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.
Interactive Hike Map BelowPrintable
Topo Hike Map (PDF)
Hike route in Drag the map with your mouse using the icon Zoom with the controls on the left
Mouse-over the icons in the map below for location shots
Calculate roughly how many calories you could burn on the Dolly Sods North hike:
Reviews For The Dolly Sods North Hike (5 Most Recent)
We did a part of this hike with my wife, teen daughter and her friend. It was a little early in the season so the colors trended towards browns and light greens but it was still beautiful. 75 was gated so we had to do the 1.2 mile hike up to the trailhead (it was open by the time we got back...not sure when and why they open it). We ended up only doing an out-and-back after losing the Rocky Ridge trail after some of the gorgeous first views. We teamed up with a backpacking pair to try to find it but struck out. They opted to keep bushwacking on the basic bearing but, since we were just dayhiking, we opted to retrace our steps out. Can't wait to go back with my other daughter for a 2 or 3 night trip.
Date of Hike: Sunday, April 09, 2017
Excellent views, unique landscape (looks like Alaska or Canada) and unique plants. We were walking across a spongy bog and looked down and saw cranberries underfoot. Millions of blueberry bushes. Tons of different types of mosses. Wear waterproof hiking boots and long pants to avoid the bushes scratching your legs. We were up here and saw *no one* in the 2 hours we spent here. Possibly because the gate for the road to access the park was closed a mile down the mountain. Weather was sunny and maybe around 70.
Warning: If you come in winter/early spring months, the access road (Fire Road 75) might be closed at the gate about a mile below the parking area, here: https://firstname.lastname@example.org,-79.2961623,55m/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en It was closed for us on April 9th. So we parked in the very limited parking areas (maybe dozen cars can fit) at the gate and hiked the remaining mile up the gravel road. Call the US Forest Service ahead of time to see if the road is closed: https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/mnf/conditions/?cid=FSM9_011223
Date of Hike: Sunday, November 06, 2016
Amazing hike! I did this as a solo overnight, and camped at the crossing of Left Fork of Red Creek at 6.5 miles. It was a great campsite, but cold down in the valley. It was 26 degrees when I got up this morning! I won't go into much more detail because everyone before has been very thorough in their descriptions. Just a couple of points.
I echo what Ryan said: your feet will get wet and muddy. There's no way around it. In fact, when I tried to find a way around it I sank knee-deep in muck! I'm going to start calling it Dolly Bogs. Light merino socks and quick drying trail runners are the ticket here. There are tons of amazing campsites through every section. If it's crowded, just keep going a little ways and you'll find something. I think the pvc pipe at the spring has been pulled out. I didn't see the flowing pipe, but at about where it should have been there was a 25-foot section lying below the trail. I had the PDF printout map and directions and I was fine, didn't get lost or confused once.
If you have never been to Dolly Sods, go! I've lived and hiked all over the country and this is one of the most beautiful and unique spots on the east coast. I would give it a 6 for views...views everywhere! And lots of nice easy watering spots. I carried two liters, but probably could have gotten away with one.
Date of Hike: Wednesday, November 02, 2016
This was my second time doing the hike. What a rewarding hike this is. I can't think of a better hike in the mid Atlantic. Both of my hikes have been done in the fall. Colors even this late in the year were amazing.
Date of Hike: Saturday, October 29, 2016
This is easily one of the most beautiful hikes I've done on the East Coast. We were admiring the beautiful landscape around us from the moment we parked our car on the side of Forest Road at the Bear Rocks Trailhead. I live in Washington DC and went to school in Harrisonburg, VA so I've spent a decent amount of time hiking Shenandoah and George Washington. The area offers many beautiful hikes, but Dolly Sods is one-of-a-kind compared to other hikes in the area...it has so many different personalities. You get rocky trails offering beautiful views of the Pines, 20 minutes later you're crossing a creek and winding your way up a trail thru the middle of the woods, as soon as you get used to that you pop out into a field which turns into a gorgeous meadow...it never ends. There are even some rock scrambles. This hike is 12 miles and took us almost exactly 6 hours to complete (with plenty of time for stopping to admire, take photos, eat, etc.) and we NEVER grew tired of the terrain because it is always changing. The one thing this hike lacks is the "overlook" that so many Virginia hikers are accustomed to (although you do get some nice higher-up views along the the Rocky Ridge Trail). Almost every Shenandoah hike leads you through the trees and out to an overlook with a gorgeous view, then it's back into the trees to make your way back to the car. This hike is different in the sense that I found myself admiring the view the entire time. If you have not done this hike and you're considering Dolly Sods North, stop your search and start planning this trip!
The directions/descriptions are very detailed and helpful, although we felt there were a couple of oddly phrased instructions (example: the word "tereminus." I had no idea what that meant bc it's not a word. I believe the person meant "terminus," in which case, why not just say "the intersection" or "the end of" ?) There was also an instance in the beginning of the hike where they describe "a nice campsite with slate chairs and a fire ring" as being "on the left" when you get to it...but it's actually on the RIGHT once you cross Red Creek and make your way up the path to the meadow and woods. These are minor complaints, but details that seem worth mentioning. Overall, the directions are awesome and we appreciated having them. While the trail itself is not blazed, there are frequent signs and trailmarkers throughout the hike to keep you on path.
Finally, make sure you wear some shoes/boots that you're ready to get DIRTY. There are a few portions of the trail where you're navigating through some serious mud/bog. Our shoes were caked by the time we got back to the car.
Overall, I love this hike and I'm already looking forward to returning to Dolly Sods and hopefully doing the full loop next year. Dolly Sods North is now my new favorite hike I've done in the Virginia/West Virginia, replacing Old Rag at the top of my list : )