Dolly Sods Wilderness

Loop • 2.4 mi • 0 ft

Make this loop in the renowned Dolly Sods Wilderness. This slice of the Monongahela has nearly everything: rocky vistas, open glades resembling the western United States, thick spruce, northern hardwood forests, and a deep canyon cut by Red Creek. On this loop, walk some high country and camp by a great lookout, then swing west over Breathed Mountain, and drop down Big Stonecoal Trail to camp in the Red Creek Canyon. Your final day climbs back up. During World War II, Dolly Sods was a bombing range, and there are still shells lying around. If you see one, do not touch it! Mark the area, make a map, and report it to a Ranger Station. Chances are, however, you won’t see one.
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Activity Type: Hiking
Nearby City: Laneville
Length: 2.4 total miles
Elevation Gain: Minimal
Trail Type: Loop
Skill Level: 3
Duration: 1-2 hours
Season: Year-round
Local Contacts: Canaan Valley State Park
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This was a great hike. We went on a Friday, and arrived pretty early in the day - before noon. We took our time and hiked up the right side of the loop (going up), and eventually reached the top-most campsite. The views at the top are really cool except for the windmills - they ruin the scenery a bit. We did hear some bear noises at night. - we banged some pots together for several minutes, and slept the rest of the night. Make sure to keep your food and garbage away from your tent. The hike down was pretty muddy and nasty in parts - we went around the other side of the loop. At one point, we crossed a river and had a tough time figuring out where the trail was, but we eventually recovered it. Hiking boots with waterproofing are wholeheartedly recommended. There weren't that many people, and the weather was perfect. I'm sure it fills up more if you start on a weekend, though.


We lucked out with the weather, 65 and bright blue skys in late June. The trail was damp in places, but not a problem with boots. If you have never been to Dolly Sods, remember the wilderness area is mostly wooded, but Dolly Sods north (or scenic) is the open fields. They are next to one another but very different. We found the trails in the wilderness area easy enough to follow. Long dirt road to get to the trailheads, but well worth it. Not too many places in the east you can be up near 4,000 feet and not see any sign of human activity.


Beautiful views, awesome camping spots, and a swimming hole. What could be better? A little on the crowded side, but everyone we met was very respectful.


I have hiked this loop a number of times over the last 20 years. I am returning in Sept. 2008, anxious to get back after more than 15 years. I echo the comments regarding biodiversity. Starting near Red Creek campground, you go through some woods and then sods and pine/spruce forests with some clearings along the way. The pine forests are very peaceful with a number of deer trails. Whatever you do, try not to go off-trail and hike up to the north to the reservoir (which was sort of a surreal camping spot, however). It's a messy trip. The worst part is getting lost temporarily until finding a trail lower on the mtn along the east ridge and designated as a trail on the map. It eventually leads back to a road, but that trail has many, many, trees felled just above the path to block access. Try carrying a heavy backpack climbing over large tree branching for a couple/few miles. Back to the CORRECT trail... eventually you will cross Red Creek upstream and continue on the trail although its possible to follow the Creek down to the junction. The hike along the stream rather than along the trail is not that exciting in this section (ask compared to the section downstream from the junction). I have camped, as many have, at this stream junction. The trail crosses the stream and follows a ridge to the west of Red Creek. You can't really see Red Creek from the trail, which is a shame, although the trail is nice too. It doesn't compare, however, to hiking along the stream where you will be rewarded with a series of beautiful waterfalls with extending shelves creating caverns underneath and swimming holes and other sights to enjoy. I have spent many hours photographing along the Red Creek in this section and feel very fortunate to have taken the stream less traveled as it is so much more beautiful than the trail. You eventually meet the trail crossing to go back up the hill to the road. It's best to have two cars to avoid the hike back to Red Creek Campground.


All of the trails in the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area are challenging and a welcome respite from East Coast living. The rhododendrons, deep forest, and marshes are like nothing you will see in the mid-atlantic states. Great hiking and decent views. Take at least a 2 night trip out here and you won't regret it.


I loved it! My brother and went for a Thanksgiving camping trip. The weather did not cooperate though, and our trip was cut short. But the woods were great, and lots of wildlife. Lots of hunters only problem.


The scenery is stunning but the most amazing feature is the biodiversity. In a one mile stretch, you can travel through wetlands, grasslands, rhododendron forests, pine plantations, and deciduous forests. One tip that may be of use to you: The first day hike is only 2.5 miles. That makes for an especially tedious 10.5 mile hike the second day. You may want to plan for a slightly longer hike the first day (between 4 and 6 miles total) and stay at one of the smaller campsites along the trail or alongside Red Creek.


Trail was a good adventure. Suggest taking a light pack and wearing high-top boots on this trail. Good overlooks and excellent camp plots, but the floor is large rocks and can sometime get anerving. This hike can be completed in two day if you are moving a good pace. There are a lot of steep climbs and the trail can be very confusing at times. There are river crossings that can be a little challenging when the water is high and you have to cross the main river at least twice. Day one is short lived but is good if you are driving and don't get to the start before 12pm. Fields of green speckle the mountain tops on day two and the camp is in a great spot. Day three can be confusing with the trail, and if you pass up your turn, you will end up at the bottom of the mountain on the road that you drove in on, so watch for that. My final suggestions on this trail are: Light pack, good rain gear, and sturdy boots. It was a challenge for my wife and I and if you want a challenge, I suggest this trail to anyone. As far as people go, we saw a work crew cleaning the trail off, which was about 6 people. And total throughout the entire trip saw about 20 people in passing on the second day. Brian G.


Very nice trails. Not too many people in early May which was nice.


Tough, scenic, rewarding. Bring your good boots because it's all rocks with a few exceptions. Also, pack as light as you can, lots of steep ups and downs. If you have dogs with you be sure to treat thier feet well or get dog boots. We did the roarbaugh - spring run - red creek - big stonecoal - red creek - spring run roarbaugh loop. We kept pushing past the prescribed night 2 destination to a spot just below spring run, near the falls, where there ar several good campsites. It was a little warm in late August but not unbearable (hottest it got was 80 ish).


The trail we took was brilliant. We drove into where FR 19 meets SR45 at the trail head of Red Creek trail, hiked East, went north on Big Stone Coal, went East on the trail just north of Breathed Mountain trail, and took Red Creek South and then to the West to complete the loop once we picked it up at the forks near Fisher Spring Run - all told approximately 15 miles covered over a brief evening, two nights, and two full days. Unlike most reports suggested, the trail was well-trod in nearly every place, and for those who have a keen cairn eye, the trail was well marked, even better marked than some blazed trails on which I've traveled in New Hampshire's White Mountains. The key map you will need is available at the local ranger at the Potomac River station in WV, not any of the topo maps that the US Geological survey has to offer, although they can be a useful contextual reference to challenge your orienteering skills. The terrain itself was breathtaking in both its majesty and variety. Classic mid-atlantic deciduous forest mixed with pine tree groves, mossy bogs with oil-infused mud, grassland plains reminiscent of the British country side, and creeks that, because of the valley's poor drainage, speed across wide single-slabs of sheet rock. It makes for a brief trip into which much can fit, even time for a healthy dip in one of the streams (the waterfall where Red Creek meets Fisher Spring trail is best for this). So, no need to be the experienced hiker here as long as you exert appropriate caution and deliberation when orienting yourself on the trail. Pack warm weather gear no matter when you go - it dropped to below 60 overnight when miles away in the valley that same day it was 97/98.


This trail was challenging, but not unmanageable for me and my normally deskbound friends. The weather was great, the wild blueberries were ripe and lining the trails (great in pancakes), and the campsites were beautiful. Finding the trail was a little tricky at times, but it became quickly obvious when you were on the wrong track. The best parts were the blueberries, the campsite near Red Creek where someone had built surprisingly comfortable reclining chairs from the abundant rocks lining the creek around a lovely firepit, and the almost total absence of other people on the trail. I would recommend this trail, especially in July. It was a great escape from the Northern Virginia heat.


beautiful area, but very dry in July. Camping area withing Dolly Sods not very impressive


Keys: Trails were easy to follow at this time of year due to the break in vegetation and numerous cairns. Major stream crossing are often ad-hoc, but the trails are easy to find on the other side. Just use common sense for the most part. Most of the trails we followed were rocky - as is all the terrain here - so be sure to wear boots with good ankle support. We saw many deer tracks, but no deer. In fact, we didn''t see much wildlife at all aside from the occasional bird. We saw very little litter, and what we did find was from the '60s (an old punch-top beer can). This is a beautiful preserve. We arrived at Dolly Sods late on a Friday, stopping first at Bear Rocks Preserve (owned by the Nature Conservancy) and taking the nearby hiking path SW toward the interior. After only a mile or so, nearing darkness, we went off trail for about half a mile up to the top of a ridgeline. Visibility was low, but we located an area where we could pitch a tent. High winds and driving rains awakened us to the beauty and solitude upon which we had stumbled in the night. Our camp was on a large mountain top covered with blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and gooseberries. The blueberries were ripe, and a welcome addition to our breakfast. The strawberries were in bloom, and will probably ripen toward the end of July. Due to the number of species present, there will be berries here from June through September. After a heavy downpour, we made our way down the Wildlife Trail, Fisher Spring Run Trail, Rohrbaugh Plains Trail, and Red Creek Trail. We tested the water of Fisher Spring Run using our MIOX test strips and found the water to be purer than the tap water in our home. After a rain, this is quite a testament to the quality of water here. The trails pass near many waterfalls which make great photo ops. Our second nights camp was at the junction of Red Creek and Big Stonecoal, in the late afternoon shadow of Coal Knob.


The first night's camp is spectacular. We spent two nights there and then just day hiked the middle day from that beautiful base camp. Next time we may do the entire loop.


Be prepared for a spectacular landscape when hiking this glacial reminant. The high winds and altitude allow for Canadian vegetation, such as stunted, three-sided spruce, cranberry bogs, and small-leafed mountain ash. If you want one of many awesome views, try Bear Rocks which is just along the main fire road leading into Dolly Sods. But, travel a number of other trails a little further into the interior and find your own private panorama. Note that there is no snow removal at Dolly Sods, so taking the trip during the winter could be risky or lead to closed access.


Dolly Sods is such an amazing place that it''s difficult to have a favorite trail. I thing that some people, perhaps from places more wild than WV, might say that there isn''t anything special about Dolly Sods. Maybe ther are other places in this world just like it. But what makes it so special is that it isn''t in remotest Canada or Alaska. It''s in WV, less than a days drive for 20% of the people in this country. Fisher Spring Run Trail is one that we''d never done before. On October 26 we expected beatuiful leaves and wide, sunny views. But a fog and a rain moved in that limited our visibility to only a few yards. Thus our experience on Fisher Spring wasn''t typical. The fog only allowed the nearest features to appear, gray conglomerate boulders poking through mossy soil. Thin whispy spruce trees like ancient Japanese calligraphy on gray parchment. It was surreal to say the least. Fisher Spring Run itself added much to the experience, it''s tannic gurgling pulling us farther along. There were many nice campsites, in pine groves and in small clearings, and the ancient fire rings made one wonder if Hobbits hadn''t just passed through. I''m sure that in the summer I would recognize very little of the trail I saw that day, but I''m willing to give it another chance to impress me. The trail can be rocky at times, and at other times Fisher Spring Run seems to be the trail itself. It was soggy the day we were there, and I''m betting its soggy most of the time. It''s a great trail to use to enter the Red Creek drainage basin, as it connects with Rorbaugh Plains trail and Red Creek Trail from there.


In early November we found ourselves enjoying a bit of Indian Summer in the North East. With clear skies and warm, almost balmy weather we found ourselves again in Dolly Sods, as did many other people. With hunting season in full swing and the unseasonable trails we''d seen more people out and about at Dolly Sods than we ever had (zero). The parking lot at Red Creek Campground was bursting at the seams. We planned on hiking the Rorbaugh Plains trail and saw the footprints of a few groups that had begun earlier than we did. Snow still lingered in a few shadowy spots, and the twisted and snapped branches attested to a recent ice storm. The trail itself was lovely, a layer of laurel amidst a taller layer of spruce. The gray Dolly Sods conglomerate always adds a nice contrast to the green laurel and brownish red leaves. The trail descenced from the ridge with glimpses of Red Creek before us. The trail soon flattened as it followed an old railroad grade and let us enjoy the second growth scenery. After three stream crossings the character of the trail changed again, becoming rocky as it approached the edge of the canyon. Soon we were upon the overlook and enjoying the sunshine. A shorth hike north leads to more cliffs and when taken together provide almost a 270 degree viws of the wilderness spread out like a big topo map. Which we could have used as we headed back. Southbound hikers will find that the trail disappears after the cliffs, a feature noted by others before me. We found ourselves looking for the trail in the diminishing daylight. We decided to bushwhack due east to the fire road, an easy option in the open forest east of the cliffs. Our alternate route was one we wouldn''t soon forget, but not quite worthy of a review here.


The Rhododendrons are beautiful and are at their peak around the beginning of July. Be prepared for wet weather, a fairly strenuous hike, beautiful wooded areas and great views. The trail is a little confusing to find and follow, but there is a parking pullout about 50 yards before the picnic area. The trail is found across the road toward from the parking while walking towards the picnic area.


I love this small wilderness area, and visit every few years. High meadows, cool weather, massive beaver dams, blueberries, occasional black bears, streams full of crayfish, unique sub-alpine plant life, etc, etc all within reach of many people in the Eastern US. In 1986, I spent Spring Break there and didn't see another person for 5 days. Dolly Sods has gotten a lot of exposure over the years from Outside and Backpacker Magazines, newspapers, etc. so visitors are increasing rapidly. Hike up nearby Seneca Rocks for some more fun.


This short loop trail is increadible! The book has you do it in 2 nights and 3 days but the area is so pretty with so many wonderful campsites that you could spend a week just rambling around this area! The views from the first night's camp are great-overlooking an entire river gorge. The second day you traverse giant, open meadows with big skies and mountain streams that remind me of pictures of Alaska. I went in the middle of the week to avoid the crowds and it was worth it. This Fall was gorgeous up there, with a bit of snow the first night, sun during the days, and crystal clear night skies with hundreds of stars shining brightly. Take your time, kick back, and explore this wilderness. I did a 6 day hike by doing this one, and then taking a short drive down to the Seneca Creek backcountry and doing that short hike also. Amazing country. Trails in Dolly Sods are a bit rocky and sometimes hard to follow but that what makes it so appealing- it's a true wilderness!


Dolly Sods, 19.4 miles, Rourghbaugh Plains Trial/Red Creek Trail/Breathed Mt Trail/Big Stonecoal Trail: This was my favorite hike that I've ever done. It was gorgeous. Scenery reminded me of photos of Alaska. Giant meadows, perfect streams everywhere, great campsites, and increadible views made this backpack perfect. Go mid-week when there aren't any crowds. The Spruce Know/Laurel Fork area of nearby Seneca Creek Backcountry is also amazing. The whole Monegehala is awesome.


We deer hunted this area a couple of years in a row. Went through some incredible snows, saw bear, turkey, and a wolverine. Also many deer. I am from the North Carolina mountains and must say that this is one of the most beautiful spots I've been. The appalachains cuddle you like no rockies can and the rivers of stone, related fauna and flora, and coal throughout this trip made an indelible impression on me. Unlike others, we got way off the trails. That is where the real adventure starts and we came up on some things that I've never seen photographed, anywhere else. And they should have been. Looking forward to taking my son back and discovering the spots again. What a fabulous piece of this beautiful country to preserve! I hope it is as pristine as when we went nearly 20 years ago!

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