Our Backyard: Dolly Sods Wilderness

See the wild side of West Virginia's best backcountry.
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See the wild side of West Virginia's best backcountry.
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OUR BACKYARD |
THE EXPERTS

1. Best views

See both the northern heath-padded plains and the piney southern forests from the aptly named Rocky Ridge Trail on an 11.5-mile out-and-back. Hike the northern perimeter and veer onto the ridge of 4,281-foot Cabin Mountain.

2. Top ridge walk

Take the Rocky Point Trail to the 3,700-foot southern end of Breathed Mountain. “From Rocky Point,” says Matthew Savener (below), “scramble to the summit for views of the Red Creek Valley and the wall-like Allegheny Front.”

3. Surest solitude

Find black bears and snowshoe hares (but few hikers) on the Big Stonecoal Trail, which runs the valley between Coal Knob and Breathed Mountain. Leave Red Creek, a popular out-and-back, and take the Breathed Mountain Trail to Big Stonecoal. Close the 11.8-mile loop back on Red Creek.



4. Favorite dayhike


See the highlights of the high country on the 10-mile lollipop across blueberry-rich meadows to 3,800-foot Breathed Mountain. Take Bear Rocks Trail to Rocky Ridge and Breathed Mountain Trails, then return on the Red Creek Trail.


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OUR BACKYARD |
THE EXPERTS

5. Best Campsite

The readers’ choice: a hidden tent site overlooking the Red Creek watershed and across to Breathed Mountain and Coal Knob. Hike to it: Go 2.6 miles up the Rohrbaugh Trail.

6. Best waterfall

The Sods’ busiest trail traces the banks of Red Creek—and shuffles hikers right past this off-trail secret. Johnson sneaks downstream .25 mile from The Forks (5.4 miles from SR 45), to the third set of falls, which overhang rock terraces. “You can walk underneath the cascade,” he says.

7. Coolest plant

The Drosera rotundifolia, aka the common sundew, ensnares insects by secreting sweet-but-sticky mucilage on moving follicles. Find tiny sundew trailside along beaver bogs on the Dobbin Grade Trail, three miles from the junction with the Bear Rocks Trail.

8. Best backpack

Circle the Sods on this

three-day, 24-mile grand tour. “You’ll pass giant boulders, open glades, and cross deep ravines,” says Johnson (below). Trail sequence: Bear Rocks, Raven Ridge, Rocky Ridge, Blackbird Knob, Big Stonecoal, Dunkenburger, Little Stonecoal, Red Creek, Dobbin Grade, and back to Bear Rocks.


9. History lesson

From the Raven Ridge or Bear Rocks Trails, scan the plains in any direction to spot craters made when the military used this area for artillery training during World War II. Trail signs warn of unexploded shells out there. Be careful off-trail.



OUR BACKYARD |
THE EXPERTS

Rich Johnson, 31, lives in Hartly, Delaware, but makes two trips to Dolly Sods each year, often with a backpacking greenhorn in tow. “Everyone I’ve taken gets hooked,” he says. “How could they not with such amazing scenery?” During winter, Johnson straps on snowshoes and a hardshell to traverse the wide-open, windswept balds on the plateau near Bear Rocks.

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Matthew Savener, 28, of Washington D.C., knows the very best view in the southern half of the Dolly Sods isn’t on the trail. “Look for cairns to the north of the Rocky Point Trail,” he says. “Climb over and around the big boulders to earn the true goal: unobstructed vistas from the southern shoulder of Breathed Mountain.”

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