Buffalo Gap Retreat
Interpretive Trail at Buffalo Gap
We have created a 16 placard Interpretive Trail that spans the whole campus of Buffalo Gap for your enjoyment and education.
Geological, Botanical and Historical markers.
(map coming soon)
Upper Pond - The Beginning
located on the plywood sign post
The upper pond is where the water all begins. From a large Beech tree on the far edge of the pond, a small subterranean cave exits from an underground aquifer flowing from beneath Sandy Ridge Mountain. This year round aquifer never dries up, even during the worst droughts, it continues to supply water to the upper pond and lake.
After heavy rains, it turns a cloudy ethereal green color, most likely from limestone tinting the water from excessive flow. Waters in the upper pond are close to cave temperatures -- about 54 degrees Fahrenheit.
Most notably, several wonderful edible plants grow here that thrive in cold spring water including wild watercress, spearmint and peppermint, all of which are in great supply in the upper pond and downstream from the small waterfalls opposite the road crossing and beyond. The mints make wonderful, natural organic teas!
The Large Stone Fire Circle
located on the deck stairs leading up to the pavilion field from the gravel road.
There is a large stone fire circle in the upper pavilion field... accessible from the roadside by taking the stairs close to showers and dining hall restrooms safely up the small hill.
This inner fire circle and outer dance / ceremony circle were made by an annual retreat group at Buffalo Gap. It is reminiscent of ancient pagan ceremony circles and could include up to 100 + people inside of its inner sanctum stone boundaries!
The much smaller inner fire pit still is wonderful for smaller groups to enjoy while sitting in lawn chairs and enjoying the starry night sky from a dark field. It is also magnificent when the outer circle is surrounded by tiki torch light and it takes on a certain stonehenge magic!
Also of note, is the 3600 square foot appalachian style grand pavilion designed and built by master wood worker legend Peter Gott from the mid-1980's.
The Tree of Life and Slane's Knob Mountain
located on the large maple tree at the edge of the pavilion field along the uphill cabin road
Continue on from the large stone fire circle toward the uphill cabins -- directly towards the large maple tree in front of you.
From the vantage point of this large Maple tree, one has a wonderful view of Slane's Knob mountain. Buffalo Gap is the gap between these two great mountains -- Slane's Knob in front, and Sandy Ridge behind.
Slane's Knob it is legended, was not only the highest mountain peak in the region, visible from great distances in the surrounding mountain chains, but consequently became a point of worship and idolatry of ancient peoples dating back to the Pleistocene period before the great ice age ended around 12,0000 years ago. One local historian believes that an ancient indigenous people inhabited this area and worshipped that mountain from about 15,000 to 30,000 years ago. We are now in the Holocene Epoch of geological time, since 11,550 years ago.
Evidence includes ancient petroglyphs, ancient burial mound remains, and even a serpentine wall that goes from outlying mountains to Slane's Knob for over 5 miles buried and preserved by the earth and forest and only recently rediscovered.
The Herman Rubenstein Memorial Garden
located at the end of the cul-de-sac below the Spa and near the foot of the wild berry hiking trail entrance.
Hop up on the gravel road above the Maple tree (once grass and outdoor basketball courts) and continue to the end of the cul-de-sac where a Memorial Garden is planned (in the works) to honor Buffalo Gap Camp co-founder, Herman Rubenstein.
We are creating a Memorial Garden at the end of the cul-de-sac below the old dance barn / now Spa where the first cabins were built along this upper road in 1954/55.
600 acres of land were originally purchased by Herman and Jerry Smith in 1954 for a Jewish kids camp post WW II. The camp opened with limited facilities by 1955 and began operating. That camp continued as a kids camp until around 1984. 200 of those acres were dedicated to camp while Herman maintained the other 400 for a private family farm. The properties still adjoin and Herman's son Jon now runs a jeep trail adventure park on that original 400 acre plot called Chaos Off Road.
For more on "Our History" -- click here: https://www.buffalogapretreat.com/our-history
Sandy Ridge "Bowl"
along the Wild Berry Hiking Trails
located at the top of the steep dirt roadway of the Wild Berry Hiking Trail as you enter the "Bowl"
Interpretive Trail Items #5, #6, and #7 require some level of rigorous hiking. If one is not in shape, skip to placard #8 by walking back along the gravel road towards the gym.
From the Herman Rubenstein Memorial Garden, follow the dirt roadway up inbetween the spa on the right and the last uphill cabin on the left.
The Sandy Ridge Bowl is not a natural phenomenon. It is the result of some bulldozer work to create a remote camping area with the best star gazing opportunities in camp! The view of Slane's Knob from the apex of the initial ascent is breathtaking.
This amazingly deep sand filled bowl highlights the effects of geological time, wind, rain and erosion on sandstone... turning stones into fine white and yellow sand spanning epochs... 10,0000's of years... exposed.
Right as you begin the ascent out of the bowl, there is a trail to the right and just about 50 yards away you can see a gully washer wash-out from heavy rains.... look up to the left to see a huge boulder run up the mountain from heavy spring floods!
Then come back and continue on beyond the "bowl" to enjoy the wild berry hiking trail and additional interpretive trail highlights.
Enchanted Creek Garden
Along the Wild Berry Hiking Trails
located along the Berry trail just a couple of hundred yards from the "bowl"
So not far from exiting the Bowl, you will come across an Enchanted Creek Garden.... rocks, and crystal clear running water, mosses, vines, and other spectacles that may bring visions of wood gnomes and fairies to mind!
This beautiful little spring and grove creates a small wetland area with moss covered rocks, lichens (a symbiotic mix of fungi and algae) and wild grape vines that twist upward into the trees.
The mountains of the Potomac highlands are teaming with underground aquifers and they often show themselves in low lying areas where water pressure and gravity and perhaps geology force them to the surface as springs.
Junction Upper Trail / Lower Trail
located on a tree at the junction of the upper and lower trails
While on our Wild Berry Hiking Trail, we have an upper and lower Hiking Trail that not only provides wonderful views of the camp from a higher vantage point, but come May/June also provides an abundance of wild berries and edibles to include wineberries (like a wild raspberry, but considered invasive) and blackberries. The camp is also abundant with Autumn Olives!.... another invasive.
Often, certain mushroom varieties can also be identified and found by experienced micologist minded hunters....including puff balls, chanterelles, morels, lion's mane, chicken of the woods, hen of the woods, honey mushrooms and more. Non-edible fungus includes gorgeous tree shelf fungi called Reishi (lingzhi -- a polypore fungus belonging to the genus Ganoderma) which may have medicinal properties when used properly in a tea, and can grow very large on fallen or still standing dead trees!
Tree species along this trail may include: White Oak, Red Oak, American Beech, Sycamore, Red Maple. Sugar Maple, Tuliptree (tulip poplar), Eastern White Pine, White Ash, Green Ash, River Birch, Shagbark Hickory, Virgin Pine, Chestnut Oak, Boxelder...
Be sure to exit to the main trail just about a hundred feet beyond this junction ...bear left at the arrow sign and take the serpentine trail down to come out below the Poe and Hemingway uphill cabins... continue on the gravel road towards the gym! (go right)
Natural Mountain Spring
on a sign placard along the road - right hand side, close to gym entrance driveway.
Once you are back on the main gravel road, continue towards the gym.... and you will see this next placard along the roadside -- RHS.
Sandy Ridge Mountain is teaming with underground water sources... significant creeks are forced out of ground on both extreme sides of our camp as well as in the middle (forming the upper pond)... and significant water flows at both far points of our property boundaries. The creeks at the property boundaries could be considered sandy skunk cabbage bogs and wetlands and are quite spectacular!
And here, out of the blue, is a small artesian spring and mini waterfall close to the gym on the gravel road. The gurgling bubbling water sounds can't be missed and of course after periods of heavier rains, the flow rate increases significantly as the ground water mixes with run-off waters. But this little artesian spring never dries up.
Paw Paw Grove
located on a paw paw tree along the gym driveway -- LHS.
On the gravel road to the gym, and just uphill from the restrooms lies a grove of paw paw trees.
Asimina triloba, the papaw, pawpaw, paw paw, or paw-paw, among many regional names, is a small deciduous tree native to the eastern United States and Canada, producing a large, yellowish-green to brown fruit.
Super delicious and native to West Virginia. Often these groves won't produce fruit unless an outside native is brought in and planted in the communal grove to cross pollinate.... don't ask me why!
Buddha's Glacial Garden at the Bridge
located on the post of the long gymnasium bridge.
Continue onward towards the gym from the Paw Paw grove... bear left.
One of the most beautiful areas at Buffalo Gap... as you cross the long wooden bridge from the gym to the lower cabin area, you will see a boulder wash out "garden" of spectacular beauty.
Feel free to wonder in and around this magnificent field of stones and slow running water and imagine the 1000 year floods that must have created this magnificence.
If the Buddha were alive today, he would surely achieve enlightenment here!
The Heritage Tree / Memorial Tree
located near the bank of the creek close to the large carved Beech tree.
So after you enjoy the view of Buddha's Glacial Garden, come back towards the gym and walk along the left side to cross another smaller bridge across the creek and into the creekside campground. Follow the arrow signs!
After crossing the bridge, keep to the right and follow a marked trail to the Heritage Tree or Memorial Tree. A bit challenging, but worth it! The trail is well delineated.
This very large American Beech tree was carved (names and dates) by kids in the original camp dating all the way back to 1955.... 1957, 1959 and even 1962.... all very readable carvings are still present thanks to the advanced age and size of this huge beech tree even 70 years ago. The kids carved large and deeply into this tree in those early years of camp.... and then the tree was suddenly abandoned by 1962 to seemingly never to be carved and etched into again. Forgotten for nearly 60 years.
The creek here is also quite beautiful and forms upstream of this tree about 2000 feet where is comes in the form of many ground swelling aquifers bubbling out of the ground from the base of sandy ridge mountain -- perhaps 10 separate small springs form a bit of a sandy skunk cabbage bog or wetland and very quickly, the various springs coalesce, come together and form larger creeks until within just a few hundred feet, a singular creek is formed, which you are standing along now.
Bridge over two Con-Joined Creeks
located on the post of this bridge -- campground facing.
Now, turn around and wander through the entire creekside campground... saying hello to any nice folks camping! Walk your way to the wide bridge close to the beach house and lake across two old tennis courts (parking areas) along the way. If you notice some strange concrete platforms, they were once part of a putt putt golf course for the kids camp!
This larger, ATV and commercial Zero Turn worthy bridge was built by Buffalo Gap partners and help after the original bridge washed out multiple times during the big Spring floods of 2018... when Buffalo Gap received over 14 inches of rain in 2 weeks time (late May / early June 2018).
This creek here is where 2 separate spring fed creeks that emerge from under sandy ridge mountain come together... the middle creek from the upper pond area and the creek formed beyond the gym closer to Chaos Off Road Jeep Trail park... side of our campus.
This cold water is wonderful for wading..... so stick your feet in and enjoy the chilly spring fed waters!
Note: Just beyond the entrance gate of Buffalo Gap, a third major creek from the entrance side wetlands joins and the creek becomes a trinity.. and it even supports native trout in it's cave-like cold waters! This combined creek is noticeable just across the gravel road as you exit the camp back towards the main hard road to town.
Bridge over Lovely Waters
located on the old willow tree close to this bridge crossing
Now vector upward towards the dining hall.... and on the left, this next bridge allows folks to cross from the beach house and lake area to the cabins above...
From this vantage point (on the bridge), you get a great view of the 2 small upper waterfalls coming out of culverts, and lots of gurgling and rushing water and mini-waterfalls coming downstream from the upper pond.
This fresh spring water is also home to lots of wild indigenous watercress, spearmint and peppermint. Stand on this bridge and enjoy the magnificent beauty of this creek that is formed just a couple of hundred feet upstream from underground sources beneath that big beech tree!
The Peter Gott Finnish Style Sauna on the Lake -- 1985
located on the sauna building at the far end of the lake.
Now, head over to the far end of the lake, to the lakefront log cabin style Finnish Sauna.
Master woodcarver and builder extraordinaire, legendary Peter Gott was the architect of our Finnish style sauna on the lake in 1985. This magnificent mini log cabin is worthy of a detailed look inside and out..... from the masterful interior doors and door handles to the log beam construction... it is a work of art!
The original roof was wooden shaker style shingle which current owners replaced with a metal roof.
There is a deck and floating dock with ladder, all of which makes for a great fishing spot or point to jump in the lake after a good sweat in the hot wood stove fired sauna. There is a ladle and bucket of water to pour over rocks on top of the flat top wood stove to create steam in this vented sauna as well.
Peter Gott also designed and oversaw the construction of the 3600 square foot appalachian style Grand Pavilion.
The Old Stone Water Fountain from Paul's Hall -- Burned to the Ground
located on the stone drinking fountain.
Now, exit the sauna area and go up the hill, close to the dining hall along the crest -- but not quite that far unitl you see the stone fountain.
There was once a large building on the hillside behind the current lakefront Sauna.
It was called Paul's Hall and it contained a wrap around porch, a gymnasium and a theater / stage. It was a major arts and cultural centerpiece of the camp. Unfortunately, it burned to the ground in an electrical fire back in the late 80's.... not long after the original farm house and dining hall above the lake burned from a dryer fire!
All that remains of Paul's Hall - kind of -- is a stone water fountain located between the sauna and the "new" dining hall (as of late 80's) on the crest of the hill overlooking the lake. You can also see many of the original stone and concrete footers in-ground that once supported this massive building.
This area now comprises our Lakeview Camping area with stone firepits.
The Lakeview Swing / The Manmade Lake & the Cafe at Buffalo Gap
located on the swing tree!
Now walk towards the lakeside of the dining hall... to the Swing tree.
So up above the lake on the side of the Dining Hall is a circular swing on a tree overlooking the lake.
Take a spin. While enjoying the views, let me tell you more about this lake or pond. It is about 1.5 acres in size, it's about 8 1/2 feet deep in the middle between the dock and sauna (once 14 feet deep when it was excavated annually). The beach side of the lake is actually concrete beneath the deep sand. For many years in the early days, the lake was drained via a master plug and lake grasses were allowed to die in the hot sun and dry mud, while the fish remained in the deepest interior section which was kept flooded.
The lake once contained a 1 meter and 3 meter diving board off the center dock... as well as 2 water slides for the kids.... the rickety water slides were fed by hoses rumor has it. There was also a boat dock along the shore parallel to the dining hall where many kayaks and canoes were once stored for the kids camp.
The fish in the lake includes 10 (now 9) very large Asian / Israeli Grass carp - about 4 feet each and maybe 50 to 60 pounds each put there in 1985 to control carpet moss algae that was overtaking the lake. There are lots of large mouth bass, perch, channel cat and a few chubs all in the lake.
Catch and release fishing is allowed by all with no license required for private property.
Finally, end your hike and interpretive trail experience in our lakeview dining hall cafe (opening soon)... and have a cup of coffee, hot chocolate, a cold drink or snack, an appetizer, breakfast, lunch dinner or dessert!