Dolly Sods Wilderness & Scenic Area

Dolly Sods, located in the Monongahela National Forest, is an area of high-elevation wind-swept plains on the Allegheny Plateau. The area contains Dolly Sods Wilderness, Dolly Sods Scenic Area, and Flatrock and Roaring Plains. The area is well known for its extensive rocky plains, upland bogs, and sweeping vistas. With the elevations in this part of West Virginia ranging from 2,600 feet to over 4,000 feet, the climate and plant life resembles northern Canada. It is a unique 'island' of wild country surrounded by Appalachian hardwood forests. Unusual plant communities are one of the attractions of the Sods.

Sphagnum bogs, groves of wind-stunted, one-sided red spruce and twisted yellow birch, heath barrens, grassy sods, rhododendron and laurel thickets, and rocky barren plains invite exploration and provide an endless variety of vistas. The highest areas are covered with heath barrens, where azaleas, mountain laurel, rhododendron and blueberries seldom grow taller than chest high. These plants provide a fantastic floral display from May through July. Cranberries and the insect-eating sundew plant flourish in the bogs of floating sphagnum moss found in shallow depressions. Northern hardwood forests and laurel thickets are found at lower, more sheltered locations while boulder fields are common on the high elevation plains and near the Allegheny Front.

The Allegheny Front is the eastern continental divide. Water flowing west drains into the Ohio River, Mississippi River and finally ends up in the Gulf of Mexico. Water flowing east drains into the Potomac River then into the Chesapeake Bay. This "Front" forms the eastern edge of the Allegheny Plateau and greatly affects weather patterns in the area. Most precipitation falls west of the Allegheny Front while the east side is in the rain shadow and receives relatively little precipitation.

This landscape is the result of geographic isolation caused by the high mountains and man's attempts to tame this rugged area. The earliest written record of what the area was like is found in Thomas Lewis' diary of 1746. Lewis was a surveyor establishing the limits of Lord Fairfax's Virginia estate.

In the mid-1800's, the Dalhe family used the open grassy areas which they called 'Sods' for grazing sheep. Their German name became the present name "Dolly" of the "Dolly Sods." Grazing continued on the Sods until the late 1970's.

In the late 1880s, railroad logging made the spruce and hemlocks accessible and the huge trees, some up to 12 feet in diameter, were cut down. The seven to nine foot deep humus layer covering the forest floor dried out once the protective tree cover was gone. Sparks from railroad locomotives or logger's warming fires easily ignited this layer. Fires ravaged the area, burning everything down to the rocks underneath. The grassy plains along the Allegheny Front gradually extended into the devastated areas.

Congress created the Monongahela National Forest in 1920. In the next two decades, much of the Sods were purchased and the Forest Service and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) began to reforest the area. The current road system and 700 acres of red pine and red spruce plantations were established in the 1930's as part of the conservation efforts.

During World War II, Black Bird Knob and Cabin Mountain were used as artillery targets by the U.S. Army. Munitions from those exercises can still be found in some areas. If one is found, DO NOT TOUCH IT. Report it to the District Ranger in Petersburg.

Old mortar shells from military exercises during World War II are occasionally found in the Wilderness and Scenic Area. They should be considered extremely dangerous. If one is found, DO NOT TOUCH. They are unstable and may explode. Report it to the District Ranger in Petersburg.

Dolly Sods Wilderness Trails
The Dolly Sods Wilderness, designated in 1975, is an area set aside to allow natural forces to take their course. Ultimately, this area may return to the primitive conditions observed by Thomas Lewis. Its 10,215 acres are a mecca for backcountry lovers. The primitive trails are not designed nor maintained for the casual hiker; they are rough, sometimes steep and rocky, and often have very few markings or blazes. TheWilderness is an easy place to get lost.

Trails within the Dolly Sods Wilderness are blazed infrequently and signs are only found at trail junctions. There are no bridges crossing Red Creek or its tributaries. Hikers must ford the creeks. At high water times, hikers will have to alter their travel plans.

Motorized vehicles, bicycles, and other wheeled vehicles ARE NOT ALLOWED in the Wilderness.

The Dolly Sods Wilderness is comprised of northern hardwood forests and laurel thickets at the lower elevations, while red spruce and heath barrens are found at the higher elevations. Bogs, beaver ponds, and rocky barrens are found throughout the area. The headwaters of Red Creek are found in this area.

Red Creek Trail is the longest and most heavily used trail in the Wilderness.This trail connects the north and south boundaries and is rocky and wet with a fewshort, steep sections. Hikers must ford Red Creek twice.

Little Stonecoal Trail connects Red Creek with Dunkenbarger Trail and thehigh plateau. This old railroad grade climbs steadily out of the Red Creek canyon. Thetread is wet and rocky in places.

Dunkenbarger Trail connects little Stonecoal and Big Stonecoal Trails. Thisfairly level trail crosses Dunkenbarger Run several times and the tread is wet androcky.

Big Stonecoal Trail connects Red Creek with Breathed Mountain Trail. Thejunction with Rocky Point Trail is halfway. This is a steep climb and the tread is wetand rocky.

Rocky Point Trail connects Red Creek to the mid-point of Big StonecoalTrail. This fairly level trail skirts around the edge of Breathed Mountain and isextremely rocky!

Breathed Mountain Trail rises abruptly from the west side of Red Creek andlevels off on the plateau. It connects Red Creek with Big Stonecoal Trail. The tread iswet and rocky.

Fisher Spring Run Trail descends steeply from Forest Road 75 to Red Creek.This trail is washed out in places resulting in a rough tread.

Wildlife Trail is an old road that connects Forest Road 75 with RohrbaughPlains Trail. This trail has a gradual grade and is . wet during the spring and fall.

Rohrbaugh Plains Trail connects Forest Road 19 to Fisher Spring Run Trail.The tread is very rocky, wet and can be a challenge to follow.

Dolly Sods Scenic Area
The Dolly Sods Scenic Area was created in 1970 to protect the unique scenic qualities of the area north of Forest Road 19. Today, approximately 2,000 acres along Forest Road 75 are managed by the U.S. Forest Service as a scenic area. The Dolly Sods Scenic Area is the most accessible and most visited part of the Sods. Berry picking, hunting and sightseeing are popular pastimes here. Forest Road 75 crosses the Scenic Area from south to north.

Towards the south end of the Scenic Area, the landscape is more forested with occasional openings or vistas. The Overlook gives visitors sweeping views of the North Fork Valley 3,000 feet below. The Northland Loop Trail is a 1/2 mile nature trail that introduces visitors to bogs, barrens and berries.

Just north of Red Creek Campground is another overlooks Here, every August and September, volunteers count and band thousands of birds as they migrate over the Allegheny Front.

At the north end, the often photographed Bear Rocks continues to inspire visitors as they did Thomas Lewis in 1746.

Flat Rock & Roaring Plains
Fewer people visit this area compared to the Wilderness. Although wilderness is supposed to provide solitude for the visitor, Dolly Sods can feel pretty social. Flatrock and Roaring Plains is a sensible alternative for those who really want some solitude.

The Flatrock and Roaring plains provide bogs, berries and windswept plains similar tothose found in the Wilderness. The trails in this area are marked with blue blazes andsigns are found at all trail junctions. Horses may be encountered on some of thesetrails.

Weather can change suddenly. Storms can be severe and life threatening. Dense fog settles in the high areas without warning and causes even the most experienced hiker to become disoriented. The fierce winds that stunt vegetation also speed up heat loss, making temperatures feel much colder. Be prepared for wet weather, freezing conditions and travel delays any time of the year.

South Prong Trail leaves Forest Road 19 and follows the South Fork of RedCreek. It climbs to the top of the Allegheny Front where it meanders through the RedCreek Plains on its way back to Forest Road 19. Overlooks to the east and west arefound along this trail. The tread is rocky and wet. (6 miles)

Boar's Nest Trail climbs out of the South Fork of Red Creek drainage to theFlatrock Plains where views of Dolly Sods Wilderness can be seen. Hikers willencounter northern hardwood forests, laurel and rhododendron thickets, as well as bogsand blueberries. The tread is wet in places. (2.5 miles)

Roaring Plains Trail passes through tunnels of laurel thickets and patches ofred spruce on its way to the plains. A seemingly constant wind roars over the heathbarrens and bogs covering the plains. Nice floral displays occur in June and July. Thistrail is rocky and wet. (3.5 miles)

Flatrock Run Trail climbs 2,200 feet from the Red Creek Valley to theRoaring Plains and Mt. Porte Crayon. The trail follows Flat Rock Run through ahardwood forest before switching back several times to reach the windswept plains.This trail is steep and wet. (5 miles)

Traveling to Dolly Sods is not easy. Forest Roads 75 and 19 are graveled, narrow and rough. Heavy traffic and dusty conditions can be encountered on many weekends.

From Petersburg: Follow State Route 42 north to Jordan Run Road. Turn left onto Jordan Run Road and proceed approximately five miles to Forest Road 75. Turn right and go four miles to the Dolly Sods Scenic Area.

Follow State Routes 23 and 55 south to Jordan Run Road. Turn right and go one mile up Jordan Run Road to Forest Road 19. Turn left and follow Forest Road 19 six miles to the Dolly Sods Scenic Area.

From Canaan Valley: Follow Route 32 south to the Laneville Road. Turn left and follow the Laneville Road ten miles to the Dolly Sods Scenic Area. Before reaching the Scenic Area, the road passes several trailheads and the Dolly Sods Picnic Area.

Forest Roads 75 and 19 are not plowed. Winter travel is not recommended. The Laneville Road (State Route 45) is plowed from State Route 32 to Red Creek.

Hiking, biking, riding trails at: Pheasant Mountain . . . Clear-cuts and lots of "motorized access;" Mt. Canaan. . . Interesting high plateau; Horseshoe Run Area . . . Pretty area, pleasant trails.

History: Civil War Auto Tour, Fort Summit, Camp Allegheny

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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