Dolly Sods: August 13 – 16, 2010


Red Creek, the artery of Dolly Sods

The Dolly Sods Wilderness is a scenic gem of the east coast and is highly regarded by backpackers as a right of passage amongst the mid-atlantic hiking corridor.  It boasts expansive mountain meadows, and groves of flourishing red pine.  The area sits atop a high, wind swept plateau, in West Virginia’s premiere Monongahela National Forest, and because of this geological placement, almost 4,000 feet above sea level, the area tends to hang onto rainy weather a little longer than it should, earning its nickname “the sods.”  Prior to US government ownership of the area, which began in 1944, the land was owned by the Dahle family, German immigrants who raised sheep there as means of income.  At the onslaught of WWII, Uncle Sam paid the Dahle’s a handsome sum to move off the mountain, so the area could be put to use as an artillery range for troops in training.  To this day, unexploded ordinances can still be found off the trail; however at the turn of the century, all land mines were exploded on site in all known trails and campsites.  After the war, the US Forest Service bought the area to be preserved as the latest addition to the Monongahela.  The name of the Dahle family stuck, but it’s spelling changed to look more like it’s pronounced – Dolly.  Since Dolly Sods is a protected wilderness area, there are no blazes on the trails, only rock cairns built by hikers.

An approximately thirty mile trail system weaves its way through the wild area, and our trek was essentially a “greatest hits” hike, circumnavigating the area and hitting all the hot spots from famous views, to popular swimming holes, and well known campsites.  Robert, Andrew, Matt, and Steven attended this hike.

the sods

Dolly Sods planimetric map courtesy of the Dolly Sods Mapping Project

On Friday night the 13th, we parked at Red Creek Campground and headed west on the Blackbird Knob Trail until its second intersection with Red Creek.  Robert and Andrew were hoping to camp at the same island campsite they had found when they there in October.  Unfortunately, it was already taken by the time we reached there, we were bummed, but rock hopped across the water to a spacious spot under the cover of some trees.  It was definitely scenic, like most spots in the sods, however we were greeted with a heaping pile of garbage in the fire ring.  Most of the surrounding area was also trashed.  Actually, raped is a better word, that I think Matt came up with, as we were saddened to see that the majority of young trees were cut down within a half mile radius of the campsite.  Most hikers, it seems, can’t obey the simple laws of outdoor ethics.  We cleaned up the fire ring and cozied up to the flames where Steven cooked his famous bison burgers for dinner with some cous cous.  We stayed up until about 2AM that night, talking and enjoying the company and the atmosphere.  We made up a song, “Why is the red creek red?  It’s the blood of the men of ages…”


The clouded view from Bear Rocks

Day 2 we woke up and ate a breakfast of energy bars and hard boiled eggs and set off another .3 miles along Blackbird to the intersection of the Upper Red Creek Trail.  Just as we turned north onto the trail it poured down rain, so we paused to enlist the help of our rain gear.  Like class Dolly Sods rain, the pouring didn’t let up for an hour, and then it still rained at a decent pace, just not torentially.  We plodded along through the Dobbin Grade area trying to envision the vast meadows without the grey clouds.  Normally, the northern section of Dolly Sods is a magical place of expansive savanna-esque meadows, but with the rain it all felt a little underwhelming.  Steven noticed the morale dropping and started a fantasy/medieval role playing game where we acted as if we were traveling knights on quest through the mythical land of Jesenia.  Matt was Ser Mathias, Steven was Ser Sprecker, Robert was Ser Robert (pronounced Ro-bear), and Andrew was Ser Anders.  When we reached the intersection of the Bear Rocks trail we hiked east to the Bear Rocks overlook where we broke for lunch.  Unfortunately, the view was obscured by clouds.  In the overlook parking lot, our role playing reached the climax of the story and we all swung our hiking sticks at our imaginary enemies in defense of the crown.  There was a Amish family nearby, watching us, probably thinking this was the reason why they shouldn’t re-join regular society.

Lone Tree

A lone tree amongst the meadows...

After lunch we backtracked west along the Bear Rocks trail, and traversed some more mountain meadows, until we hit the Raven Ridge trail.  There is a secret campsite just off the trail to your left, in a large pine grove, parallel to a large round fruit tree.  Not much water nearby, but a nice secluded spot off the beaten path.  We continued along the Raven Ridge trail until we hit the Rocky Ridge Trail. From here we went south, and most the of trail was harder to discern amongst the rocks and boulders.  This is where a keen navigator comes in handy, and Steven orienteered us through.  Luckily, the occasional rock cairn appeared re-assuring us that we were on the right track.  From this ridge, there are nice views of Canaan Valley to the west, that slowly disappear as you reach Harmon Knob, and eventually the four way intersection with Rocky Ridge, Breathed Mountain, FS 80 and Big Stonecoal.   We went straight on Big Stonecoal Trail and found a spacious campsite in a pine clearing just after the second stream crossing of Big Stonecoal Run.  It rained most of the day, so a lot of the firewood we gathered was sopping wet, but we made it work.  Matt found the stream a few paces away from our tent site so we could filter water.  Steven cooked red beans and rice with salmon and we watched the fire burn as we heard coyotes yip in the distance.  Before long, our sleeping bags beckoned us.

BS Falls

Waterfall along Big Stonecoal

Day 3 we took our time tearing down camp and agreed to go easier mileage.  The plan was to head down Big Stonecoal and loop around Rocky Point, up Red Creek to “The Forks” where Robert and Andrew had been last fall.  On the way down Big Stonecoal, there were numerous stream crossings that were tricky to negotiate, and we took extra care not to get our feet wet since it seemed sunny that day, and wouldn’t have to worry about the rain doing that for us.  Incidentally, there were some pretty fantastic campsites all along Big Stonecoal Run, one of note was out on a grassy peninsula in the middle of the creek, with plenty of soft spots for a tent.  We marked it down in our mind as a place to hit when we go back.  After we passed the intersection of Dukenbarger Trail on our right, we continued on Big Stonecoal for about a half mile and passed some fantastic waterfalls.  We paused for a beat to take pics before heading off again.  Andrew recalled a great vista called “Lions Head” that runs off the trail on an un-official side trail, just a tad south of our current location.  We hiked slowly looking for any signs of a turn off, and eventually spied a small rock cairn next to what seemed like a small animal trail.  We ascened it steeply for about twenty feet before it gradually tapered off and led us down a long straight away through tall pine groves.  A series of amazing campsites followed, which we dubbed the “royal campsites” in keeping with our fantasy theme, and soon the trail ended in patch of thick brush.  We paid carefull attention to the rock cairns as the path winded us around the pointy end of the ridge and emerged out onto one fantastic vista – Lion’s Head.  The views were unobstructed and the sight was magnificent, and the clear sunny day… a major plus.  We all agreed it was definitely one of the best vistas we’ve seen to date.


Robert, Matt, Steven, Andrew at Lion's Head

After we ate lunch we took a picture and backtracked to Big Stonecoal, which we followed until we hit Rocky Point, and turned off onto it.  At this point, we were literally hiking just below the vista, along a steep cliff.  The trail itself lived up its name, the rocks were a real boot killer and we all could feel the blisters starting.  The trail eventually intersected with Red Creek trail, and we took that one north to The Forks, our destination for the night.  Steven, Matt, and Andrew took advantage of the great swimming holes and spent an hour sitting on the small waterfalls.  Matt had a bar of soap which we passed around to get clean.  We got out around evening time, just in time to start gathering wood.  Go figure, there was no wood to be found, and one had to travel great distances to find anything worth burning.  Even the Birch trees had been stripped clean of their bark.  When eveing fell we had a clear starry sky, and we all enjoyed our fire in stone constructed hiker seats.  To date, this was one of the favorite campsites of the woodsboy hikes.


An underweared Steven at the forks campsite

The last day, we tore down camp and hiked the two and a half miles back to our car.  The climb out of the Red Creek Canyon was steep but brief and we soon emerged back out onto the meadows along the Blackbird Knob trail.  We enjoyed backtracking this section, as we hadn’t seen its scenery since we hiked in at night time.  We reached the car and piled into the van.  The post-hike feast destination was at Fox’s Pizza along 33 east.  We each ate our own footlong cheesesteak while splitting a large pizza.  Before we unloaded back at civilization we agreed the next venture would have to be in the fall.

More Pictures:


Andrew builds a fire at campsite 2


Steven, crossing Red Creek

Lion's Head

Lion's Head


Steven at Bear Rocks


Views from Lion's Head



Campsite 2


Robert tends his feet at campsite 2

Canaan Valley

Views of Canaan Valley from Rocky Ridge trail


a cloudy Dolly Sods North


~ by thewoodsboys on July 1, 2011.

One Response to “Dolly Sods: August 13 – 16, 2010”

  1. Love the photos! This is one of my all time favorite places to hike!

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