The Dolly Sods Wilderness Experience

Updated on January 27, 2018

Hiking in the Dolly Sods Wilderness

According to, Dolly Sods is "arguably one of the most unique and beautiful hiking areas on the East Coast."

Its full name is the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area, encompassing 17,371 acres in the Monongahela National Forest located in Grant, Randolph and Tucker Counties, West Virginia. Dolly Sods is part of the National Wilderness Preservation System.

Valley View Trail -- Into the Dolly Sods Wilderness
Valley View Trail -- Into the Dolly Sods Wilderness | Source

Into the Wilderness

It was about an hour before sunset.

We knew we were going to witness a magnificent view. We were climbing from the road to a very high point in the Wilderness. The short climb was very steep—so steep that I had to climb sideways, setting my feet perpendicular to the slope. Slowly we reached the top and discovered Valley View Trail. We turned around and couldn't believe our eyes.

A beautiful broad expanse of the Canaan Valley opened up to our west. We could see for miles and miles.

Valley View Trail -- Into the Dolly Sods Wilderness
Valley View Trail -- Into the Dolly Sods Wilderness | Source

As we walked along Valley View Trail, the wonders of the Dolly Sods Wilderness landscape were everywhere to be seen—plush grasses along the trail, windswept stunted deciduous trees along with wind-formed spruce trees. Sweeping views. And then the rocks—piles of rocks and boulders on the crest of the ridge.

A Most Unusual Climate

What is it about Dolly Sods that forms its landscape? For starters, consider the climate—with 55 inches of rainfall and 155 inches of snowfall, there is plenty of moisture to feed grasses, shrubs, trees, and bogs. A fog can roll in so dense that you must be careful not to lose your way.

This rugged part of the Allegheny Plateau is at an elevation of 2600 to over 4700 feet. Be prepared for cold or chilly weather, even in the summer. These windswept landscapes include unusual and distinctive features such as high mountain bogs, sort of like northern muskegs: heath-like areas covered with blueberry bushes. Boulders are strewn across meadows with names like Roaring Plains. Plants and wildlife here are typical of more northerly locations in the U.S. and Canada.

Cairns Mark the Spot

As we carefully picked our way through the rocks, we came to a cairn of stones, an important-looking marker built by persons unknown. I believe the cairn was built to mark the way to another trail—the three-mile Rocky Ridge Trail, aptly named and one of the major mapped and marked trails through the wilderness.

Stone Cairn near Rocky Ridge Trail in the Dolly Sods Wilderness
Stone Cairn near Rocky Ridge Trail in the Dolly Sods Wilderness | Source

The sun was slowly setting as we retraced our steps. The sun, the clouds, the views, the experience -- it all combined to make this one of the most memorable short hikes of my experience.

What Is This Place Called Dolly Sods Wilderness?

My curiosity was piqued to such an extent that I did a bit of research on Dolly Sods.

It is a federally-designated Wilderness Area within the 921,000-acre Monongahela National Forest. It is named after a German homesteading family (Dahle). "Sods" is a mountain term for open mountain meadows.

Venable begins the booklet with a poem that for her captures the essence of Dolly Sods:

"Boulders that glisten

as white as snow,

spruce trees with wind-blasted

one-sided branches,

landscapes that resemble

the arctic tundra.

This is Dolly Sods,

one of West Virginia's

most unusual wilderness areas."

— from Norma Jean Venable, "Dolly Sods"

Her book offers a comprehensive guide to the history, climate, geology, forest, wildlife and birds, trees and vegetation to Dolly Sods.

What I particularly like in her book are the black and white detailed drawings by various artists of trees, plants, and wildlife, These will be very useful in identifying flora and fauna in your exploration. She even includes a detailed checklist that you can use to keep a record of what you have seen and identified.

Mapped Trails in Dolly Sods

According to the National Forest Service, the Dolly Sods Wilderness has 47 miles of trails. Many follow old railroad grades and logging roads. Some cross fords that present problems in high water. The Forest Service suggests a number of loop trails so you do not have to trek all 47 miles at once.

To find your way around in Dolly Sods, Norma Jean Venable's booklet (highlighted earlier) includes a map and detailed guides to its main trails and nearby flora and fauna. Remember though that her information was good as of 2001 when her guide was published. A long time has passed since then. Current wilderness boundaries and trails today are different.

Following is a complete list of Dolly Sods trails. There are 19 listed trails totaling 47.9 miles. This list comes from two sources:

Notice that Valley View Trail, the trail that inspired my Hub, is not included on this list. That may be because parts of it may not fall within the boundary of Dolly Sods.

Dolly Sods Wilderness Trails

Upper Red Creek**
Fisher Spring Run
Blackbird Knob**
Big Stonecoal
Red Creek**
Beaver Dam
Raven Ridge**
Bear Rocks**
Beaver View
Rocky Ridge**
Dobbin Grade**
Little Stonecoal
Breathed Mountain
Rocky Point**
Northland Interpretive
Sources: U.S.Forest Service, 2010, and HikingUpwards; -- REI's The Hiking Project features a 19.6-mile Dolly Sods Wilderness Trail that includes parts of the above trails marked with a double asterisk (**)

Hikers: Make Sure You Get the Latest Available Map

If you are planning a hike, I would make sure to get the latest maps available from the Forest Service. The designation of wilderness area property boundaries has expanded the area since the publication of Norma's booklet, and the number of designated trails has also grown.

REI's Hiking Project -- Dolly Sods Wilderness Trail and Virtual Hiking Tour

Another very useful hiking guide to Dolly Sods is the virtual hike presented by REI's Hiking Project.

Besides being an outfitter, REI sponsors the Hiking Project, with computer maps, apps, designated hikes all across the country, and virtual hikes, where you can watch a virtual hiker's trek across designated trails, with mileposts, all overlaid on topography.

Their virtual hike through Dolly Sods features:

  • a loop totaling 19.6 miles
  • an ascent and descent of 1410 feet
  • a high point of 4157 feet
  • a low point of 3360 feet

For me, 19.6 miles is much too much for a one-day hike that allows full contemplation of the flora, fauna, and views offered by Dolly Sods. In fact the Hiking Project offers this quote from hikers about the trek: “A great multi-night, long-weekend trip with amazing views and incredible changes in terrain.”

Hikers Beware! World War II Ordnance

Long before Dolly Sods was designated as a Wilderness Area, this area was used as a World War II-era bombing range. Warning signs are conspicuously posted near entrances to Dolly Sods. Even though it is said that the trail and a couple of hundred feet on either side have been surveyed and cleared of ordnance, be careful!

If you happen to find suspicious metal, avoid it!

Have you ever hiked into the Dolly Sods Wilderness?

See results

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 John Dove


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • John Dove profile imageAUTHOR

      John Dove 

      15 months ago

      Hi David--

      Many thanks for dropping by! Hiking in South Africa must be wonderful.

    • DaveOnline profile image

      David Edward Lynch 

      15 months ago from Port Elizabeth, South Africa

      This sounds like an interesting place to hike. I did a fair amount of hiking in the past but nothing major in the last few years. I live far away in the southern hemisphere so I probably won't get to hike there but enjoyed reading your article and like the photo's too.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)