Dolly Sods Circumnavigation
ElevationAscent: 2,478' 755 m
Descent: -2,481' -756 m
High: 4,128' 1,258 m
Low: 2,627' 801 m
GradeAvg Grade: 4% (2°)
Max Grade: 14% (8°)
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“A grand tour of all that Dolly Sods has to offer.”— Alex Lappert
Features Commonly Backpacked · Fall Colors · River/Creek · Spring · Swimming · Views · Waterfall · Wildlife
The Dolly Sods are some of the best backpacking grounds in the Eastern US. This is an intermediate/strenuous 25 mile loop. If backpacking (not running) I would probably plan on two full days of hiking at least, with an overnight in the neighborhood of Bear Rocks. Plentiful good camping spots allows for adapting it for up to 4 or 5 days.
No blazes. Know how to read a topographic map and compass, or bring a GPS and the Trail Run Project mobile app, or all three ideally.
As always, don't leave valuables in your vehicle.
Expect sudden changes of weather in the Sods. Even in summer be prepared for cool temps at higher elevation. The best part of the Sods is that you get to see a wide variety of ecosystems so be prepared for a range of temperatures and wind levels. Absolutely plan on getting wet. Even if it doesn't rain you'll be splashing through creeks frequently, and it can be boggy in unexpected places on the plateaus.
Starting off up Red Creek, you'll be going up a wide-track former logging road. This first leg of the trail was somewhat washed out, so you may need to hunt for the trail in places. Your first trail intersection will be a little less than a mile in, to your left on the west side of the Creek, Little Stonecoal Trail. After you pass the intersection, the trail will start to climb up to the right and hug the side of the hill.
About a mile after the intersection you'll intersect with Big Stonecoal Trail. The following 1.5 miles of trail will still be hugging the east bank of the creek, until you reach the intersection with Fisher Spring Run Trail 510 on the right. This is also the spot where Red Creek Trail crosses Red Creek. Take take a couple of switchbacks down to the bank, and there's great camp spots on both banks. Crossing the creek, you'll eventually intersect with Rocky Point Trail on the left, then later Breathed Mountain Trail, also on the left.
Red Creek has numerous waterfalls, but there are some really nice ones just north of this intersection, near its confluence with the Left Fork; perhaps best camping in the area can be found here. Keep going north along Red Creek Trail. You'll shortly make another crossing to the east bank, and start your climb up to Blackbird Knob. After about a mile, the trail will end and intersect with Blackbird Knob Trail.
Take a break to enjoy the view and savor the change in ecosystems. Note the difference between the lowland creek area and the more bald upland areas. Most of the northern sods will be more akin to taiga, with evergreens and other plants you'd expect to find much farther north.
After a rest, head east on Blackbird Knob Trail for about 0.3 mile and then take Upper Red Creek Trail heading north. After about a mile, the trail will start to descend and you'll cross the creek. On the other side intersect with Dobbin Grade Trail. Go right and east down Dobbin. Very soon you'll note the intersection with Raven Ridge Trail on the left. Continue on Dobbin, past its intersection with Beaver Dam Trail, until it dead-ends at the intersection with Bear Rocks Trail. Take a right and go east on Bear Rocks until you reach Bear Rocks.
After enjoying the views, head back the way you came down Bear Rocks Trail. Take the trail all the way until it dead ends at the intersection with Raven Ridge Trail. Very briefly go north along Raven, then turn left down Beaver View Trail.
Enjoy some views along Beaver View Trail, though disappointingly no actual beavers.
After about 1.2 mile, say hello again to Dobbin Grade Trail. Go right and west along Dobbin. After about 0.75 mile, there will be a creek crossing. Later, Dobbin will dead end and intersect with Rocky Ridge Trail. Go left and south down Rocky Ridge Trail, and enjoy yet more views. After a little less than a mile, note the intersection with Harman Trail to the left. About a half mile later, the trail will dead and intersect with Blackbird Knob Trail. Go right and south-southwest toward a trailhead area where you can pick up the Breathed Mountain Trail or Big Stonecoal Trail. Take Big Stonecoal Trail south and note the intersection with Dunkenbarger Trail at about 1.5 miles. After another 0.3 mile or so, find the interesction with Rocky Point Trail which will take you to Breathed Mountain and Lion's Head, a rocky crag overlooking Red Creek, the marquis scenic point in the Sods.
Head back down Rocky Point to Big Stonecoal, and go south. After a descent, find yourself back at Red Creek Trail. Cross the creek, turns west, and head back to the cars. Congrats, you've seen all the Sods have to offer!
Reminder: black bears call the Sods home, so exercise bear precautions.
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Land Manager: USFS - Monongahela National Forest Office
Feb 9, 2020: Update on Williams River Road Flood Repairs