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 11.9 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 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.
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. Turn left downhill on the Dobbin Grade Trail TR526 as it descends the valley, then crosses the left fork of Red Creak in 1.0 miles. The trail will turn more to the right before arriving at the junction of the Beaver View Trail in 0.6 miles.
Mile 7.1 - Continue straight on the Dobbin Grade Trail passing a spring (hose attached) in 0.3 miles, then descend to the valley floor and pass through a boggy area before arriving at the intersection of the Upper Red Creek Trail TR509 0.6 miles from the spring.
Mile 8.0 - Pass the tereminus of the Uper Red Creek Trail TR509, then in 0.1 miles arrive at the Raven Ridge Trail TR521.
Mile 8.1 – 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 9.6 – 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 11.9 – Arrive back at the Bear Rocks Trailhead and parking area.
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Reviews For The Dolly Sods North Hike (5 Most Recent)
This hike is absolutely amazing and I would recommend it to anyone. But be advised, a 6-hour hike isn't for everyone and if you include the time it takes to got to the Dolly Sods and back, you are looking at a full day. Perhaps I got lucky, but I navigated using the directions provided (which are very comprehensive, thank you for posting them), and had no issues at all. I was a little concerned after some of the other reviews talked about how confusing the trail can be and how people got lost, but I found the trail well maintained and well signed. The only point I missed in the entire hike was the "spring" (hose), but I could have easily simply not noticed it.
Date of Hike: Saturday, September 10, 2016
Such a unique and amazing place. blueberries, spruce, bogs feels like your hiking in the midwest or alaska somewhere. Not just hiking through a tree tunnel to a lookout. Great views all the time. Really can't say enough.
Date of Hike: Saturday, August 27, 2016
Like most have said, this is tricky to navigate but so worth it! Beautiful views and some really great campsites. I used hiking upward's trail description as my main guide and it was fairly comprehensive, but as a representative at REI told us "get comfortable with uncertainty" in this area. A couple of important things if you are attempting to hike:
Rocky Ridge: Up until this point the trail is very clear, but once you hit Rock ridge the trail definitely becomes difficult to navigate. Even with our trusty dog's nose we got lost about halfway through the trail, where it turns slightly right towards the cliff edge. Somehow we got turned in towards the trees and did a bunch of backtracking until we decided to just bushwhack in the general direction of the trail using our compass. Got a few scratches, but we ended up on the trail in about 10 minutes! Trust your gut in this area, and rely on your compass. I'd definitely recommend a hand-held GPS since the cairns are hard to decipher from the boulders :)
Dobbin Grade: This was fairly easy to navigate, except for just after you cross one of the small streams (I believe it's one of the red creek crossings). You will come down the hill about 1.5-2 miles after turning off of Rocky Ridge, and pass a few great campsites on your left just up the creek bank. About 100 feet from the creek there is a junction that is not described in the notes. TAKE A RIGHT - we took a left thinking it was Raven Ridge and ended up following a footpath into a boggy meadow, and were back to bushwhacking. There are some awesome wooded-campsites on this left junction, but not any trail that we could find. After you take the right, you'll hit the spring and then Beaver Trail after about a mile or so.
Raven Ridge: The left onto Raven Ridge is well-marked with signage, but we were hiking quickly to avoid a storm and walked past it accidentally. Turned out to be a good thing! About 50 feet from the raven ridge turnoff on Dobbin Grade there is a creek where you can fill up your water, although expect some sediment. It's a good fill-up if you missed the spring like we did!
If you plan to use the creek water - BRING A PUMP! We made the mistake of bringing a steripen/iodine tablets, which killed off any harmful bacteria but didn't get rid of all the narsty sediment. Pump is essential. We also didn't have any issues with bears, although I assume because there were so many people camping out and making noise. May still want a bear-hang just to be safe from the ground critters.
Hope this helps! Sorry for the imprecise mileage, we didn't have any odometer or GPS to track.
Date of Hike: Friday, July 15, 2016
We attempted o kike this very trail using the map and text laid out as our main source of navigation. It seems that every left listed on here was backwards and should have been a right. In the section where it mentions its difficult to navigate, you are right. Very difficult and we felt uneasy about it at times. There comes a section near the 5 mile mark, you have hop on and navigate some pretty big/tough rocks and its very hard to figure out where to go. The cairs weren't always reliable. At that point we turned around and doubled back and didn't do this full trail.
Also, there is no mention of the 1 mile section on Durbin Creek Trail that is really bad mud bogs. At one point I fell in a butt high bog that without someone with me to take off my pack I wouldn't have been able to free myself (or it would have been very hard).
All in all, the hike was GEORGOUS! We ended up hiking 16.5 miles in two days which wasn't bad and we enjoyed all of it but the two things mentioned above!
Date of Hike: Sunday, March 27, 2016
Did this one this past weekend and really enjoyed the area. Despite the lack of elevation change, it still holds some really great views throughout. The trail was really wet and muddy despite the lack of rain recently. It seems like this is just almost always the case due to the ecosystem in Dolly Sods, so expect a wet, sloshy trail in a lot of parts even when it hasn't rained for days.
There are great camping options all over, seemingly at every mile of the whole loop. Walking through the open meadows in early Spring was a truly enjoyable time. I'd recommend this trip for beginner backpackers since there really aren't any steep sections of the trail, it is pretty well marked with signs at almost every trail junction, and there's no shortage of campsites (at least at this time of year). 5/5 for the fact that you can hike through pretty much every type of ecosystem in the mid-Atlantic in one day.