The Dolly Sods Wilderness
area is a slice of Eastern Canada, unexpectedly found smack in the middle of the Allegheny Mountains. This route combines several unique trails, each with their own flavor that marks the uniqueness of these highlands.
Bear Rocks Trail
takes the runner on a wonderful singletrack through open fields, a minor river crossing, and some minor forest groves. The elevation gain in this section is minor and great for families.
Next, tackle Raven Ridge Trail
, heading west, traversing through open grasslands as it climbs westward to a ridge line overlooking Canaan Valley.
The aptly named Rocky Ridge Trail
is next. Here, follow the ridgeline south with tremendous views of Canaan Valley and the two local ski resorts; also wind your way through impressive wind-blown sandstone rock formations that turn the trail into something more akin to a sandy beach.
At the halfway point, or near enough, turn back east on Dobbin Grade Trail
, which has impressive wetlands and portions of dense pine forest. Finish up by taking Raven Ridge Trail
north and joining up with the original Bear Rocks Trail
to the trailhead.
Note: Looking at a map it may appear to make more sense to follow Dobbin Grade Trail
to its terminating point, which is closer to the trailhead than Raven Ridge Trail
. However, Dobbin Grade Trail
has sections that are more of a bog than a trail, and in truth, the trail disappears entirely in sections. If you want this type of muddy adventure, just be prepared to bushwhack a bit and expect ankle to shin deep mud in spots as well as a stream crossing that is best done barefoot.
The Dolly Sods area ranges from 2,500 to 4,700 feet above sea level. Freezing temperatures can occur anytime of the year. Snow can be expected anytime from October through April. Forest Roads are not maintained during the winter.
There are no blazes on any trail. Rather, there are periodic (perhaps sporadic) wooden sign posts that mark all trail intersections.
This loop includes Dobbin Grade Trail
, a boggy trail that can be up to your knees after heavy rainfall. Potentially can make staying dry difficult. Be aware when running in cold weather.
Adventure begins with the drive to the trailhead itself on a winding dirt road through seemingly endless pine forest. Depending upon which side of Dolly Sods you are coming from, this may be 45 minutes or longer on unpaved roads. Finally, just before the trailhead, the road wanders uphill to a wide open, and extremely wind driven, expanse. It's mesmerizing your first time, and the run starts here at Bear Rocks trailhead.
First up is Bear Rocks Trail
, a 2.4-mile easy to moderate trail that wets the appetite for what is to come. The start itself probably has the best views, but the rest of the trail is also unique. Red Creek needs to be crossed at the 1.25-mile mark and immediately after is the only difficult elevation gain of the entire route, about 250 feet in half a mile, so doable for most. There is also a section with very dense ferns and even three-foot tall ant hills.
At 2.4 miles, the trail intersects with Raven Ridge Trail
. Here head west by bearing right. Raven Ridge Trail
is one of this Featured Run's highlights, it crosses through several long and wide open meadows with only spotted trees to break the views of the larger surrounding mountainsides. It is a great sight to see the singletrack trail carve its way though these meadows below as you crest a hill. Before the trail terminates, it also enters dense pine groves for a great change of pace.
Rocky Ridge Trail
is up next and begins at mile 3.9. Bear left and head south along the ridge line. There are wide and uninterrupted views along the trail of the valley to the west, and while the trail is correctly named, the rocks are bearable along the path. There are a few side excursions you can take and look for the unmarked spur around mile 4.1 that can take you to the ridge's westernmost point for a great view of the valley.
Soon, Rocky Ridge Trail
takes you further east away from the ridge line through an amazing section of sandstone rock formations. These curving and pitted rocks have been carved away by the almost constant high winds along the plateau. You can see evidence of this geology at work as the stone itself is turned to sand at your feet along the trail. The more adventurous can also do some minor rock scrambling in this area, too.
Dobbin Grade Trail
heads east starting at mile 6. Here, bear left to descend into a valley with the route taking you along what appears to be a stream bed. Getting onto this section of trail is the only confusing portion of the run. From mile 5.8 on, there are a few unmarked trails bearing the same direction as Dobbin Grade Trail
, don't take these, as eventually you'll run across proper signage marking the correct path.
This section of the run is all downhill, which is nice, but the bottom comes at a price as it can be very wet. There are a few nice opportunities to rest in this section, especially around the 7.75-mile mark as there is much more shade than earlier sections of Dobbin Grade Trail
At 8.9 miles, the runner has a choice to either continue through the muddy sphagnum bogs, or head north (left) onto a new section of Raven Ridge Trail
. Raven Ridge heads back uphill constantly for about 1.5 miles. It's not as steep as the earlier climb, but much longer and can be exhausting if you are not used to runs of this duration. Continuing on Dobbin Grade Trail
has its own challenges however, as one truly has to navigate muddy bogs where sections of the trail disappear entirely.
Assuming you choose Raven Ridge Trail
, the route opens up a bit again where the runner can enjoy more open meadow expanses that really don't get old. At the crest of the hill, bear right onto Bear Rocks Trail
and re-trace your last 2.4 miles to the trailhead.
There is a wide range of flora in the Dolly Sods Wilderness
, from bogs, to stunted spruce trees, and thousands of shrub brushes. With this and the large open expanses, many say the area has the look and feel of eastern Canada.
Dolly Sods is also known for its varied butterfly population. There is also a large black bear population, beaver, foxes, and more.
The area used to contain giant White Oak trees, almost as large as a giant Sequoia, but all were cut down during the period when logging was permitted.
During WWII, the US Army used the area to practice artillery and mortar ranging. Signs warn visitors not to touch any found ordinance as it may still be live.
Wikipedia has more information on this truly fascinating tract of land here