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Dolly Sods/Lions Head - Seneca Rocks, WV

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Length Difficulty Streams Views Solitude Camping
21.1 mls
Hiking Time:
Elev. Gain:
2 or 3 days
2,520 ft
Dolly Sods - Monongahela National Forest
Printable Topo Hike Map (PDF)
Seneca Rocks Weather Forecast
Garmin (GDB), GPS eXchange (GPX) (What's this?)

There is a large parking area on FR75 just before the descent,
  park 200 yards to the south on FR75 opposite the trail head. 39.06352, -79.30326

Arguably one of the most unique, and beautiful hiking areas on the East Coast. The high plateaus of Dolly Sods are made up of wind carved sand stone, stunted red spruce, grassy meadows, and sphagnum bogs. The characteristic meadows are the result of logging that took place from 1899 to 1924. During the Second World War the U.S. Army used the area for artillery and mortar training, and at the trailheads the Army Corp of Engineers still displays signs warning hikers that there may be unexploded ordinance in the area.

The name Dolly Sods derives from a combination of Dahles, a local 18th century family, and Sods, meaning an open mountain top or meadow. After WWII the area fell into neglect, and was threatened by multiple construction and mining project proposals. Then in the early 1970’s concerned environmentalists, along with The Nature Conservancy, began purchasing the land for preservation and recreational use. Today the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area comprises 17,371 acres.

With over 47 miles of hiking trails following old railroad grades and logging roads there are many hiking circuit options. We have 3 circuit hikes posted here: Dolly Sods North, at 10 miles this hike highlights the high meadows and mountain views. The Forks of Red Creek, in the central section crossing Red Creek and several streams. And this hike, Dolly Sods/Lions Head, that combines the best parts of the first 2, as well as the view from the Lions Head on Breathed Mountain.

This 21.1 mile circuit can be done as either a 2 or 3 day backpack. As a 3 day backpack camp along Big Stonecoal Run the first night, then the Forks of Red Creek the second. This makes for a leisurely 9.4, 5.2, and 6.5 miles each day. Finding camping along the Big Stonecoal Trail TR513 should not be a problem any time, but make sure to arrive in the early afternoon at the Forks of Red Creek on the second day to get a good camp spot. If you decide to do this as a 2 day backpack, still camp along the Big Stonecoal Trail TR513, however this makes for a challenging second day of 11.7 miles back to the parking area.

  • Mile 0.0 – From the parking area on FR75 pass the trailhead sign and start down the Bear Rocks Trail TR522. Note that none of the trails in the Dolly Sods area are blazed, however they are well marked with signage. The Bear Rocks Trail is washed out for the first 0.5 miles until it crosses a small stream. Pass over a ridge, and then descend another washed out section to the intersection of the Dobbin Grade Trail TR526 on the left.
  • Mile 1.0 – The Bear Rocks Trail becomes narrow passing through a boggy section and over a wooden walkway before arriving at the crossing for Red Creek. Cross Red Creek, then on the left is a nice campsite with slate chairs and fire ring. The trail continues on the left once crossing the creek and climbs steeply for 0.2 miles then makes a sharp turn right into a fern field. Walk over another wooden footpath entering a wooded area where the trail climbs towards the first meadow.  Exit the woods and pass over the first open meadow. The Bear Rocks Trail will then descend through a hollow and climb over another rise then end at the intersection of the Raven Ridge Trail TR521.
  • Mile 2.3 – Continue straight uphill on the Raven Ridge Trail TR521, then in 0.2 miles reach the intersection of the Beaver View Trail TR523.
  • Mile 2.5Continue straight on the Raven Ridge Trail TR521 as the trail leaves the meadows, then makes a sharp left hand turn into a wooded area. Exit the wooded area and shortly arrive at the intersection of the Rocky Ridge Trail TR524.
  • Mile 3.8Turn left on the Rocky Ridge Trail TR524 then in 0.3 miles reach one of the best overlooks of the hike into Canaan Valley. The next 1.4 miles on the Rocky Ridge Trail TR524 passes the area where most of the windswept boulders are located. This section of the trail can be a little tricky to navigate. Just look for small rock cairns.
  • Mile 5.5 – Reach the intersection of the Dobbin Grade Trail TR526. Stay right on the Rocky Ridge Trail TR524 climbing over Harman Mountain then arrive at the intersection of the Harman Trail TR525 in 0.9 miles.
  • Mile 6.4 – Continue on the Rocky Ridge Trail TR524 for another 0.5 miles to the intersection of the Blackbird Knob Trail TR511.
  • Mile 6.9 – Continue downward for 0.2 miles to the 4 way intersection of the Breathed Mountain Trail TR 553, Big Stonecoal Trail TR513, and Forestry Road that leads down to Canaan Valley.
  • Mile 7.1 - There are 2 information boards at this intersection with maps of the area. The trail you have been on the Rocky Ridge Trail TR524 ends then becomes the Forestry Road leading to Canaan Valley. Take the narrower Big Stonecoal Trail TR513 directly ahead as it descends into the woods. This section of Dolly Sods is more wooded with heath and sphagnum bogs. Pass several good campsites as you descend gradually along Stonecoal Run.
  • Mile 9.4 – Cross Stonecoal Run. On the opposite bank is a small campsite in a sandy area. Pass around the back of the campsite where there is a much nicer camp area 50 yards upstream.

    Day 2:

  • Mile 9.4 – Continue downstream on the Big Stonecoal Trail TR513 and in 0.2 miles pass the intersection of the Dunkenbarger Trail TR558.
  • Mile 9.6 – Continue on the Big Stonecoal Trail TR513 for 0.6 miles crossing Stonecoal Run, then entering a section of dense Rhododendron, pass a waterfall, and arrive at the intersection of the Rocky Point Trail TR554.
  • Mile 10.4 – Stay left on the Rocky Point Trail TR554 arriving at a vista to the south. At the point where the trail heads back to the north look closely for an unsigned trail with no blazes, and marked with occasional rock cairns that leads left uphill. This is a rock scramble uphill for the 0.1 miles. Bear right at a flatter area with a nice view of the Lions Head. After exploring the Lions Head return to the Rocky Point Trail TR554 and continue north towards Red Creek.
  • Mile 13.2 – The Rocky Point Trail TR554 ends at the intersection with the Red Creek Trail TR514. Continue straight on the Red Creek Trail TR514 for 1.4 miles to the intersection with the Breathed Mountain Trail TR553. Continue on the Red Creek Trail TR514 and shortly arrive at the Forks of Red Creek.
  • Mile 14.6 – There are numerous campsites at ‘The Forks’ but note that this area is an extremely popular camping area, especially with the college set.  Explore many small waterfalls and swimming holes.

    Day 3 (Optional)

  • Mile 14.6Cross the Left Fork of Red Creek and stay to your left as the Red Creek Trail TR514 passes through a camping area then re-enters the woods on the left. From this point the Red Creek Trail TR514 becomes steeper until it enters the first of two large meadows. After passing through the second meadow the trail re-enters the woods and ends at the intersection of the Blackbird Knob Trail TR511.
  • Mile 15.5Turn right on the Blackbird Knob Trail TR511 passing through several boggy sections, then enter a small meadow and arrive at the intersection of the Upper Red Creek Trail TR509.
  • Mile 15.9Turn left on the Upper Red Creek Trail TR509 passing through several large meadows and gently climb towards the north. The trail will cross another tributary of Red Creek then end at the intersection of the Dobbin Grade Trail TR526.
  • Mile 17.2Turn right on the Dobbin Grade Trail TR526 for 0.1 miles to the intersection with the Raven Ridge Trail TR521.
  • Mile 17.3Turn left uphill on the Raven Ridge Trail TR521. WARNING: People look at the map and notice that following the Dobbin Grade Trail back to the Bear Rocks Trail is a shorter route. Don’t do it! The Dobbin Grade Trail is a boggy mess anytime of the year, and offers little scenery. Taking the Raven Ridge Trail TR521 has much nicer views and is completely dry. So, after turning left uphill onto he Raven Ridge Trail TR521 pass through several nice meadows and wooded areas for 1.5 miles back to the intersection with the Bear Rocks Trail TR522 terminus you passed earlier in the hike.
  • Mile 18.8 – Turn right on the Bear Rocks Trail TR522 retracing your earlier steps through the meadows, crossing Red Creek, passing the Dobbin Grade Trail terminus, and climbing back to  the parking area.
  • Mile 21.1 – Arrive back at the Bear Rocks Trailhead and parking area.
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Hiker Reviews For The Dolly Sods/Lions Head Hike (5 Most Recent)
Review the Dolly Sods/Lions Head hike here!   Average Rating:   Share Hike: 

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Thursday, June 08, 2017
We hiked in a mile on Bear Rock Trail Thurs eve and camped at Red Creek. Quiet w a little shower but cleared for next 3 days. It's cooler at higher elevation with a lot of wind at the western overlook but what a view. No trail finding difficulties except thru the lower portion of TR 524 where it's easy to wander off, no big deal, just stay heading south and west. The camp sites are all inviting. The must see's on this trail are a) Lion's Head and b) the campsites/swimming creek at TR514/511 and 509. Can be crowded but relaxing. Highly recommend this one.

By: Bahston Rating: Date of Hike: Friday, June 02, 2017
Amazing trail system with incredible views, incredible streams, waterfalls and just everything else you can imagine. Couple thing I would like to note. This can be very difficult at times. So I'd say at times its 4 if not 5 on difficulty. Rocky Point Trail name is very fitting it is nothing but a bunch of fallen rock on a ridge. May be doffuclt for a novice. LIONS HEAD- when following the directions as listed on this site don't wait to where they say to go up to lions head. After getting off Big Stone Coal trail continue south on Rocky Point and just shortly before the bend will be a marked Cairn trail going up take this. It is a much better trail than the one listed. If you travel and use the "cairn" app on your phone it will show you this trail.

Other than that beautiful place. Would most likely do it again someday

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, May 28, 2017
Amazing hike! All the reviews are absolutely true. I grew up in Maryland and have hiked all over the area and Dolly Sods is the most dynamic and interesting terrain yet. It rained, it poured, the sun shined -- Memorial weekend 2017 was a dynamic weather weekend, but still a whole lot of fun. One slight variation on the directions is that there are multiple unmarked turns up (left side of trail) to Lion's Head. What seemed like the main Lion's Head turn-off was before the view point, but we found another rock scramble up (which was a lot of fun!) after the view point. The second one was marked with an orange tie. Either way, go up to Lion's Head for fantastic 360 degree views of the area.

***Also after the hike was done I was so euphoric that I left my hiking boots, poles, gators, and socks at the trail head. If anyone finds them, please - please contact me: avivakutnick@gmail.com

Many thanks!

By: Travis Rating: Date of Hike: Monday, May 22, 2017
Amazing hike, we had a ton of fun. The first few miles are amazing too, you follow the ridge and just get the most amazing views.

Things I wish I knew before I did the hike -

- The trails are not blazed really but rather there are signs at each trail junction and then about 100 feet after the junction. Usually this would be enough but on some trails I feel like you need a little more.

- On 524 there are a lot of deer trails and the trail (at least I think) takes you over some boulders where you cannot see where the trail continues. Pretty easy to get lost up in that part but as long as you stick around the boulders you should be alright.

- There is a pretty spectacular mud pit on 526 on the section of it that follows the red creek. My girlfriend got sucked into it up to her hip!

- Just be aware there are sections of trail that are either flooded out or for whatever reason are not well passed. There are clear areas where hikers have been going around it for some time but sometimes these are deer trails and will not actually take you back to the trail. Also there are other times where there is another "trail" that looks just as well maintained as the actual trail but are not on the map and may eventually take you to a weird campsite a half mile away (totally not personal experience there).

- Be ready for cold! We left when Pittsburgh was 80 degrees and when we got to the Sods it was 55. Got down to 42 that night and didn't get much above 45 and rainy the rest of the next day.

Overall I loved the hike and after doing it once I think it will be more enjoyable the next time I go.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, April 16, 2017
We did the 3-day version April 16-18, 2017. Read our review and annotated H.U. directions (with lots of photos) here: http://wp.me/p8ebJj-Gb

    View all 29 reviews for the Dolly Sods/Lions Head hike
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