West Virginia - Bear Rocks Preserve

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I couldn’t venture into the Dolly Sods Wilderness area—or travel to West Virginia for that matter—without including a visit toBear Rocks Preserve, one of the state’s most iconic lookout points. To a time advantage, I chose to start my backpacking loop from Bear Rocks Trailhead, in the northeast corner of Dolly Sods, which neighbors Bear Rocks.

The road to the trailhead goes straight passed the dirt parking area for Bear Rocks Preserve, via Forest Service Road 75 (GPS Location: 39.07300°N 79.298°W). From there, I parked and took a short hike through stunted red spruce and huckleberry shrubs, then slowly worked my way across the huge Dalmatian-spotted sandstone boulders that form a ridgeline that points north along the eastern edge of the Dolly Sods plateau. There are no official trails in Bear Rocks preserve, but a local from Thomas told me that I could hike from 5 minutes to 40 minutes to reach the end of the rocks (one-way).

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Protected by the Nature Conservancy, the 477-acre subalpine environment is covered in heath barrens: a smattering of windswept shrubs and grass and otherwise limited vegetation. Close to a century ago, deforestation (caused by logging) and fires damaged the region’s ecology. The goal of the Conservancy is to restore the natural habitat with efforts that have included planting red spruce trees, as well as acquiring more than 6,000 acres of the northern section of the Dolly Sods Wilderness area, in the 1990s.

I didn’t need to scramble very far to reach the famous landmark, which is located on the south side of the spine and east side of the ridge. The short jaunt also didn’t require much effort. I soaked up the crest’s stunning views: an ocean-colored sky was riddled with bulbous white clouds with slices of ethereal light. To the east were wavering layers of the mountains in Shenandoah National Park. I had totally lucked out with the weather! I wish I had set aside enough time to traverse across the ridge to the end of the cropping. It’s certainly on my list for next time.

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