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 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 6.9 – 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 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 – Cross 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 15.9 – Turn 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 17.3 – Turn 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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Reviews For The Dolly Sods/Lions Head Hike (5 Most Recent)
This area is incredible. The fire roads were all closed so the only access was the Red Creek Trail Head. It was 6 degrees and there was about 6 inches of snow on the ground when we embarked. We made it 514 to trail 510 and turned around at the river. We spent the night down at a camp site closer to the Red Creek Trail Head. There are many creeks to cross, not always the easiest in the winter. The rivers were all but impassable unless you wanted to de-boot and duke out the icy water (we weren't in the mood). I can't imagine how muddy this would have been had it not been freezing, there are COUNTLESS streams/creeks that go over/through the trail.
Date of Hike: Tuesday, August 23, 2016
Beautiful trail. We made he mistake of taking Dobbin Grade route. Agree..don't do it! Boggy mess, no signage. We thought we were lost. The bogs are hard to avoid and I sank mid shin. A little scary.
Date of Hike: Saturday, August 13, 2016
We visited Lions Head last month after exploring the southern portion of the Sods, so this month's outing was to visit the northern section. Spent Friday night in a spruce grove on Bear Rocks trail on the left just before the intersection with Dobbin Grade trail. Didn't bother with getting a fire going as finding firewood in such a well used site is nearly impossible. It was kind of nice to not have clothes smelling all smoky. Refilled bladder at Red Creek crossing in the morning and then continued on over to the west side. We lost the Rocky Ridge trail as we left the open meadow rock field overlooking Canaan valley in the first mile of the hike and spent a good hour trying to figure out where it went (we weren't the only ones). The trail looks like it continues straight after you pass the windswept giant 12' tall boulder on your right. Don't take the left fork. If you do, it looks like the trail but eventually gets tight and it become obvious it isn't but with so many side trails, we had to check every one. Follow the trail around the boulder, out to the rocks, and then swing a left and down the backside. We put up some rock cairns so others would not have the same issue we and others had. Once we found the trail we had no other issues. Camped along the Blackbird Knob trail at the water crossing. Lots of people camped here for a non-holiday weekend but we guessed it was due to the heat wave and others seeking some cooler temps. We headed back to the car the next morning via Blackbird Knob, Upper Red Creek, and Raven Ridge trails. We opted to cut our mileage by taking the unofficial dobbin grade bypass trail that comes in from the right halfway up the Raven Ridge trail and connects to Bear Rocks at the top of the climb up from Red Creek. It sees light use so it isn't as worn like other trails in the Sods but we had no issue following it to connect back up with the Bear Rocks trail. Lots of nice campsites along the way too and plenty of blueberries. We grabbed lunch and freshened up at the crossing before completing the last mile back to the car, where we saw a yearling black bear, our first bear sighting in the Sods since we started coming here yearly five years ago. I second others in not taking Dobbin Grade . We've done it a couple times, but we know what to expect. We saw a group of dayhikers coming down that trail and they were clearly having issues.
Date of Hike: Saturday, August 13, 2016
I have wanted to do the Dolly sods Circuit for a long time and after reading all the reviews it seem like quite the place to go. Instead of starting a bear rocks like hikingupward suggested I started up at the red Creek trailhead. My loop was red Creek Trail to breathe mountain trail to Big stone coal trail back to Redcreek. I did hit the Rocky point Trail for the .25 mile hike to Lionhead which was well worth it. There are tons of campsites right by Lionhead which looked quite amazing and I did not see a lot of people comment about that. There are a lot of campsites on Big Stone call as well even on the Sods. Saw a 5 foot copperhead snake in Redcreek which freaked me out a little bit but after it left went In for a dip. The cascascading falls on Redcreek are well worth the hike and time out of your day to just enjoy the beauty of the falls and the cooler water in the pool below. Counted about 60 hikers and backpackers in my first day and then just decided to lose count. Didn't need to worry about somebody not finding me if I hurt myself LOL. Trailheads are well marked and lots of really great diversity in this hike. Overall my hike was 15.9 miles, with an overnight at Big Stone Coal making this it a little shorter than the suggested hike but next time I will do the suggested hike and start up at Bear Rocks.
Date of Hike: Saturday, August 06, 2016
This was a fantastic hike!
We came from Baltimore, so stretched it out to four days to accommodate the long drive there & back. We camped the first night just after Bear Rocks joins the Raven Ridge trail, in a little evergreen stand where we were visited by many deer through the evening. The second night we stayed at Stonecoal run, and on the last night went a bit farther along Blackbird Knob, past the turn to the Upper Red Creek trail, where there are some lovely creekside sites--this made for a slightly shorter last day since we had to drive back, and only required a little backtracking in the morning. Some cheeky squirrels did nibble into our bear bags at this site, though.
This made for 2.5 miles on the first day, 6.9 on the second, 6.6 on day three, and 5 miles before leaving on the last day.
Everyone in my party of four was constantly in awe of the scenery on this hike. There is a great diversity of landscapes, and every bit of the trail is interesting and beautiful. The waterfalls were a highlight, as well as a quick dip in Red Creek near the forks, and the gorgeous rocky views and abundant berries. We had great weather with no rain, and the stream crossings were all done on stepping stones. I had brought sandals for wading, but I imagine that's only necessary in the Spring or after some wet weather.
It gets cold at night in Dolly Sods, especially in the high meadows, so bring along some warm clothes!