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)
I did this as a two day backpack, because I only arrived at the trailhead around 2pm. It was COLD, and super foggy. 24 degrees at the trailhead, and on the bluff halfway down TR522, the temp read 9 degrees with a serious breeze. I found a beautiful snowy campsite hidden amongst some pines, and enjoyed my night thoroughly out of the breeze.
I awoke to a huge melt around 3am, and by noon it was 50 degrees. The sign at the trailhead says there can be big weather changes -- it ain't wrong! I ended up in my base layers for the entire afternoon, down from my nearly full winter kit.
*Note* the spring with the hose attached was bone dry. I planned to use that as a refill, but there was a dry hose and lots of beer cans and garbage around the spring. I filled up in the creek instead, but just important to note.
The bogs were most frozen, which was nice until the melt had me break through a bunch. Some of the iced over river beds are all kinds of treacherous.
I did not see a single soul in the 28 or so hours I was there. Beautiful trail.
Hans und Heidi
Date of Hike: Thursday, October 02, 2014
See our review for the Forks of the Red Creek, on the next day.
We finally timed it right here for the fall colours. This is our sixth time here in 3 years. We are still late by a week this time, but it was spectacular, and unlike anywhere else in the world. We took 8 hours for this 12 mile hike, and would have taken forever if reality did not push us along to finish. West Virginia, Almost Heaven ??? Go see the Dolly Sods in fall colors and you're sure to see Heaven on earth.
Date of Hike: Thursday, May 15, 2014
Finally made it to Dolly Sods after many failed attempts. Parked at the Red Creek Campground area and hiked down Blackbird Knob (TR511). It had rained nearly 3 inches and was still raining like crazy, off 3 friends and myself went! WATERPROOF boots are required needless to say. ASOLO was my choice and they worked perfect with some gaiters as well. We made it to Red Creek and set up camp. Lots of camping spots along creek-get creative in finding firewood! Red Creek was raging and not passable. We set up next to a small water fall that looked like Niagara Falls. Managed to start a fire some how and dried out what clothes we could. The creek came up about an additional foot that night. This place is beautiful even in the rain. The next day we had some clearing and the views were amazing, had to fjord a few small streams-CHALLENGING! We will be returning soon for an extended hike-minus the rain I hope. The NORTH SODS is much like a Canadian environment, beautiful and a most see.
Date of Hike: Sunday, October 27, 2013
Went out this past weekend for an overnight trip in Dolly Sods. Truly incredible hike that instantly became one of my favorite places within reach from DC-if not my #1. While I missed all the fall leaves by about two weeks (there was actually snow in most places) that made it no less enjoyable. Strongly recommended-while there are many spectacular hikes in the GWNF or SNP many boast similar scenery-Dolly Sods is in a league of its own with its unique landscapes.
No idea why this is a 2 for camping I'd give it a 5- there are easily double digit sites to chose from, many off little side paths. There are a couple within the first mile by the creek, a handful on bear rocks/raven ridge either out in the open or in the pine groves and there are many on 524 along the east side of the trail. so many options! Take some extra time on TR 524 to explore the rock outcroppings. I extended the loop by going to blackbird knob (TR511) and coming back on that (some truly great sites there, especially down by the first creek crossing), it was still muddy in places but didn't seem to be quite as bad as people describing dobbin grade trail. bring gaiters!
A final added bonus was that in covering 15 miles or so on the second day I only ran into 1 other group on the trail-really felt like I had the place to myself.
Date of Hike: Saturday, October 26, 2013
Dolly Sods is as usual, incredible. I went there on Saturday, expecting a normal, boggy hike and was pleasantly surprised to see snow on the way up. Right at the final entrance to Dolly Sods (on the north side) there was a park service survey team. I have a feeling that we were very lucky, and had the snows been any worse, Forest Road 79 would have been closed for the season. Fortunately it was not, the road was clear (except it was SIGNIFICANTLY more rough than the last time I went on it), and was able to park right across from the entrance to Bear Rocks trail. It was packed for Dolly Sods this past weekend- there were a lot of people hiking (I must have come across at least 20) - but you were still able to get the "I'm by myself feel" most of the time that makes the hikes here special. The hike was particularly nice because for the most part the ground was frozen- so most of the boggy parts were not too bad. The Red Creek Campground area was particularly gorgeous this weekend. Dolly Sods is still one of my most favorite places to hike- where else can you really get a hike that isn't really mountain hiking but also still has the views that it does. That said- if you haven't been there it is wise to at least go with one person. While the trail markings are much better than they used to be (in the past they weren't marked at all) there are still places that, due to the weather, sometimes the signs get knocked down or twisted. Keep in mind that Dolly Sods is a huge place- and it can be easy to get off the trail- and in the deeper areas of the park you do not get the benefit of obvious landmarks that you can expect from other hikes that are closer to civilization. GPS and cells in my experience for the most part do not work here in the deeper portions of the park. I only know of one easy landmark (and this is if your lucky) on the north side of the Bear Rocks Trail to the north you can see the plume from the Mount Storm Coal Power plant.. So always have ample water, a flashlight, some sort of noise maker, some food, waterproof footwear, a hiking partner, as well as a map to help you get your bearings. Aside from that, this is about as perfect a hike as you can get. If you want something that is a little more unique than your everyday hike, I strongly encourage you to check out ALL the Dolly Sods hikes (There are many different ones) and many have different things to offer.