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New Wilderness! Dolly Sods North & Roaring Plains West

There were 37,000 new wilderness acres in my home state... how could I not go walking?

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by Devin Montgomery | 2009-09-01 00:00:00-06

New Wilderness

On March 30, 2009 the United States gained more than two million acres of new wilderness. No, it wasn’t through the quiet annexation of Canadian territory - it was through legislation that set aside the federally-owned land as “designated wilderness.” Of all those acres, the first 37,000 were in my home state of West Virginia, and I decided to celebrate the occasion by visiting each of the new wilderness tracts in the state. The second trip of my endeavor was a forty-mile, two-and-a-half-day circuit through the Dolly Sods North and Roaring Plains West wilderness areas in the Monongahela National Forest. The experience left me with very wet feet, but also with cautious optimism about the future of my wild home.

New Wilderness! Dolly Sods & Roaring Plains - 2
A large circuit through the wilderness areas, a total of forty miles. Roughly fifteen miles each of the first two days and just over ten on the final morning. Map by Jordan Klemick.

The Act

The law that created the new wilderness was the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009. Aside from creating or expanding wilderness areas in nine states, it also gave protection to over 1,000 miles of “wild and scenic” rivers, established new conservation areas and scenic trails, and made permanent the National Landscape Conservation System, which incorporates into one plan myriad land protection designations in the American West. It represented the integration of 160 smaller bills and was the most significant legislation of its kind in years.

New Wilderness! Dolly Sods & Roaring Plains - 3
One of several water falls cascading down the Sods' rocky slopes.

It is ironic that such good news for some of the country’s most wild and pristine land came from an in-filled, over-developed former swamp on the Maryland-Virginia border, but it passed by wide margins in both the U.S. House and Senate. It was the result of years of hard work by wilderness advocacy groups and lawmakers friendly to the cause. After codifying the bill into law with his pen, President Obama captured its importance in an Oval Office address:

“It is fitting that we meet on a day like this. Winter’s hardships are slowly giving way to spring, and our thoughts naturally tend to turn to the outdoors. We emerge from the shelter offered by home and work, and we look around and we're reminded that the most valuable things in this life are those things that we already possess.

As Americans, we possess few blessings greater than the vast and varied landscapes that stretch the breadth of our continent. Our lands have always provided great bounty -- food and shelter for the first Americans, for settlers and pioneers; the raw materials that grew our industry; the energy that powers our economy.

What these gifts require in return is our wise and responsible stewardship. As our greatest conservationist President, Teddy Roosevelt, put it almost a century ago, ‘I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us.'

That's the spirit behind the bipartisan legislation I'm signing today -- legislation among the most important in decades to protect, preserve, and pass down our nation’s most treasured landscapes to future generations.”

New Wilderness! Dolly Sods & Roaring Plains - 10
A colorful moss-covered maple.

Wilderness Designation

A wilderness designation is the greatest level of protection that public land can receive and still be accessible to backcountry hikers and backpackers. It came into being in the Wilderness Act of 1964 and was poetically described by the Act as a place that

“[In] contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is… an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain. An area of wilderness is… an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions and which… generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man's work substantially unnoticeable [and] has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation…”

It may not be surprising that the bill was co-authored by Wilderness Society advocate Howard Zahniser. It doesn’t match the writing of Meriwether Lewis, John Muir, or Edward Abby, but it’s not bad for a piece of legislation. It still describes the kind of places that are surely worth visiting.

For their part, the federal agencies that manage designated wilderness areas have interpreted the definition to generally mean no roads, no motorized vehicles or bicycles, no permanent shelters, and only minimal, if any, trail markings. Management practices generally shun convenience and comfort. The minimal exceptions that are allowed are made in the name of resource preservation and not ease of use. When read, such guidelines sound almost hostile towards the visitor, and to some degree that’s exactly what they are. Wilderness is not land under human dominion… it is where one is merely a “visitor who does not remain.”

New Wilderness! Dolly Sods & Roaring Plains - 6
Boulder fields and flagged red spruce for which the northern Sods are known.

Aside from its strict management guidelines, what makes wilderness designation so important is that it is statutory. There are other federal lands that are governed by a similarly strict regulatory guideline, known as Management Prescription 6.2. The management of these areas, however, is subject to regulatory whim, and recent years have shown what vastly different approaches successive administrations can take towards undisturbed land. Designated wilderness can only be changed by an act of Congress, and until there is a constitutional amendment safeguarding our “great blessing,” the protection is as permanent as it gets.

Wild, Wonderful

Unfortunately for West Virginia and the rest of the eastern United States, the National Forest Service initially found no land east of the Mississippi River that it felt primitive enough to be designated as wilderness under the original act. There was scarcely an acre in the East that had been left entirely undisturbed by logging, roads, or some other kind of development. Fortunately, Congress recognized both the need for such protection in the East, as well as the “wildness” of even second or third (or fourth) growth forests and passed the Eastern Wilderness Areas Act of 1975.

The lion’s share of federally protected land in West Virginia is part of the Monongahela National Forest. The MNF consists of over 900,000 acres and is well known for its hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, and white water rafting. Before 2009, the MNF had about 78,000 acres of designated wilderness in the Cranberry, Dolly Sods, Laurel Fork, and Otter Creek wilderness areas. The Big Draft, Roaring Plains West, and Spice Run areas are now added to that list, as are large extensions to the Cranberry and Dolly Sods wilderness areas. I planned to visit each over the summer.

New Wilderness! Dolly Sods & Roaring Plains - 12
Clean, clear water from a mountain spring.

Unfortunately, there were also eleven other proposed wilderness areas, including the North and East portions of the Roaring Plains, that didn’t make it into the final bill. These areas will likely continue to be managed under the 6.2 “backcountry recreation” management prescription for the near future. It’s the approximately 88,000 acres under this management that stand the best chance of later becoming designated wilderness. Before this year, new wilderness hadn’t been added to the state since 1983, and hopefully it won’t be another twenty-five years before more of these lands are permanently protected.

Dolly Sods

There is perhaps no place that better exemplifies both the kind of abuse that our eastern forests have borne as well as their great potential for recovery. Dolly Sods gained its name from the Dahle family that once pastured their animals there, but it was at one time entirely covered with large red spruce and balsam fir. The land suffered fires, clear-cutting, and the incursion of railroad tracks in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. During World War II, the Sods were used for artillery practice by the Army, and live mortars have been found there as recently as 1997. Nothing says “wilderness” like a chance to really put that bomb proof gear to the test.

New Wilderness! Dolly Sods & Roaring Plains - 4
Relic of the Sods’ former life. At least it appears to be from the old rails and not from the explosives that once called this place home.

Despite their misuse, the Sods are now one of the most popular wilderness areas in the East. The spruce are gradually making their way back to the northern Sods, which are dominated by spagham bog and blueberry heath. It’s actually this new growth, combined with the elevation of the Sods’ high plateau, that make it unique to the region. The Sods are frequently compared to Canadian muskeg, and experience severe weather because of both their elevation and position on the Allegheny Front, a ridge that disturbs weather patterns and constitutes the Eastern Continental Divide in the region.

With the new expansion, Dolly Sods has 17,371 acres of wilderness, a substantial increase from its original acreage of 10,215. While it is surrounded by National Forest land to the east, west, and south, these lands have been put to other uses, and it has likely reached the extent of its expansion.

New Wilderness! Dolly Sods & Roaring Plains - 5
Crossing into the Dolly Sods Expansion.

Roaring Plains

To the immediate south of Dolly Sods and across the Red River Valley are the Roaring Plains. They are slightly higher than the Sods, reaching as much as 4,700 feet, and are wrapped to the east and south by the Allegheny Front. With over 3,000 feet of relief above parts of the surrounding valleys, the Plains are known for their beautiful views and nearly constant winds.

New Wilderness! Dolly Sods & Roaring Plains - 13
Overlooking the Red Creek Valley with Breathed Mountain overlook on the right.

The Plains have their own mixed forest, but have more coverage than do much of the Sods. They are also rockier, with boulder fields that ride along the area’s ridge. They have received less formal protection than the Sods have, but have also received less attention, so it’s easier to find solitude.

Only the 6,792 western acres of the Plains have been designated as wilderness, but the recognition of this initial section is an important first step towards the preservation of the surrounding area. The 8,346 acres of the east and north Plains will likely continue to be managed under the 6.2 prescription. With continued advocacy and appropriate management, the Plains may some day see a wilderness expansion like that of Sods.

Wilderness Circuit

Given the chance to visit both the Sods and the Plains in one trip, and on a weekday for even more solitude, I was more excited to make this trip than any other wilderness area I would visit. I planned for a more relaxed pace than I normally schedule, leaving plenty of time for exploring.

Day 1

Four hours and only a few missed turns after leaving my Pittsburgh apartment, I arrived at the Red Creek trailhead near Laneville, West Virginia. The weather forecast for my trip had recently gone from three days of sun to three days of likely rain and thunderstorms, so I flicked on my weather radio expecting the even, robotic narration of the National Weather Service. I found only static on all seven channels. I would later realize that I was on the outskirts of the National Radio Quiet Zone, created for the benefit of the nearby Greenbank Radio Observatory. At the time, it gave me the satisfaction of feeling more remote, if less certain about the weather.

I changed into my hiking duds, locked my car, and exchanged small talk with a photographer heading out for a day hike. With that, I started into the original Dolly Sods Wilderness. I was eager to start my route and walked quickly through the mixed forest. I made an unavoidably wet crossing of Red Creek and encountered the first of three modes the wilderness trails would take: rock. In some parts the trail became so rocky and steep that it felt like little more than an overgrown talus field from some long extinct mount. It was hard on the feet, but made for some nice waterfalls on a parallel stream.

As I headed north to higher elevation, the dense hardwoods became sparser, and the forest that was there became increasingly dominated by spruce, pine, and fir. Trail conditions also changed, and I met the trail's second phase: water. My shoes had started to dry since my earlier crossing, but they were again soaked and would remain that way for the next two days. Streams that had rushed through the valley and trickled beside the trail on the climb now meandered across and sometimes down the path.

I also walked up and into the fog that had been hanging overhead that morning. As I hiked across the boundary of the existing wilderness and into the new expansion, an area known as Dolly Sods North, the clearing around the trail widened and mist started to float by under a light breeze. It obscured views that would have been to the west, but gave the area a quiet, ethereal feel. The strange atmosphere heightened the sense that I was walking into a foreign place. As beautiful as the main wilderness had been, it was this terrain that was most remarkable for the region, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Continuing on, I came across large boulder fields of the area’s white sandstone. I must have spent over an hour off trail, scrambling among the rocks. Moist lichen made them slick, and I was lucky I could I carry my light pack with me as my route in certainly wasn’t going to be my route out. For my trouble, I was rewarded with more fog, but also a good view of the rocks and flagged red spruce that rose between the outcroppings.

New Wilderness! Dolly Sods & Roaring Plains - 8
A trail that looks deceivingly dry, though just bog and cursing lay ahead.

As I hiked on, the winds picked up and I took shelter behind a rock shelf for a quick lunch, donning my rain jacket to break the chill. Heading east and then south, I came across the final and worst trail condition: bog. The nastiest was on an old railroad grade, and unlike the ground that just had standing water, some areas of bog looked deceivingly solid. No sooner would you plant your foot than you would be in real danger of losing a shoe!

By this time it was getting late, and I was lucky to find some solid ground and an established campsite to occupy for the evening. I set up camp, made dinner, and hauled my odorants up over a branch. That night, the damp soup I had been walking through would pour down all around me, and I was glad to have a full coverage shelter.

New Wilderness! Dolly Sods & Roaring Plains - 7
Bundled up against the strong westerly wind.

Day 2

The morning was overcast, but with good visibility after losing its veil of the previous day. As I ate my breakfast I contemplated a large aluminum pot that sat discarded next to the fire ring. It was huge, probably between two and three gallons in capacity, and had a hole in its bottom. It was smack dab in the middle of the wilderness, miles from the nearest road. I had picked up some small bits of junk I found at the site, but was perplexed by what had led to the abandonment of this monstrosity. Either a seriously heavy, solo hiker had left his bathtub after it sprung a leak, or a whole group had made the collective decision that they couldn’t be bothered to take it back out. Either way, I discovered one more benefit of a light load - it leaves plenty of carrying capacity to pack out even the most obscene garbage.

New Wilderness! Dolly Sods & Roaring Plains - 9
Packing out Paul Bunyan’s discarded mug in improved visibility.

As I crossed back into the main wilderness the sun made its first appearance, and I took the opportunity to dry out and eat lunch. The trails had turned back into stone, and I was treated to some gorgeous vistas of the Red Creek Valley. I hiked down and across the creek twice more, welcomed by basking river snakes. The trail here, as elsewhere in the old wilderness, was marked by nothing more than cairns, which hid among the rocks of the river’s shores. After finding my way across and up a steep climb, I came to some fresh springs with water that, thankfully, didn’t bear the slight spagham aftertaste of that in the north Sods.

Hoping to make it into the heart of the Roaring Plains by that night, I hiked quickly to the southern border of the Sods. I was lucky to find a trashcan at the trailhead, and bid farewell to my aluminum stow-away. I walked a short distance of forest road and entered Roaring Plains East. This was one of the proposed wilderness areas that hadn’t made the final cut.

As I walked on, I saw some of the reason why. There had been a few bridges in the north Sods, evidence of its long life before designation, but the beginning of this trail was practically a boardwalk. It surely kept day hikers’ feet dry, but was out of place. Moving past the tracts of planking, the trail eventually turned back into the familiar rock and water. I made a ballet of hopping from island to island, for entertainment value more than anything else. My feet were still soaked.

New Wilderness! Dolly Sods & Roaring Plains - 18
Navigating thick brush and a narrow trail.

The altitude here was higher than that of the north Sods, but it had kept more of its tree cover, which was primarily coniferous. The first part of the trail followed a wide ridge with the Allegheny Front to the east and a valley of the inner Plains to the west. As the trail turned east, I had to decide between going off trail to stay on the ridge or sticking to the beaten path. Given the lowering sun, the dense brush of the cross-country option, and the fact that it was my first time in the area, I decided to see what the marked trails had to offer. If there’s one thing I will change for my next trip, it will be to stick to the ridge to catch more of its dramatic views.

New Wilderness! Dolly Sods & Roaring Plains - 16
Just into the Roaring Plains West Wilderness. Established campsites feel too civilized, but protect larger sections of forest when an area sees high use.

Heading east, I dropped into heavy rhododendron thickets. Giving rise to the state’s flower, the plant was common on the route, but not in such abundance. I pictured what the trail would look like later in the summer, covered in a blanket of large pink blossoms. Turning onto another section of forest road, I imagined what it would look like if it were allowed to fall into disuse, with green sprouts erupting through its tracks.

I crossed over the utility road that followed a buried natural gas pipeline and signaled my entry into the section that had been newly designated - Roaring Plains West Wilderness. After only a few hundred feet, I made camp for the last night of the trek, falling asleep to the white noise of a rushing nearby stream.

Day 3

I woke with the sunrise and ate my oatmeal as I started to hike. It was my last day, and I figured I could get back to my car by noon. I was once again on flat, more open terrain, but the surrounding bushes were more substantial than they had been in the north Sods. Contrary to their name, the Roaring Plains were also calmer this morning than the Sods had been two days earlier.

New Wilderness! Dolly Sods & Roaring Plains - 17
Fast food on the second and final morning.

The marked trail kept me further from the ridge than I would have liked, and I hurried to a section that would take me closer to the view. Among a tall stand of pines I finally saw an overlook and realized what I had been missing. The sky was overcast, but the coverage also provided the contrast for a thick field of sunshine to illuminate a valley two ridges over. Looking south, much of the thickly forested land of the closest valley and ridge was still within the new wilderness and would likely remain unchanged well into the future.

New Wilderness! Dolly Sods & Roaring Plains - 19
A view from the Plains’ famous ridge. Overcast, but with a ray of sun.

After enjoying the view for a while, I headed north and down, down, down into forest similar to that of the lower Sods and much of the rest of the state. The brush here became sharp, and I rolled down my trekking pant legs to save my skin. There was more rushing water, but by now my thoughts drifted away, split between reflections on the trip and anticipation of returning home.

As the trail flattened out, it became apparent that I was now leaving the wilderness to walk a thin right-of-way slicing through private land. The barbed wire that flanked the trail’s right side reminded me of what happens to private land and how lucky I was to have spent so long hedged by nothing but the terrain. The final trailhead I came to was marked with only a small sign, and I walked awkwardly onto the public road - my head still in the woods. The sun was shining, and I made the two-mile jaunt back to my car.


At first glance, there may be little difference between “designated wilderness” and other wild backcountry. Neither the Sods nor the Plains gained a single new tree or mountain spring the moment Congress finally recognized and designated them as wilderness. There are surely other, more remote places in this country where man has had less impact than on those areas I visited. The real difference that I noticed on this hike was a psychic one. On too many trails I’ve felt a faint melancholy when I consider the future of the land I walk over. I frequently come across signs for available acreage, or worse… soon to be available condos. When walking in these new wilderness areas, as troubled as their past has been, I get a feeling of cautious optimism. In all likelihood, these areas will actually get better with time. I imagine my great-great grandchildren being able to return to the north Sods, and walk all day shaded by red spruce too large for them to wrap their arms around.

New Wilderness! Dolly Sods & Roaring Plains - 20
Private land adjacent to the end of the trail - a bit prickly, but still a lovely view.

More Information


West Virginia

Further Photography

About the Author

Devin grew up and went to college in Morgantown, West Virginia. He now lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with his wife Leslie, where he attends the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and Katz School of Business. The trip that brought him back to the outdoors after a brief hiatus was a 128-mile row down the length of the Monongahela River, racing coal barges and dodging lock spillways.


"New Wilderness! Dolly Sods North & Roaring Plains West," by Devin Montgomery. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2009-09-01 00:00:00-06.


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New Wilderness! Dolly Sods North & Roaring Plains West
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
New Wilderness! Dolly Sods North & Roaring Plains West on 09/01/2009 21:14:27 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

New Wilderness! Dolly Sods North & Roaring Plains West

Chris Morgan
(ChrisMorgan) - F

Locale: Southern Oregon
Mortars on 09/01/2009 21:36:01 MDT Print View

Any word on if there are live mortars in the new sections?

I know most have been cleared from the areas near trails in Dolly Sods. It will be interesting to see if there are any new "finds" in the new sections.

Tony Burnett
(tlbj6142) - F

Locale: OH--IO
Great place for hiking with kids... on 09/02/2009 06:04:13 MDT Print View

Dolly Sods (primarily DSN) is a great place to hike with children. Campsites are available every 3-5 miles (if not more often), water is everywhere to play in and the open areas make it easy for them to explore and still be seen. I've taken my kids there several times. They love it. If you plan to arrive late the first night you can camp at the Forest Service CG that is along the eastern boundary of DS located right at the trail head of Blackbird Knob trail. Or camp at the nearby State park CG. We stayed at the latter on our most recent visit as Dolly Sods was closed due to a SAR incident. I would be willing to bet that large pot was from hunters. DS, and in particular DSN, is easy to access by truck if you know which dirt roads to take. Making it very easy for hunters to drag in (and out) lots of gear. I'd avoid the area during deer gun season. FWIW, we have seen black bear, turkey and deer (of course) in DS.

I've shared these before, but here are a few photos from our family trips to DS...

June 2007

Fall 2007

Been to Cranberry Wilderness as well (without my children), it is a great place, though more wooded than DS. I've read it is a prime location for fly fishing for those looking for a place to tryout your new Tenkara rods. And I ran into far more black bear in the area (it is, or is nearby, a protected black bear sanctuary).

So, is Dolly Sods North now "wilderness"?

I have to check out Roaring plans on my next visit.

Edited by tlbj6142 on 09/02/2009 10:18:34 MDT.

Tony Burnett
(tlbj6142) - F

Locale: OH--IO
Asked and answered... on 09/02/2009 09:32:16 MDT Print View

I'll answer my own question now that I have more carefully read the above article...

"As I hiked across the boundary of the existing wilderness and into the new expansion, an area known as Dolly Sods North"

Rick Cheehy
(kilgoretrout2317) - F

Locale: Virginia
Re: Asked and answered... on 09/02/2009 10:49:59 MDT Print View

How far a drive is this from Manassas VA?
We haven't done any thing in the "Mon" yet. This sounds like a good excuse to get out there.

Kyle Hetzer
(Ghost93) - F

Locale: Western MD
To MNF from the greater DC area. on 09/02/2009 12:15:33 MDT Print View

I would say your best bet is to go on I 66 to I 81. Take I81 S to Harrisonburg to US 33. Take US 33 all the way to a town called Harmen. Make a right onto Rte 32 toward the small small town of Dry Fork (unincorperated). Make a right onto Bonner Mtn. Road, Or as my topo map software says, CR 32 /2. (There will be a sign off Rte 32 to Dolly Sods). Take Bonner Mtn. Road all the way to Laneville RD. The Red Creek Trail Head is located just after Laneville Rd crosses red creek. The are a few cabins, turn into what fist may appear as a drive way and back to the trail head a few hundred feet. As a disclamier, look and take a map with you.

So is it my understanding that what was once the Dolly Sods national Senic Area is now a part of the Wilderness Area, sweet. Now to explore Roaring Plains and the Allegheny Trail.

Edited by Ghost93 on 09/02/2009 12:17:41 MDT.

David Stapleton
(KamperDave) - F

Locale: VA, DC, MD
Re: To MNF from the greater DC area. on 09/02/2009 12:20:04 MDT Print View

I live in Woodbridge, VA and it took just over 3 hours to make it out to Dolly Sods. It's amazing how similar my pictures are to those here. Of course, we were there in March and it was about 20 degrees and snowing as well. Quite an exciting place!

John Beisner
(trtlrock) - F

Locale: Blue Ridge
better directions? on 09/02/2009 14:36:11 MDT Print View

these directions are better IMHO...

I was there last week for 6 days.

66W to 81S to 55W through Wardensville, keep following 55W onto the new lightspeed Byrd thruway (still 55W), continue on 55W when thruway ends through Moorefield & Petersburg, pass through Cabins, take a R at Dolly Sods sign a few miles later, then a left onto Dolly Sods access road a mile or so later.

Six miles up gravel access road at constant climb, looking vigilantly for potholes & pointy rocks, often through washboard areas, at about 22 mph. Then you're at the top. Turn R for about 5 miles at same speeds on flat gravel road to get to Red Creek & DS North, or turn L a couple of miles to get to Roaring Plains & Laneville.

Two hours 15 minutes at speed-limit +5 mph from my driveway in Linden, VA (near Front Royal) to the trailhead at Red Creek Campground.

John Beisner
(trtlrock) - F

Locale: Blue Ridge
Nice! on 09/02/2009 14:36:48 MDT Print View

Nice article & pics Devin!

Devin Montgomery
(dsmontgomery) - MLife

Locale: one snowball away from big trouble
Re: Nice! on 09/02/2009 18:14:26 MDT Print View

Thanks all! I know that Dolly Sods is favorite destination for many in the area, and I was excited when more of it was protected. I think that combining the Sods and the Plains in a loop as I did makes for a phenomenal trip.

To answer a couple specific questions:

Mortars - It's my understanding that the munition sweeps that have been done in Dolly Sods covered the North Sods as well. At least I hope they did!

Dolly Sods Scenic Area - I believe this area is still distinct from the wilderness. Dolly Sods North is the area that has been integrated. Let me see if I can find more...

Patricia Combee
(Trailfrog) - F

Locale: Northeast/Southeast your call
RE: DSN and Roaring Plains Wilderness on 09/02/2009 18:14:43 MDT Print View

It is about time to see these areas protected for all.
My hiking partners and I did a nice circuit in the Roaring plains area including the new wilderness (with a totally butt kicking bushwack to the top of Mt. Porte Crayon - new knowledge: Red spruce trees "bite").

I cut my backpacking teeth and honed them to a sharp edge in the Dolly Sods (south) wilderness and the Dolly Sods North area. Hard to believe you are still in the east when hiking in the north area. I hiked these areas before they became well known and well signed. Some folks think since this area is not far from civilization that it won't bite and that accounts for quite a few Search and Rescues. I have seen a nice day turn into dense, disorienting fog in a matter of minutes; and had thunderstorms literally form right overhead.
If I haven't mentioned it yet, I love this place and am very happy to see the wilderness designation.

Tele Bruce
(TeleBruce) - F
Great place to go for 30 years on 09/02/2009 18:40:57 MDT Print View

I've been hiking this area since the late '70's. Very well worth the trip, and was glad to hear that DS north and a small part of Roaring Plains has been added to the mix.
Its a heavily used area. You'll see full parking lots on nice weather days, but don't underestimate it either. I spent the weekend before Labor Day and saw a total of 4 people on a short overnighter. It was great. Go mid week. Go well prepared, as the weather can be very 'interesting' when fronts move through. Expect tons of mud. Low cut cutie ultralight hiking slippers won't make it here. And please do use the already established camp sites. there are too many places getting trashed by people who insist on making their 'own' site with no knowledge of how to do so with no impact.
Take your time - its a remarkable place. One I've treasured for 30 years.

David Johnston
(dsjtecserv) - MLife
Great article! on 09/02/2009 19:23:13 MDT Print View

Great article and great pictures, Devin. This has been my "go to" place for several years, and I never tire of its variety and the different looks that the variety of weather and seasons can give. I hope you have a chance to go back.

When you do, in Dolly Sods North I'd recommend a trip down the Beaver View Trail. This follows a ridge that projects in between the headwaters of the Left and Right Forks of Red Creek, and give great views into the broad drainages, as well as to the back of Rocky Ridge. Large parts of this ridge are exposed and especially exciting during bad weather.

In Roaring Plains, do follow the "hidden passage" through rhododendrons to the edge of the ridge overlooking Roaring Creek and Long Run Canyons. This is a semi-documented route and not an official trail but it only requires a little bit of route finding. You can follow the rim all the way around, past Porte Crayon to Haystack on the opposite side of Long Run Canyon. Although it is surrounded by private property and there is no water, a night on top of Haystack is special.

Winter is a great time to go. Being over 4000 feet and at the junction of weather zones, it gets a lot of snow, very high winds, and bitter temperatures. I have used it for the last couple of years for a warmup for winter climbs of Mount Washington and the Adirondacks.

As TeleBruce pointed out, the Dolly Sods area can seem overrun at times. Avoid obvious holidays like Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day, and go on weekdays if possible. Consider the offseason like late fall and winter. If you go in November, wear orange, for sure!


Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Dolly Sods on 09/02/2009 20:02:32 MDT Print View

Very nice article. You make me want to get out again. I'm not an expert but my understanding was that trail and campsites had been swept for morters but that bushwacking was discouraged. I don't know about the new areas but I would assume the trails are okay.

Edited by Cameron on 09/02/2009 20:03:23 MDT.

WV Hiker

Locale: West Virginia
Ordnance Survey on 09/03/2009 13:45:25 MDT Print View

The following link gives full details surrounding ordnance at Dolly Sods:

I've bushwhacked all over the place up there. No problemos.

christopher shive

Locale: Along the AT in PA
Re: New Wilderness! Dolly Sods North & Roaring Plains West on 09/03/2009 14:42:15 MDT Print View

I just did a trek through the Dolly Sods in June with our scout troop. What a beautiful area. We were really lucky to have great weather all week. I think the fog/rain/wind shown in your pictures is the norm however.

Link to my trip report with lots of pics

/A .
(biointegra) - MLife

Locale: Puget Sound
Re: Re: New Wilderness! Dolly Sods North & Roaring Plains West on 09/03/2009 16:07:22 MDT Print View

Thanks for the article - I enjoyed the pics also. Being an easterner transplanted to the West, I enjoy the reminder of these beautiful places that have a seemingly more antiquarian personality, if you will, than many of the more geologically youthful places out yonder this direction.

Now I'd like to see an article on the Red River Gorge or Sheltowee Trace.

By the way, how are the 'skeeters (and other beasties) in them thar woods and when is the best time of year to avoid them in the DSN area?

WV Hiker

Locale: West Virginia
Skeeters? on 09/04/2009 07:15:16 MDT Print View


Mosquitoes are not really much of a problem in WV. I've never had much problem with them. We do have some no-see-ims and some biting flies but insects in general are just not a major issue here. Also, DSN and Roaring Plains are high windswept plateaus and that helps keep the bugs at bay.

Russell Swanson
(rswanson) - F

Locale: Midatlantic
Re: Dolly Sods on 09/04/2009 17:41:58 MDT Print View

I get out to Dolly Sods and/or Roaring Plains several times a year. In my opinion, it is the best hiking locale north of the Smokies and south of the Whites.

The Mon in general is superb. It's also huge. As the article author pointed out, its almost 1,000,00 acres in total and hosts over 800 miles of trails, including part of the American Discovery Trail. If you're a hiking enthusiast and within reasonable driving distance of eastern WV, do yourself a favor and plan a trip to some part of the Mon.

The West Virginia Highland Conservancy ( prints a regularly updated guide to the entire forest and makes it available on CD as well. It contains detailed trail descriptions of almost every area of MNF, including maps. Their website also has lots of additional visitor info and news.

Another awesome resource for hikes in MNF (and all over MD, PA, WV, and VA) is, run by Mike Juskelis. He has dozens of hikes mapped out in the Mon, all with detailed info and most with GPS coordinates, including almost every trail in Dolly Sods and Roaring Plains.

Just a word of advice- despite the elevation of 4K and under, the Dolly Sods/Roaring Plains area can experience very harsh weather. Last year, an area ski resort reported over 18 feet of snow. Winter comes in early and is reluctant to leave. I can be cold, wet, and very windy on any day of the year, so prepare like you'd be hiking at 10K elevation.

As for mortar shells, well even though its disconcerting to rock hop across a talus field right up to a sign denoting the potential of live ordnance, the area has been swept and swept again. To my knowledge, the only are affected (and the only place where the signs exist) is the extreme northwestern corner of Dolly Sods North. I wouldn't be any more concerned about that than I would a bear attack- even less so in fact.

Oh, and if you hike Dolly Sods, your feet will get wet. Great place to test those fast drying trail runners!

Edited by rswanson on 09/04/2009 17:48:03 MDT.

Chris Morgan
(ChrisMorgan) - F

Locale: Southern Oregon
Dolly Sods Loop on 04/24/2010 08:59:32 MDT Print View

Could anyone comment as to a favorite 25-35 mile loop in Dolly Sods, in the new or old sections?

(Devin, I'm guessing cutting this loop down might be an option, but where to cut?)


Edited by ChrisMorgan on 04/24/2010 09:04:06 MDT.