Dolly Sods Wilderness
Davis, West Virginia
Guest hiker Chip takes "Hoyt" the log for a ride.
09/2002 - by Dana Farnsworth, Outdoor Travels
This is the second year for Christopher and I turning a "Rafting The Gauley River" trip into a rafting and backpacking long weekend. This year I invited a friend (Chip) from work along for our long raft and backpack weekend. After rafting the Gauley, we spent a night camping at our white-water outfitter's campground, woke up early and started the drive to Dolly Sods. We stopped briefly at the New River Gorge Visitor's Center on SR 19 for a very nice view of the New River Gorge Bridge and it's surrounding mountains.
It was another beautiful early fall day shaping up, with temperatures forecast in the mid-eighties with plenty of sun, we were excited as we parked at the Red Creek Trail-head. After repacking our backpacks and a quick group picture, we were off. Red Creek Trail wanders most along the banks of Red Creek, occasionally wandering up into a thickly wooded hillside. Excited to be back into the woods, I set a faster than normal pace for us to follow. We all enjoyed the view of Red Creek with rolling mountains framing the view. West Virginia hasn't received much rain this particular summer, so Red Creek was running fairly low. This meant that the expected stream crossings would be a fairly dry affair. We hiked around 3.6 miles on Red Creek Trail before crossing the creek and heading up Rocky Point Trail.
Red Creek Trail had been split between a level grade trail early on and a short climb with a descent back to Red Creek as we neared the junction of Rocky Point Trail. Rocky Point Trail would have us climbing up to the higher elevations of southern Dolly Sods.
Rocky point is a well-named trail. It's surface is just that, rocky. Watching your footing is very important here, as we all learned a few times. Early on, our guest, Chip, took the point hiking position. He mentioned that he wasn't sure if he could keep up our pace or not. I really didn't mind if he did, as I was actually looking forward to slowing down a little. Well, Chip had been preparing very well for our hike and soon was burning our butts up a hefty climb like a mountain goat that chugged a two-liter of Mountain Dew. By the time Christopher and I reach the top of our first climb, Chip was sitting on a log, looking fresh, waiting on us. Thankfully, the first strenuous stretch of climbing was our last. The rest of our 2.4 miles on Rocky Point Trail consisted of mild rocky grades. Towards the top of Rocky Point, we were treated to a very nice over-look of the surrounding mountains. Christopher did a little rock scrambling off the right side of the trail and discovered an even better view that I think not too many people discover. After many photos and some discussion about the stability of a rock I was previously standing on, we were back on the trail.
At the end of Rocky Point Trail is the junction with Big Stone Coal Trail. At this point, we continued along Big Stone Coal to our campsite. It's during this time, when we had reached a higher elevation, that the uniqueness of Dolly Sods began to show. We passed a picturesque waterfall on our left that was barely trickling water as compared to the last time I had seen it two years ago in the early spring. The terrain changed; spruce trees became more prevalent and lush beds of Martian green colored moss started dotting the banks of white sand streams that are lined with tiny white pebbles. I stopped to take a few photos of the picturesque creek. With its sandy banks and a blue sky reflecting in its tea colored, tannin stained water; it looked as if it was lifted from a glossy wildlife calendar.
Our campsite would lie about one-tenth of a mile on Big Stone Coal from the junction of it and Dunkenberger Trail. After passing the sign for Dunkenberger and hiking the tenth of a mile, we went off-trail to our right and crossed the stream. There we found two well used campsites. The sites were quite nice. Water access was only a short walk away.
While Christopher, Chip and I were unpacking and setting up camp, Christopher and I decided to unveil the practical joke we had already played on our first-time-backpacking guest, Chip. First I must tell you that we had previously had some fun teasing Chip about his giant inflatable bed roll that actually was about as large as his pack, as well as a giant street light type lantern he had also packed around.
Okay, so back to the joke. I began a conversation with Christopher within earshot of Chip that went something like this:
Me: "Hey Christopher, you know, I really didn't feel like lugging the couple pieces of firewood that we normally bring along to start the fire with."
(We actually have NEVER carried firewood)
Christopher: "Yeah, I know, I didn't feel like it either." (laughing) "I guess we could have asked Chip to carry it."
Me: (laughing) "Yeah, I didn't really think of that."
Christopher: "Hey Chip, would you have carried a couple pieces of firewood, if we would have asked you too?"
Chip: "There's no way I would have carried firewood."
Christopher: "Well, I guess that's why we DIDN'T ask."
Chip: (chuckling) "Oh"
Me: "You didn't get that did you?"
Christopher: "That's why we DIDN'T ASK."
Me: "He STILL doesn't get it."
I then walked over, unzipped his sleeping bag compartment to reveal a healthy two-pound log that Christopher and I had so carefully hidden there that morning!
Chip: "YOU SONS OF.. You got me pretty good!"
I must have laughed a good minute. Seeing as Chip had taking this log on a nice tour of Dolly Sods on this hot early fall day, I decided to name his new "pet log". Hoyt was to be Chip's new "pet log's" name. He later gave Hoyt a funeral pyre, but not before we had a few good laughs and took a few pictures. I think I'm lucky Chip didn't beat Christopher and me to a pulp with Hoyt.
After a nice dinner Chip enjoyed some bourbon and Christopher and I enjoyed some red wine, sitting around Hoyt's pyre. At one point I looked up and it appeared as if Christopher had a leach on his face. As it turned out, he was wearing about half of the soot from the fire. I didn't realize Hoyt wanted his ashes scatter on Christopher's face.
It was a very mild evening, so Christopher and decided to test his Sierra Design tent in its footprint and rain-fly only configuration. It provided very adequate shelter, and if packed alone would be a significant reduction in pack weight. I wouldn't be surprised if Christopher uses it more in this style in the future.
After sleeping in until about 7:00am we got up after an incredibly quiet night. As we leisurely started packing up camp, I fried some bacon for some breakfast sandwiches. After breakfast we headed back down the short stretch of Big Stone Coal, back to the junction of it and Dunkenberger Trail. Dunkenberger is a very nice trail, with fields of green ferns blanketing the thick forest's floor. The trail is mostly flat and winds through mountain laurels, pines and wetland bogs.
Giant cairns marked the junction of Dunkenbarger with Little Stone Coal Trail. As we wound our way back down to Red Creek, we once again had to watch our step in certain sections of the trail. Rocky, slick and uneven all describe this trail. As the late morning sun filtered through the tall pines, we could hear a waterfall off to our right. It was pretty far over a steep embankment that none of us wanted to try to descend to take a better look.
We reached Red Creek, made a dry crossing and was back on Red Creek Trail for the last half mile of our hike.
This loop is an excellent loop for a one-night hike that requires an early exit the second day from the woods. This hike would actually be a very feasible day hike also.
Trail(s) Hiked: (loop) In: Red Creek Trail to Rocky Point Trail to Big Stonecoal Trail; Out: Big Stone Coal Trail to Dunkenbarger Trail to Little Stone Coal Trail to Red Creek Trail
Distance Covered: 9.6 Miles
Outdoor Travels Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Backpacks
- Dolly Sods provides an ever-changing palette of scenery. A number of loop hikes make it convenient for one-car hikes too.
- Difficult to find suitable firewood around some of heavily used campsites.
- Dolly Sods, once devoid of trail signs now sports them at junction points.
- Putting a log in someones backpack's sleeping bag compartment is a pretty good joke.
- In good weather, sleeping under a tent fly/footprint configuration is very adequate as well as weighing much less than the full tent set-up.
Nuts & Bolts
Location: West Virginia's Tucker and Randolph counties
Size: 10,215 acres
From the East: Take WV 28/55 south out of Petersburg, WV. One mile past Smoke Hole Caverns, look for the brown Forest Service sign on the left side of the road pointing to the turn-off to the Wilderness area onto State Road 4 (also known as Jordan Run Road.) Follow the paved road steeply up a fold in the hills. At the first "S" turn in the road, look for the turn off for FS 19 on your left. It is signed and easily located. This will give you access to the southern part of the Wilderness area at it's intersection with FS 75. Or you can bypass the FS 19 turn off and continue on State Road 4, you'll arrive at the second access into the Wilderness at FS 75 after roughly 7 miles. The turn off is to your left with a church on the corner. This will give you access to the northern part of the Wilderness.
From the West: Take US Route 33 out of Elkins, WV for approximately 25 miles. At Harmon, take a left onto State Route 32. Follow Route 32 north to State Road 45 (Laneville Road.) Turn right and follow SR 45 ten miles to the Dolly Sods Scenic Area. At Laneville and the boundary of the National Forest, SR 45 becomes FR 19. Major parking areas are located at Laneville and Red Creek Campground.
- 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.
Activities: hiking, berry picking, hunting and sightseeing
Admission: currently none
Contact: United States Forest Service, Box 1548, Elkins, WV, 26241 (304) 636-1800
Maps & Stuff
Lots of great photos to give you a good idea of what hiking here is like!