough to get a few “God Rays” being cast from the sun!

Fire Over the Mountain

The sunset from Spruce Knob, Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia.
The sunset from Spruce Knob, Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia.

The second image I captured this evening was of the remains of color just after the sun had set. While I don’t personally like this image nearly as much as the previous one, I still think it’s a nice image. This also serves as a great example of how quickly conditions can dramatically change when you’re photographing a sunset.

Getting Skunked

As I mentioned earlier in this post, the primary purpose of this trip was to do some Milky Way photography. With this in mind, I was technically skunked on this trip.

You can see a few clouds in the above sunset images, but what you can’t see is the large mass of clouds that was moving across the sky from the south-east. These clouds quickly moved in and covered the vast majority of the sky and there were no signs that they had any intention of moving any time soon.

I decided to make the hour or so drive back into town where I could get enough cell signal to pull down a weather forecast. The new cloud forecast was exactly what I had feared… mostly cloudy for the foreseeable future.

With this in mind, I decided to just go ahead and make the drive back home, which means I essentially drove over 1,000 miles to photograph a single sunset! I can’t say that I mind this, however, given that I am more than pleased with the images I walked away with!