The sods are a truly wild and remote place in an increasingly crowded East coast. For years Dolly Sods has been my go-to backcountry destination, even for chilly winter stays. Many places carry the “wilderness” moniker in the East, but this place lives up to it. No cell service, no car camping, no trail markers, no toilets, and no running water. It’s the real deal. During the off season you can hike for days and not see another person. There are some opportunities to camp closer to the trailhead for those only looking to dip a toe into wilderness travel, but you could hike for miles to a remote site as well. Be advised, a good physical map and compass, the skills needed to use them, are vital here. There are no trail marks and the path can be confusing. Come prepared and have a great adventure.
Dolly Sods is a wilderness area within the great Monongahela National Forest. I backpacked here in early March a few years ago. Definitely be prepared for high winds and rain. We hiked in in warm weather and once we reached the top of a long entrance road (where one trailhead was) we found snow. A lot of the snow had melted making the ground very soggy and oversaturated in some areas. Despite this, our short Dolly Sods backpacking trip was an amazing first trek for myself and a fiend. Dolly Sods is absolutely gorgeous and is a completely different and unique ecosystem than the surrounding area. I also have friends who have camped here later in the year - mid to late summer - and have highly, highly, recommended that I go back during that time.
Dolly Sods Wilderness Area, part of the Monongahela National Forest, offers something for every hiker, backpacker, camper.
Having visited Dolly Sods numerous times at the Red Creek Campground, using that as the base camp to launch off to explore the myriad of trails. We decided to use the backcountry as a primer for the following year's longer westerly backbacking trip.
Know that it will likely rain on you in Dolly Sods, so always bring rain gear. Also realize, that with climate and conditions similar to the Canadian Tundra, temperatures and winds vary and fluctuate often, any time of year. Those two conditions often dissuade less hearty souls…but they are also exactly what creates and sustains a very beautiful environment.
During our excursion, we spent three nights and four days on what I will term the perimeter trails…camping at Raven Ridge, Big Stonecoal Run creek, and at Reds Creek at the forks. Numerous websites offer insight and directions and all are beneficial to study. We chose to travel counter-clockwise from Bear Rocks, parking in the grass across from the trailhead. Note: leaving valuables in or on your vehicle while you traipse about in the Sods is always iffy, just like anywhere else, so use wisdom. I've read of thefts…but the vehicle parked to us had two high end full-suspension mountain bikes on a roof rack for days without issue.
If you are unfamiliar with Dolly Sods Wilderness trails…choose footwear that either dries fast or is waterproof…has a robust sole to fend off bruises from the brutal amount of sharp, ankle buster rocks on the trail…and won't pull off and be lost in the countless bogs and areas of shoe sucking mud. We wanted to rename one particular trail "pointed rock trail." Our expensive boots were actually a fail for this trip…which was a valuable education.
We saw people run this trail in a day…but there's no way you can enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells moving that quickly. I felt we should've taken more time and explored much more…although soggy weather became a deterrent. The amount of brightly colored fungi, snakes, crayfish and salamanders were astonishing. So if you move too quickly, you miss them.
Do practice "leave no trace." The heavy summer and weekend use by careless and selfish hikers or backcountry partiers…has left the woods adjacent to Reds Creek camping sites littered with toilet paper…dig your cat hole and bury your "goods!"
The rocks on the trail may be a pain, but the formations and views from Raven's Ridge, Lion's Head and Bear Rocks rival the best.
Do your homework, choose your camping gear and wardrobe wisely and launch off into the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area…you'll be glad you did!
Done the drive out twice for extended weekends. Peaceful, quiet, and beautiful. No other place really is like this. Terrain changes, lots of mud, and not over-crowded
Did a four-day hike of the 26-mile loop in Dolly Sods Wilderness, first night we camped was at Ravens Ridge. There were some camps already in that area but in the woods, however we chose to set up camp on the ridge with a view of Canaan Valley. The next day we hiked to Big Stone Coal Creek, where we set up for the night, a campsite had been left from other hikers with a makeshift fire pit and stone chairs. On day 3, we hiked up to Lion’s head where there were lots of campsites from past hikers, but we continued on to Red Creek where we camped for the night. Lots of weekend warriors’ hike into Red Creek for the weekend, so lots of campsites but also be weary of the people who don’t know how to use the restroom in nature, lots of flies and toilet paper lying about. The trails were all well marked, I would still bring a map of the trails and know which ones you want to take before heading out into this vast wilderness. Also, be aware that during the summer lots of rain fall so trails will be muddy and some trails almost completely underwater, Dobbins Grade is one of the trails that typically is wet and muddy most of the summer and fall.
You can backpack in any season of the year here, but both roads (Forest Road 19 and 75) leading to Dolly Sods are winding and steep so in snowy or ice conditions could be dangerous. You can park at Bear Rocks or right in front of the trail head, you will see a good majority of cars parked in those areas from people backpacking in or day hiking. There are multiple ways back into the wilderness, the first is close to Red Creek campground along the Blackbird Knob Trail, Dolly Sods picnic area has the trailhead for Rohrbaugh trail, Red Creek trail starts on Forest Road 19, then Forest Road 19 turns into 75 and you have multiple Trailheads along that route until Bear Rocks.