Dolly Sods Wilderness is a gorgeous place and it holds a special place in my heart. There is something about this place that seems magical and unlike anything in the surrounding area. There are so many beautiful things to see, trails to hike, and rocks to climb on. The plants that grow here and the animals that live here are unique to the area and present to you scenes that make you feel like you’re on a different planet.
About Dolly Sods, WV
Dolly Sods Wilderness has been a “wild” place for a long time. It also has a rich history. It is filled with unique vegetation, plants, rocks, and trees. In the past, the entirety of Dolly Sods was covered in ginormous pine trees, whose pine needles fell to the ground for thousands of years creating humus soil almost 10 feet deep covering the entire area. The name “Dolly” comes from the Americanized spelling of “Dahle,” the last name of one of the first European settlers here in the late 1700’s. In the 1800’s the area was extensively logged, leaving a very damaged area. During World War 2, Dolly sods was used a military training ground, leaving artillery and mortar shells throughout the area for many years. It was established as a wilderness part of the Monongahela National Forest in 1975. Today more than ever, efforts are being made for its preservation. Dolly Sods is definitely something in West Virginia that you cannot miss.
Where is Dolly Sods?
Dolly Sods Wilderness is located in the Eastern West Virginia in Monongahela National Forest.
How to get to Dolly Sods
Dolly Sods Wilderness is closer to major urban areas than you may think. The best (and only) way to get to Dolly Sods Wilderness is by car. To access any of the trailheads at Dolly Sods, you will need to drive on a gravel road for several miles at the least. The two roads that access Dolly Sods Wilderness are the Forest Service Roads 19 and 75. These forest roads are closed from January to early May. Be careful as the road can become washed out after big storms. As of summer 2021, the road to Bear Rocks was well-maintained and accessible with a compact car. It is located close to several large cities and would make the perfect weekend trip!
Distance from Washington D.C.: 155 miles, around 3 hours
Distance from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: 150 miles, around 3 hours
Distance from Baltimore, Maryland: 190 miles, around 3.5 hours
Where to Stay Near Dolly Sods
Red Creek Campground at Dolly Sods
Red Creek Campground is the only established campground at Dolly Sods. It is located close to Bear Rocks. The sites are $11 per night, but are first-come, first-serve only. There is not a dump station, electricity, or water. They are rustic campsites, but in a super convenient location. Keep in mind that since there are not many spots and they are not reservable in advance, most weekend the campground is full and it can be difficult to get a spot here.
If you are definitely wanting to stay in Dolly Sods rather than needing to drive at least an hour to your accommodation, backcountry camping is an option. This would definitely be a great option for you if you enjoy backpacking. Dolly Sods Wilderness allows backcountry camping. Backcountry camping is free at Dolly Sods and you do not need a special permit. The main rules for camping in the Dolly Sods area are do not camp within 300 feet of Forest Roads 19 or 75 (one of the roads you will drive to get to Dolly Sods), and do not camp within 200 feet of an waterways. It is important that you only set up camp in established areas, many of which have rock fire rings and are along many parts of the trail. I know definitely that there are spots on the Bear Rocks Trail 522 and the Dobbin Grade Trail 526.
Davis, West Virginia is a super cute small town, that is a favorite for many and especially popular in the winter. You can find all the amenities you could possibly want in Davis, ranging from a grocery store, cute art shops, a coffee shop, multiple restaurants, and a delicious ice cream shop. Some places to stay in Davis are Doc’s Guesthouse, The Drifter, and The Gypsy Wagon Studio.
Thomas, West Virginia is one of my favorite small towns in West Virginia. There are so many cute places to stay here. It is about 1 hour from Bear Rocks. There is the Mountain Primrose Bed and Breakfast, The Cabin at Buxton Commons, and Thomas Company Tiny House.
Seneca Shadows Campground at Seneca Rocks
Seneca Shadows Campground is one of our favorite places we have stayed while visiting Dolly Sods Wilderness. Seneca Shadows Campground is about 1 hour away from Bear Rocks, which is about the same distance from Davis/Thomas to Bear Rocks. Seneca Shadows Campground is a National Forest Campground that we were really impressed by. It is very clean, has bathhouses with running water and very private campsites. Some campsites even have a view of Seneca Rocks! We had a forest site and really enjoyed our time staying here. Reservations can be made online with Recreation.gov.
What to do at Dolly Sods
Bear Rocks is one of my favorite places at Dolly Sods. It is also one of the easiest to access. We actually had our small wedding elopement here in 2019! Bear Rocks is a large grouping of rocks that jut off the side of plateau of dolly sods. These rocks give excellent view of the valley and allows you see much of Monongahela National Forest by a bird’s eye view. On clear days, you can even see as far as Shenandoah National Park. Bear Rocks is also part of the eastern continental divide. There is a gravel parking area at Bear Rocks where you can walk to the small trail to Bear Rocks. You can see Bear Rocks from the parking lot, but much of the area is surrounded by dense shrubs and bushes (such as huckleberry and blueberry bushes). Follow little footpaths through the shrubs, occasionally stepping over or on giant white rocks. There are many different points at Bear Rocks, but my favorite is the main rock that juts out of the mountain, almost like a stage in front of the wilderness. Take your time and explore here. Walk around the flag-like pine trees, the orange colored water puddles on the white rocks, and interesting stacks of rocks. Soak in the vibrant blue and green landscape that spreads out like a blanket over the land.
Most people turn around and head back to the parking area once they reach Bear Rocks, but if you keep going a little further, you will find the really neat Stack Rocks. If you continue on North from Bear Rocks, you will find Stack Rocks. Stack Rocks is another rock formation found here at the eastern continental divide that is slightly different than Bear Rocks. It consists of the same white and gray rocks that Bear Rocks does, however, the rocks appear as if they are stacked up on top of each other and they create a small little canyon that you can jump down into before coming back up to another pretty viewpoint. It is a small rock formation, but different than all of the surrounding rocks and worth visiting. There are several large flat rocks here that would make for the perfect place to have a picnic or to sit and take in the view. It is also more secluded than Bear Rocks, so there is likely to be less people around if you decide to sit and stay a while.
Bear Rocks Trail to Raven Ridge Trail and Dobbins Grade Trail
One of my favorite trails at Dolly Sods is the Bear Rocks Trail to Raven Ridge Trail and Dobbins Grade Trail. It is a 6.6 mile trail that showcases a lot of what Dolly Sods has to see. The trail weaves through the fields of blueberry and huckleberry bushes. The trail crosses a boardwalk into a pine grove and crosses Red Creek. The trail meanders through more fields full of berry bushes and pine trees. Farther down on the trail, you will again cross Red Creek. After crossing the Red Creek for the second time, you will enter a very boggy portion of the trail. Here you will likely get very muddy, but it is so much fun! Sometimes you can even see evidence of beavers in the area.
Red Creek is the main waterway that runs through Dolly Sods. The water actually has a red tinge to it, likely from the type of plants growing in the area. The water from Red Creek eventually drains into the Atlantic Ocean via the Mississippi River. Many hiking trails cross or follow Red Creek, including the Bear Rocks Trail mentioned above. If you are interested in a longer trail that encounters Red Creek, there is a trail that follows much of Red Creek in the Dolly Sods Wilderness.
Lion’s Head Rock is a rocky crag that appears to look like a Lion’s Head from the side. Lion’s Head is a very popular destination for hikers in the area. There are several different trails that lead to Lion’s Head, but one of the highest rated trails that goes to Lion’s Head is the Red Creek Trail to Lion’s Head Rocks. More information can be found on AllTrails.
Other Important Things to Know:
The weather at Dolly Sods can be very unpredictable. Make sure to check latest weather reports to ensure that you plan accordingly. There are sometimes snowstorms as late in the season as May and the leaves on bushes start turning colors and dying in August. It can also be very windy, so much so that the trees grow sideways in some areas. Keep this in mind when planning your trip.
Dolly Sods Wilderness is very muddy! Be prepared with the correct shoes and clothing, but just assume that any time of year you will encounter mud. There are some trails with less mud than others, but it is something you will encounter, even if you just go from your car to Bear Rocks.
As is posted on trailhead boards, this area was used as a training ground during World War 2, so there are said to be remains of land mines in some areas of the wilderness. Knowing this, staying on the trail is important and if you do venture off the trail and happen to see the remains of a land mine, do not touch and call the number listed at the trailhead. This being said, we have never seen one or encountered anyone else that has ever seen a land mine here. Just keep this in mind if you plan on doing a lot of exploring off of the trail.
The Dolly Sods Wilderness Trail map can be found on the National Forest website. We like to use AllTrails as a guide when hiking here, but always consult the National Forest website and signs at trailheads. Do not rely on your phone as there is not service in Dolly Sods Wilderness and your phone could easily go dead or stop working. Have a plan in place that does not involve your phone as your only guide.
Do you have any questions about Dolly Sods Wilderness? Let me know your questions or thoughts down below in the comments!
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