Dolly Sods Wilderness - Hiking

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About

Summary

The crown jewel of the Monongahela National Forest has 17,371 acres, 47 miles of trails, and ecological diversity ranging from lush hardwood forests to bog and heath environs typical of Southern Canada.

Written by

Dylan Jones

Distance

47.0 miles

Dolly Sods contains 47 miles of trails that circumnavigate, circumvent, and connect all throughout the Wilderness area. Hikers should consult a trail map to choose a route that fits.

Destination Distance From Downtown

133.8 miles

Difficulty

3 of 5 diamonds

Terrain varies in elevation from 2,500 to more than 4,700 feet. Trails can be tricky to follow so take a map, and pay close attention throughout the hike. Hikers should expect rocky and muddy trails, high water crossings, large bogs, and false trails. Weather can change abruptly—heavy rain can cause water to rise rapidly in streams, and snow is possible at higher elevations October through April.

Time To Complete

1 days

Because of the variety of trailheads, destinations, and connectors, hikers can customize their experience. You can accomplish a simple and brief jaunt to an overlook in under an hour, or achieve a full-day epic via a loop or out-and-back.

Seasonality

All Seasons

A visit to the Sods during any season will reap bountiful rewards. Trails are open year-round, but Forest Roads are not maintained during winter. Spring is brilliantly rich and wet. Summer is lush with warm nights. Winter has snowshoeing opportunities galore. However, Dolly Sods is most popular in fall when the hardwood foliage and blueberry bushes explode with vibrant color.

Dog Friendly

On Leash Only

Fees Permits

Yes

If you are looking to camp, the only fee area in Dolly Sods is the Red Creek Campground on Forest Road 75. Sites are $11 a night as of 2015.

Review

Intro

The crown jewel of the Monongahela National Forest offers 17,631 acres and 47 miles of rugged trail to hikers and backpackers seeking a pristine Appalachian experience. Stunning mountain vistas, a variety of unique ecosystems, and the majority of the Red Creek drainage provide nature junkies the ecological immersion and solitude that only wilderness can provide.

What Makes It Great

The easily accessible Bear Rocks summit offers panoramic views of the Allegheny Mountains. But the true beauty of the Sods is best up close and personal. Throw on your boots and grab a pack for a day trip, and you won’t be disappointed. In a matter of an hour and a few miles, you can transition from barren, rocky outcrops and wind-blown red spruce stands to marshy heath bogs typical of more northern areas. After navigating the seemingly endless bogs, you’ll enter vibrant birch stands and lush hardwood forests along the deep, tannin-stained waters of Red Creek, where campsites, waterfalls, and swimming holes abound.

If you’re looking for mountain vistas and wind-swept plains, start at the Bear Rocks parking area. To indulge in the aquatic splendor of Red Creek, start from the trailhead at the lowest elevation of the wilderness area. If you like running shuttle and doing point-to-point hikes, this setup allows for one of the most unique hiking descents on the East Coast.

If you get energized by hardy weather, you’ll be electrified in the Sods. Conditions can change rapidly, and nighttime temperatures can hover around the freezing mark year-round. There may be snow in the Sods October through late May. Hiking across the frosted tundra into the lush rhododendron thickets alongside Red Creek after a late-May snowfall is a time-suspending experience.

The biodiversity of Dolly Sods teems with flora and fauna representative of both Appalachia and southern Canada. High altitude glades provide blueberry and elderberry thickets, as well as rare mosses and grasses. The forests clinging to the rugged topography of the Red Creek drainage are home to various woodland critters, including flying squirrels, white-tailed deer, and black bears.

Who is Going to Love It

Anybody with an appreciation for nature will be amazed by the pristine beauty of Dolly Sods. The Bear Rocks overlook and trailheads are easily accessible to beginning hikers and families via Forest Road 75. Seasoned hikers will enjoy navigating the challenging and rugged terrain in more remote sectors. Photographers flock to the Sods in fall to capture some of the most vibrant foliage in Appalachia.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

The Dolly Sods Wilderness is accessible year-round, but forest roads are not maintained during winter. For directions, please visit the USDA Forest Service site. 

Group size is limited to 10 people. There is no entrance fee. Dogs must be kept on a leash at all times. Camping and open fires are prohibited within 300 feet of Forest Roads 19 and 75. As with all federal wilderness areas, motorized vehicles are restricted to parking areas. The use of mechanical equipment is also prohibited. The use of stock is allowed, except at Red Creek Campground.

For more information contact the Cheat-Potomac Ranger District by phone at (304) 257-4488 Ext. 0.

Location

Dolly Sods Wilderness

39.066012, -79.301528

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