Dockery Lake has a day use area and a campground with eleven semi-primitive campsites and a beautiful three-acre lake stocked with rainbow trout. I say the campground is semi-primitive because there are flush toilets and running water. Each campsite has a fire ring, picnic table, lantern post and one or two gravel tent pads. Six of the campsites are directly lakeside and five are on the wooded side. There is a loop trail around the lake that is about a half a mile and the Dockery Lake Trail that connects to the Appalachian Trail at Miller Gap. The Dockery Lake Trail is seven miles out and back and is a semi-popular route to Preaching Rock at Big Cedar Mountain just off the Appalachian Trail.
Marcie and I have camped here four or five times in the last year. We have enjoyed every trip and we will continue to visit this spot for years to come. When we need to get out of town for a night or two, with little to no planning, this is our go to. I guess you could say that this is our comfort spot.
Now I know that there are the hardcore backcountry campers out there that wouldn’t be caught dead car camping. To them, I say, more power to you. Marcie and I, well, we like it all. For us, car camping is sometimes more enjoyable than completely roughing it. You can have better food, cold drinks, satellite radio and other luxuries you just can’t have in the backcountry. Don’t get me wrong. I love backcountry camping, but it generally requires more planning and is a lot more physically demanding. And let us face it. After a long work week and knowing that you have another right around the corner, a little car camping is just what the medicine man orders for a little soul cleansing. Car camping is also a great way to test out new gear and make a judgment on whether it will be beneficial to use in the backcountry.
The plan was to arrive at Dockery Lake Campground early afternoon, set up, eat lunch and relax for the remainder of the day. Mission accomplished.
After we arrived we unloaded the car, we chose a spot for our hammocks and set up our tarp shelter. We recently purchased the Kelty Noah’s Tarp 12 and had not been given the opportunity to test it out yet. This tarp is great! I set it up using the diamond configuration with a ridgeline and could not be happier with it.
After we got set up and had lunch, Marcie decided to lounge in the hammock, do some reading and catch a nap. I decided that I wanted to do some fishing and take some pictures of the recreation area. So I broke out my fishing pole, the night crawlers and some rooster tails I bought the night before. I hooked a worm and let it sit for a while. It was just nice to relax. There were people at the campground, but it wasn’t crowded and they were all there for the same benefits we were.
After I fished for a bit I decided to put my kayak in the lake and paddle to the other side and go get some pictures to share for this post. This lake is only three acres, so it wasn’t a long paddle to the other side, but it’s the novelty that counts sometimes. This beautiful little lake has so much character. What it lacks in size, it gains in beauty. There are tadpoles the size of golf balls, salamanders, rainbow trout and bluegill swimming about. It is truly a wonderous hidden gem.
I walked the loop trail around the lake and ran into some folks fishing on the dam and as I was walking up, a guy was pulling in a small trout. So I showed my enthusiasm and he proceeded to tell me about the eighteen-inch three-pound trout that he caught the day before in the exact spot. I asked him what they were using as bait and he told me that they were using Power Bait. I guess that stuff really works because my worms only yielded one fish for me. It wasn’t from lack of effort either. I tried from the bank in multiple spots and floating around in my kayak to no avail. One would think this little lake would be overfished, but I saw plenty while I was there. I guess they are just persnickety as trout often are. Next time I’m taking Power Bait.
After I floated around Dockery Lake for a while, I wrapped up my fishing and decided to make some burgers around nine. I dumped some charcoal in the fire ring and let it do its thing. Now don’t judge- I’ve paid my dues collecting firewood to cook over the years. To put it bluntly, it can suck to hunt for fuel just to cook with. After all, we were car camping and there to relax and to take it easy. Earlier in my camping career I probably would have judged me, but now I understand the difference between working hard and working smart. I can also make a fire with a bow, but I choose not to because Bic makes damn fine lighters and Kingsford makes damn fine charcoal.
We cooked up the burgers, some beans and the trout that I caught earlier. I felt bad about him being so small, but I figured the least that I could do was respect his sacrifice enough to make him part of the meal.
We ended the night by cleaning up and putting our food in the car to not attract bears. Yes, there are bears active in the area. We laid down in our hammocks and, Marcie read some more, while I listened to the croaking of the bullfrogs. They make all sorts of strange noises if you really listen to them. They make a noise that is similar to bongos and it sounds like a really out of sync drum circle at some points. The sounds of creatures in the forest are amazing at night. I turned off the lantern and listened until I drifted to sleep.
I woke up at around six and fired up the backpacking stove for some coffee. The sun was just peeking through the trees and there was a slight chill in the air. It was a brand new day and a beautiful one to boot. Marcie slept as I drank coffee, did some fishing and practiced my morning meditation. I even got in my kayak and floated around the lake for a bit before I came back and started breakfast. I won’t go over the charcoal thing again.
We originally planned on hiking from the campground to Preaching Rock via the Dockery Lake Trail after we digested our breakfast, but plans soon changed. The hike is ten miles out and back and our dog, Hagrid is fourteen years old. Hagrid is usually up for a good hike, but this trip he just wasn’t feeling it. So what we decided to do was to hike up to the Dockery Lake Trail to Pigeons Roost Creek (which becomes Waters Creek) and check out some scenery. After we would return to camp and breakdown. We still wanted to see Preaching Rock and there is another way via Woody Gap Trailhead that is only three miles out and back, so we made that our contingency plan.
Once our meal had settled and we were no longer suffering food coma. We started our way on the loop to the Dockery Lake Trail and began our short journey to Pigeon Roost/Waters Creek. There are two ways to access the trail, one is at the day use parking area and the other is at the dam. We chose the dam to avoid backtracking.
The trail has blue blazes and is a single track path. The hike is downhill pretty much all the way to the creek. Just as you start there is a waterfall to the right, which is the spillway from the lake. The views are gorgeous through the treeline to the right. With some pretty cool rock outcrops on the left. I imagine that hiking this trail in the late fall would yield some amazing views.
You cross a few streams along the way and the trail is kind of muddy in some spots. The streams are narrow and easy to skip over. Even our little dog, Porter (who usually has to be carried across) made it over with no problem. We were very proud parents this day. If you knew, Porter, you would understand. We crossed into the Blood Mountain Wilderness and hiked a little further to reach our destination. Waters Creek is a popular trout fishing area and I can’t wait to go back and catch some supper, but that will be a story for the future. We turned around and headed back up the mountain back to our little lake taking some pictures along the way.
On the way back we started to hear thunder. After we heard it a few more times, we decided that it wouldn’t be too wise to head to the top of a mountain. So sadly we made the decision to postpone our trip to Preaching Rock for another time. Being Mr. Contingency Plan, I came up with the idea to do some recon to a few campgrounds I have been researching for a while.
We turned on some Grateful Dead and started to break down camp. We packed up the car, threw away our trash and policed the campsite for remaining litter. A rule that I learned as a young Boy Scout is that you always leave a site cleaner than you find it. That is something that has stayed with me all through my life and I always practice it to this day. Unfortunately not enough people practice this principle, so I guess I will always be busy at the end of a trip. That is okay though, I love Dockery Lake and I will always do whatever I can to keep it pristine for future generations to enjoy.
We got everything packed up just in time because it began to pour down rain as soon as we were pretty much all packed up. We pulled out of the campground and headed north toward Cooper Creek Wildlife Management Area to check out potential campgrounds. The rain cleared up fairly quickly and the sky was blue once again.
Stay tuned to read about our upcoming adventures in the Cooper Creek Wildlife Management Area. Get out there and enjoy some nature. Do what you enjoy, whether it be backcountry, kayak camping, thru-hiking and, yes, even car camping. Remember to always use Leave No Trace principles and respect the earth and all its creatures.