Dolly Sods Wilderness, West Virginia

Out in West Virginia, on the Allegheny Plateau, lies 17,776 acres of an ecosystem that you would normally find in Northern Canada, known as Dolly Sods Wilderness. For Jake’s 30th birthday, he decided he wanted to backpack through the wetlands, the sweeping vistas, and the very (very!) rocky plains.

Dolly Sods Wilderness

On Friday, Jake and I started our journey out to the Monongahela National Forest where you can find Dolly Sods. It was about a three hour drive for us from Northern Virginia, and we lost cell service right as we were going into West Virginia. This area is also known as the National Radio Quiet Zone (NRQZ). At 13,000 square miles, this zone sits on the West Virginia/Virginia boarder (and a small part of Maryland) and helps to aid in scientific research as well as military intelligence. Neither of us never really mind when we don’t have cell service as it is nice to not to be connected 24/7.

About five to ten minutes into West Virginia is a small town called Wardensville (population 271 as of 2010). We have passed through this town a few times to go skiing at Snow Shoe for a weekend. The town is very quaint with several shops including a little coffee shop (Lost River Trading Post) that also sells antiques and hand made items by local artists. Jake and I usually stop in there every time we are driving through. On one trip, we stopped in to grab some coffee and walked through the shop as we were waiting. We came across these old triangular blocks that were labeled “antique abstract art” with what were quite obviously tire marks on them, and they were selling them for $200. Jake and I both just broke out in laughter as we knew exactly what they were and they were no antiques. We ended up bringing it to the attention of the woman working that they were in fact old car ramps, and that $200 might be a stretch. Aside from the amusing mistake, it is our favorite place to stop when we are in the area, and they do sell some great things!

Once we past through Wardensville we hopped on Route 48 (the WV Super Highway) for about ten miles before we took the exit to Patterson Creek Road, about 45 minutes away from Dolly Sods. We finally reached Forrest Road 75 (the entrance to Dolly Sods), you are about five miles from the parking lot where the Bear Rocks Trail begins in to the Wilderness. Jake also got to do some “off-roading” as we drove up the mountain.

Fun Fact #1: Dolly Sods Wilderness is named after the Dalhe Family who used the open grassy fields (also known as sods) in the mid 1800s for their sheep to graze.

Fun Fact #2: Later, in August 1943, the U.S. military began using the land for training; many of the artillery and mortars shell shots are still on the land and have yet to be found. In 1997, before the land was open to the public, a highly trained team surveyed the trails and campsites for the shells. They found 15 shells, some of which were still live and exploded on site. Because of the potential danger, the forestry service asks that hikers stay on existing trails and campsites to avoid the threat that the undiscovered shells pose.

After taking in the view from the top of the mountain, we went in search of a place to camp for the night before we headed out on our backpacking adventure the next morning. All of the campsites were taken, so our only option was to camp further than 300 feet from the road. Which didn’t happen. We ended up camping about 50 feet from the road, hidden in some trees.

Mountain Top Views

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First Night Camp Site

Did I mention Reagan came along as well? This pup has energy for days!

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The next morning (HAPPY 30TH BIRTHDAY JAKE!!!), we got up with the sun, packed up our tent, and ate breakfast (Biscuits & Gravy and Scrambled Eggs with Bacon). For those of you who have not tried Mountain House freeze dried foods, you need to, even if you don’t backpack or camp. Around 8:30 in the morning, we set out on our 15 mile hike through the Dolly Sods Wilderness.

And let me tell you, the weather was amazing! For the end of August I was expecting temperatures to be more like something in the high 80’s or lower 90’s for the more mountainous areas, but nope, try like to high 60’s. I was a little worried about wearing the shorts I had purchased just for this trip, but they worked perfectly. Both Jake and I ended up having to take off our hoodies and backpacked in short sleeves (although when we stopped to take breaks we got a little chilly).

We started out on the Bear Rocks Trail (TR522) for 2.3 miles.The terrain was beautiful! We began going downhill and through a little meadow, then crossing Red Creek before starting the steep uphill trek before heading into a fern field. We crossed through wooded areas, meadows, hollows, and rises before reaching out first trail intersection, Raven Ridge Trail (TR521).

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We stayed on Raven Ridge Trail for about 1.5 miles through mostly wooded areas, before we turned on to Rocky Ridge Trail (TR524) (the name should have been a warning). Rock, rocks, rocks, rocks, upon boulders and more boulders. Basically, this trail was made up on huge boulders on the ridge on the mountain. We reached a beautiful clearing/overlook that looked down in to the Canaan Valley. It was such a clear day you could see for miles!

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After a little break to take some picture and down some water (Reagan too) we were back on the trail, trekking over boulders and small rock cairns (which in the case you didn’t know, are “a mound of rough stones built as a memorial or landmark, typically on a hilltop or skyline). At this point we had backpacked about 5.5 miles when we came to another trail intersection (Dobbin Grade Trail TR526) but stayed on Rocky Ridge Trail over Harman Mountiain to the intersection of Harman Trail (TR525).

We continued on Rocky Ridge Trail for another 1.6 miles to the intersection of the Breathed Mountain Trail (TR553), Big Stonecoal Trail (TR513), and Forestry Road which leads down to Canaan Valley. This is where Rocky Ridge Trail end, so we turned onto Big Stonecoal Trail into the woods. Jake and I believe this was some of the prettiest areas of Dolly Sods Wilderness, as it is mainly wooded with heath (which are “dwarf shrub with small leathery leaves and small pink or purple bell-shaped flowers”) and sphagnum bogs (a type of soft moss, also used for potting and packing plants). They were really neat to see because it is not the type of vegetation you would normally see so far south of Canada.

As we descended down Stonecoal Run, we passed several campsites before we crossed over Stonecoal Run where we stopped (after 9.4 miles) for Jake’s Birthday lunch! We had Mountain House Chicken and Dumplings for lunch, yum yum. Every time we use freeze dried food we are pleasantly surprised by how good the meals actually are. For dessert, somehow I was able to sneak in (and not crush) two Hostess Cupcakes and a candle so Jake was able to have cake and blow out candles on his birthday.

After we cleaned up, refilled our water at the nearby stream, and made sure Reagan was set, we were back on the trail to complete the last five miles.

We continued down stream, still on Big Stonecoal Trail, where we came upon an area with thick rhododendron, and we soon passed a very beautiful waterfall where people we layed out on the rocks. At the next intersection, we made a left and continued on Rocky Point Trail (TR554) (yet another sign of the rocks we were about to encounter) towards Red Creek, now heading back north around the base of Lion’s Head. Unfortunately, Jake and I were unable to get up to Lion’s head as the bottoms of my feet and ankles were becoming badly bruised by the rocky terrain.

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At mile 13.2, Rocky Point Trail ends and we continued on Red Creek Trail (TR514) for 1.4 miles. The last mile was by far the most difficult, as our feet were tired and bruised, and we were hungry and exhausted. And when I say “our” I mean mostly mine. Okay okay okay…my feet were tired and bruised, Jake’s we fine. The man could probably have kept going another few hours honestly. Me… I was on the verge of tears. Ok, there were tears.

But we made it; 14.6 miles to the Forks of Red Creek. There were many waterfalls where the two creeks came together, and the water was ice cold. The Creeks and Runs in Dolly Sods Wilderness carry what is known as blackwater. Blackwater is usually a, “deep, slow-moving channel flowing through forested swamps or wetlands. As vegetation decays, tannins leach into the water, making a transparent, acidic water that is darkly stained, resembling tea or black coffee.” It was perfectly fine to drink and it felt so good on our tired feet.

After setting up camp right on the creek (which Jake did, I could barely walk), we ate another Mountain House freeze dried food (Pasta Primavera), and fell asleep before the sun went down. Reagan was also a tuckered out pup and was asleep before the both of us, nestled under her blanket.

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The next morning, we slept in a little bit and had another Mountain House breakfast; Breakfast Skillet and Granola. After packing up camp, we went down to where the two creeks met and took some pictures. Even got a nice photobomb picture from Reagan.

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Because my feet were so sore, bruised, and torn up, we decided to cut our six and a half mile hike back to the truck, down to about four and a half miles. We headed north up steep rocky terrain then through two meadows. At the end of Red Creek Trail we turned right onto Blackbird Knob Trail (TR511), and hiked through many boggy and muddy areas, until we came across some gorgeous uphill meadows. The end of the trail was very muddy, and you could see where the fogs was rolling in as we found our way out of the wilderness, right by the camp ground, to Forrest Road 75. Doing this was easier on my feet since it was flat road, and we walked the final two miles back to the parking lot where the truck was parked.

Even though the last day was cut short, we had such an incredible time and saw some wilderness that is not common in the United States. The pup was exhausted and pretty much slept the entire way home, which if you know Reagan you know how much of a relief that is.

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Jake and I are planning our next trip out to Dolly Sods hopefully next summer to see Lions Head and to explore more of the trails we did not get to  backpack on during this trip.

Here’s a short video of our trip…

Categories: Adventure

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