backpacking dolly sods

2 days in WV / monongahela national forest / july 4th

Joe, Charley, and I took our first backpacking trip over the 4th of July weekend in the Dolly Sods Wilderness of the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia.

We set off from the Red Creek trailhead and hiked in a little more than 4 miles, passing the Little Stonecoal and Big Stonecoal junctions along the way. We (accidentally) bypassed the Red Creek crossing and came upon a site overlooking a waterfall with a firepit and a few rock recliners. We decided this was our spot for the night and setup camp.

A group of hikers we met earlier on the trail told us about an “Olympic-sized swimming hole” up the trail past the Breathed Mountain Trail junction in an area called The Forks. After setting up camp, we planned to take an excursion to this so-called Olympic-sized swimming hole, so we set off on what we thought was the Red Creek Trail (spoiler: it wasn’t). We hiked for about a mile uphill taking a bunch of switchbacks before we realized we were actually on the Fisher Spring Run Trail, not the Red Creek Trail. We hiked back down to the site, took a breather, and then set back off on the real Red Creek Trail.

After losing about an hour on our unintentional detour, we stepped up the pace to get up to The Forks and back before it got dark. Joe and Charley were up ahead when I saw them both freeze in their tracks. They spotted a bear (or a “giant-fuzzy-black-carpet-thing-that-moved”) off of the trail. I debated walking up to the edge to see the bear for myself, but chickened out (which I regretted because a) obviously I wanted to see a bear, but more importantly b) I wanted to confirm that this was different than the “moose” Joe spotted in Vermont). We decided to turn around and walk back down the trail, singing and chanting loudly the whole time — “hideeyy-hooo, just walking along, not bothering anyone” — to fend off any bears, which i’m sure was COMPLETELY necessary.

Plan B was to take the Rocky Point Trail over to a beautiful lookout point known as Lions Head. We took Rocky Point for a few miles, before deciding that we were too short on daylight and turning around to head back to camp. Excursion attempts 1 and 2 were both fails, but we enjoyed the journey anyway.

Back at the site, we built a fire, filtered some water from the waterfalls, and made a delicious ramen dinner. I packed a beer in and Joe brought a little whiskey, so we rewarded ourselves for surviving day 1.


We woke up early determined to make it up to The Forks. We made breakfast and were on the trail by 9. We hiked up the Red Creek Trail for about 3 miles, past the Breathed Mountain Trail, and made it to The Forks. This is a beautiful area where a few different rivers and streams meet up. There is a series of waterfalls and swimming holes, and there are some great spots to camp (noted for our next trip). We did find one rather large swimming hole, but calling it “Olympic-sized” was pretty generous.

After visiting The Forks, we backtracked down the Red Creek trail and took the steep Breathed Mountain Trail up 1/3 mile to “the sods” — this is a sweeping vista created from logging and wildfires back in the late-1800’s and early 1900’s. Dolly Sods is known for this unique landscape, which is typically only found farther North in Canada.

After visiting the sods, we hiked back to our site to break down camp. Joe took a dip in the waterfall by our site, and then we headed out with our packs. Charley had trouble pacing himself throughout the trip, so by the time we were hiking out, he was exhausted like I’ve never seen him, sprawling out on the trail any second he got.

We made it to the car around 4 p.m. and ended our trip with the best burritos of our lives (or perhaps we were just extremely hungry) at Hellbender Burritos in Davis, WV.

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One comment

  1. Pingback: oregon and california roadtrip « oh, just some things


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