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)
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.
Date of Hike: Thursday, October 15, 2015
I hiked this over the course of two days. What an incredible place! I went in mid-October hoping to catch some foliage but it was pretty much past peak. However the incredible scenery and terrain made the lack of foliage color a mute point because it was still so beautiful.
Most places in the east consist of woods and rocks. You suffer from what's called "The Green Tunnel" where you walk a lot through woods to perhaps catch a view here and there. On this hike almost everything has a view, whether it's the beautiful meadows with the mountains in the background or going through sections of woods or even walking along the ridge overlooking a valley. It reminded me of what it must be like to hike out west. I loved it! Ever changing terrain and scenery made it an incredible experience. Add to that is the immense options for camping. There are loads of pre-established campsites with a fire ring set up. In the 3 nights I camped I was able to build a fire 2 nights. My first night I came late so just hiked a half mile and camped off trail. The second night I camped in an incredible spot that had a beautiful view overlooking the Canaan Valley, complete with fire ring and rock chairs and there was even wood in the pit. Same with the third night except I was in the woods next to babbling brook.
It's important to dress for the weather. It was mid-October and quite sunny/mild the first two days but windy. The wind didn't stop for 3 days. Camping up on the ridge overlooking the valley seemed like a great idea but I woke up at 3 am to 50 mph gusts that threatened to rip my tent off the ground. Fortunately I have a great tent and there were lots of rocks to help anchor it but it made for an "interesting" experience. The wind never let up either and I made sure to camp in a "windless" section of woods on my 3rd night. During the day the temperatures were in the 50s-60s but dropped down to close to freezing at night. The last day I was there it was both snowing and blowing. Very exciting. I can only imagine what winter is like up there.
Another point is that I'd never, ever come here on a weekend if you are like me and desire any kind of solitude. I purposely hike midweek to avoid crowds and to hike and camp by myself. For me, camping is about getting away from people and communing with nature. On Wednesday I saw only a few other people in the parking lot before I set out and didn't see anyone all night. The next day (Thursday) I saw one other hiker and a group later in the afternoon. That was it. On Friday that all changed. I saw quite a few groups of hikers, especially in the later afternoon evening. I camped out next to the stream, right near the the trail..BIG MISTAKE. The campsite was awesome but there was a CONSTANT parade of people coming by. I even had a group come right through my campsite at 1:30 am. Another group at 2 am and then constant crowds (and I mean crowds) nonstop starting at 9 am. This is obviously a VERY well known and popular area to hike in. I can see why but I was amazed. It reminded me of Harriman State Park (which is 30 miles from New York City). I avoid going to Harriman on weekends because I like peace, quiet and solitude. I would never come back to Dolly Sods on a weekend but I'll be sure to come back midweek and do some exploring. I can see why it's so popular because it's a very unique place and not that difficult to hike so it's a great place for casual day hikers and families, of which there were tons of on Saturday. I definitely plan to come back in the spring..on a Monday or Tuesday.
Date of Hike: Sunday, August 23, 2015
I've done a lot of hiking in and around Shenandoah, so this was an awesome change of scenery. The fern fields, expansive meadows, and interesting rock formations make this hike a never-ending series of wonderful moments. It's not a strenuous hike, and my girlfriend and I were able to complete the entire thing, including lunch, in just under 6 hours. The whole time we were hiking, we were talking about how excited we are to come back in the fall when all the leaves are changing colors. There are also a ton of camp sites along the trail, so the next time I go I plan to backpack in a few miles, camp out, and then finish the hike the following day. It does get pretty boggy even before you have the option to return on trail 521 vs 526, so do expect to have some wet feet if you complete the whole loop (522->521->524->526->521->522). Enjoy!
Date of Hike: Thursday, July 23, 2015
Can anybody tell me if any of the trails are suitable for horseback riding and can you download the topo onto a garmin etrex 20 ?
Date of Hike: Thursday, July 16, 2015
Really nice hike with a wide variety of terrain and scenery. Enjoyed the open meadows and big sky vistas. Did this as a two day hike and camped near the left fork of Red Creek on the Dobbins Grade trail. First day was quite muddy but the hike down Dobbins Grade on the second day was a whole other ball game. At one point there were actually fish swimming down the trail. But in spite of the muddiness and puddle hopping it was a beautiful hike and well worth the wet feet. Ran into a couple of groups along the way but pretty much had the hike to myself.