Late last October, I took my younger daughter and a couple of her friends, all active 20-somethings, to visit Canaan Valley in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia. Sara had hiked and camped in the adjacent Dolly Sods Wilderness as a teenager and had wanted to return ever since. It seemed like the perfect outdoorsy pandemic road trip, but as I raced around getting ready, I stubbed my toe so badly that I never made it to Dolly Sods; the kids went hiking without me.
Still, I was captivated by the area. Even getting there was a treat: West Virginia’s Route48 (one of many projects for which the late Sen. Robert Byrd deserves credit) dips and climbs through forest-draped mountains; a platoon of white windmills marches along some of the ridges; and road cuts make visible hundreds of millions of years’ worth of geological history.
The region’s beauty exists because of — and despite — its dramatic history. The gorgeous landscape was first shaped by a combination of geologic processes and primeval plant growth, then almost destroyed by the rapacious humans who mined the coal seams to exhaustion and cut the old-growth forest into stumps. Canaan Valley (in local pronunciation, it rhymes with “inane”) is now a national natural landmark, and in addition to the Dolly Sods Wilderness, it overlaps with or abuts a national wildlife refuge, a national forest, two state parks (Blackwater Falls State Park and Canaan Valley Resort State Park, which offers golf and skiing), and a second ski resort. There are endless opportunities for scenic and recreational enjoyment.
Despite a toe I later learned was broken, I managed to get to Blackwater Falls, so named because tannins from vegetation stain the water a dark brown, and hike one of the many trails in the park, to Pase Point, which showcases a beautiful vista whose faded colors hinted at the glory they had displayed just weeks before. (Fall comes earlier at higher elevations, and we had missed the most vibrant foliage.) And the unseen Dolly Sods — widely described as “a bit of Canada gone astray,” with unmarked trails lacing its subalpine forests and meadows — still called to me.
The mystique of Dolly Sods
About that strange and charming moniker: The first part of Dolly Sods’s name is a tribute to the German immigrant Dahle family, which owned pastureland there in the 1800s. The second word is a local term for a mountaintop meadow or bog, and although it has no etymological connection to the word sodden, that was the linkage in my mind. Today, at more than 17,000 acres, the Dolly Sods Wilderness, which is part of Monongahela National Forest, encompasses much more land than the Dahle family’s original “sods.”
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Dolly Sods sits high (roughly 2,500 to more than 4,700 feet above sea level) in the Appalachian Plateau near the Allegheny Front in West Virginia, which aligns closely with the Eastern Continental Divide. Water that flows to the east eventually reaches the Chesapeake Bay watershed; to the west, it makes its way to the Mississippi River basin. The Alleghenies are made mostly of layers of sedimentary rock pushed into folds by the mountain-building events that resulted in the Appalachian range (of which the Alleghenies are a part).
The altitude is responsible for the unusual vegetation, and the harsh climate works its will on the trees and exposed rocks. The land was degraded by the logging of its red spruce forests, which led to fires, and by artillery exercises conducted during World War II. Hikers are warned to stay on the trails in case unexploded ordnance remains. (The fact that the Canaan Valley area has recovered from the logging to the degree it has is thanks in part to the Civilian Conservation Corps, which replanted many denuded spaces.) The Sods now features what the Forest Service calls “unusual plant communities . . . sphagnum bogs, groves of wind-stunted, one-sided red spruce and twisted yellow birch, heath barrens, grassy sods, rhododendron and laurel thickets, and rocky barren plains.” It sounded like a very special place, and I wanted to experience it.
Eager to show my husband, Darryl, and older daughter, Rachel, the region that had so enthralled me and Sara, I planned a week-long vacation for this summer. Both Darryl and Rachel would have to work part of the time, but surely, we thought, they would at least get to hike in Dolly Sods. Yet when our trip finally rolled around in August, it coincided with a rainy spell, which was hardly ideal. Dolly Sods tends to be muddy even when it isn’t raining, so getting caught there during a downpour was something we really wanted to avoid. (Spoiler: An alternative headline for this story was, “There will be mud.”) And Rachel didn’t even have hiking boots.
Predicting the weather in the mountains is difficult, and the radar app I downloaded didn’t seem to help. The rapidly and infinitely changeable conditions made us steer clear of the Sods, but we took the opportunity to visit other sites in between precipitation.
On the first day, we escaped the rainy valley and headed to Seneca Rocks, about 25 winding back-road miles away, where the scenic landmark rises starkly, about 900 feet above the North Fork of the South Branch of the Potomac River. Once a layer of beach sands that had been cemented together by weight, temperature and time into Tuscarora quartz arenite, the 425-million-year-old rocks were turned vertical when the North American continental plate collided with the African plate during the Appalachian orogeny. Over millions of years, weather eroded away the softer layers surrounding the quartz arenite, leaving the giant milestones.
Pleased to find it cloudy but dry there, we searched until we could see two climbers on the cliff face, tiny as ticks. Then we hiked the 1.5-mile interpretive trail to the beautiful view from the observation platform, calling out interesting facts to one another — lichens are two organisms! — as we trudged along the switchbacks on a route that gained 1,000 feet in elevation. When we returned to the Discovery Center and looked up to find the observation deck barely visible at the edge of the cliffs, we were pretty impressed with ourselves.
On the second day, rather than hiking the steep ascent to an overlook called Bald Knob, we hitched a ride partway on the scenic chairlift at Canaan Valley Resort. Then we took a mostly level mile-long trek through woods and meadow, which was lovely until we got caught in the rain.
On the third day, the girls and I visited the former logging, mining and railroad towns of Davis and Thomas for lunch and shopping. Sara and I checked out Douglas Falls outside Thomas, which crashes onto rocks stained a neon orange by acid runoff from coal operations, and the iconic view at Lindy Point in Blackwater Falls. There, a half-mile trail opens to a stunning panorama, with a chimney rock standing sentinel over a lush green Vof a canyon. At the bottom is the Blackwater River; at the top, below the sky, hover the Allegheny Mountains.
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All of this, plus a visit to Stumptown Ales, was great fun, but it wasn’t Dolly Sods. And on the fourth day of our trip, it poured. We never left the vacation rental, a rustic, secluded cabin in a ski community. I despaired of ever getting to the Sods.
Finally, a chance
The next day looked overcast but dry; still it was with trepidation that Sara, my husband and I packed extra socks and laced on our boots in preparation to visit Dolly Sods, wondering whether a hike along any of its 47 miles of trails would even be possible after so much rain. (Rachel had gone home to work for a couple of days.) We had picked the highly recommended Rohrbaugh Trail, because it’s rated moderate, showcases a variety of landscapes, offers a view and is reputed to drain quickly.
The drive to the trailhead in our old minivan was an adventure in itself; the narrow, unpaved road dipped into hollows and snaked up the ridge, clinging to blind curves that made me want to beep the horn at every turn. But shortly after we slipped between the trees and onto the trail, I knew Dolly Sods was going to live up to my expectations.
Despite the cliche, it was like something out of a fairy tale, touched by magic and mystery and mushrooms. Picture a narrow, stony, root-riddled path that winds through sections of dark, dense, moss-decorated forest; traverses open wildflower-, butterfly- and bee-filled meadows; and crosses whispering streams. Every time I stopped to take a photo, I would sigh with frustration, because the results didn’t convey the enchantment I was feeling. (Full disclosure: It was also wet and muddy — and very slow going. Darryl and I both picked up two fallen branches to help us negotiate the rocks and streambeds, and being forced to focus on where we were stepping made it difficult to fully appreciate our surroundings.)
Just when we were beginning to worry that we had somehow taken a wrong turn, we reached the overlook. Standing on the sandstone cliffs, we could see deep into remote Red Creek canyon and across to a famous rock formation called Lion’s Head. (I think we were looking at it from the wrong angle.) Unlike on the heavily trafficked trail to Lindy Point, we encountered only two other hikers and felt as if we truly were in the wilderness. We sat down to soak in the scenery and eat a much-needed snack. Then, because Darryl and I were too exhausted to go back the way we came, we stayed on Rohrbaugh to the slightly easier Wildlife Trail and back to the unpaved road. This put us farther from our car than I had calculated, but the route at least had no rocks or mud. We walked more than eight miles altogether, much of it atop slick rocks and roots surrounded by sludge. But we had done it. And it didn’t start raining until we were back at the cabin, easing away our pains in the hot tub.
The next couple of days were icing on the cake. Rachel came back Friday, and she, Sara and I attended a geology talk at Blackwater Falls, learning more about the tectonic forces that built the park and carved away the canyon, before more afternoon rain. Saturday dawned sunny, of course, and I took Darryl to see Blackwater Falls and Lindy Point, while Sara and Rachel hiked part of the Blackbird Knob Trail in Dolly Sods, seeing more of the heath barrens than we did on Rohrbaugh. The next weekend, Darryl evangelized to friends about the wonders of Canaan Valley, and Rachel bought hiking boots. Mission accomplished.
But one of my favorite memories remains emerging from the dense woods of Dolly Sods onto Forest Road 75 during our hike. Even this gravel lane was pretty, lined with trees and wildflowers and boulders, and featuring an overlook that provided a view back toward Canaan Valley. The sun came out, Darryl started warbling “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” and both exhausted and elated, I leaned into the heartfelt hokeyness of the moment. It was, indeed, almost heaven.
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Where to eat
The Sawmill Restaurant
850 Sawmill Lane, Davis
A local institution serving good home cooking. Entrees from about $7 to $15.
216 State Hwy. 32, Thomas
Excellent coffee and tea, frequented by tourists and locals alike.
390 William Ave, Davis
Brewpub specializing in IPAs but offering ciders, meads and wines. Warm wood decor; friendly, helpful bartenders. Drink in or take out; no food.
Farm Up Table
272 State Hwy. 32, Thomas
The owners have moved their food truck business to a bricks-and-mortar establishment serving fresh and creative fare. Don’t miss the Parmesan truffle oil fries. Entrees from about $5 to $18.
What to do
Dolly Sods Wilderness
Intersection of Forest Roads 19 and 75
Forty-seven miles of trails on a scenic high plateau. Roads closed to vehicles from January to April. Free.
Blackwater Falls State Park
1584 Blackwater Lodge Rd., Davis
In addition to the eponymous waterfall (plus a second), the park offers 21 trails, lodge and cabin accommodations, and, in the winter, what’s billed as the longest sled run on the East Coast. Free.
Seneca Rocks Discovery Center
Intersection of Route 33 and Route 55 in Seneca Rocks
The center, which houses displays about local history and wildlife, also offers huge windows from which to gaze upon the rocks. If you want to get closer, take the interpretive trail to the top. Free.
Canaan Valley Resort Scenic Chairlift
Park Rd. 826, Davis
Purchase tickets in Quenchers Pub for a ride that allows you to really soak in the beauty of the valley. Adults ages 13 to 59, $8; $5 for seniors 60 and over and children 6 to 12.
The 17,371 acre Dolly Sods Wilderness in the Monongahela National Forest is part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. It is located in Grant, Randolph, and Tucker Counties, West Virginia.Where is the tree of life Dolly Sods? ›
Exploring the Dolly Sods
The Dolly Sods Wilderness is located in the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia.
Access can be gained by either the scenic chairlift at Timberline Four Seasons Resort or Forest Road 80 parking lot and trail head for Dolly Sods Wilderness.What town is Dolly Sods in? ›
The Dolly Sods are a plateau area on the Allegheny Front (the 'eastern continental divide'), very near Davis, WV.Are there bears in Dolly Sods? ›
In the United States there are estimated to be over 300,000 black bears and approximately 8,000 individual bears in West Virginia. While black bears are typically pretty shy when it comes to humans, an increase in bear sightings at Dolly Sods have been reported, some of which have been 'tense'.What is the oldest town in West Virginia? ›
Shepherdstown is the oldest town in West Virginia. The first settlement was recorded in 1730. Thomas Shepherd obtained a land grant in 1734 and was soon followed by other settlers. The town was originally named Mecklenburg in 1762, but then later changed to Shepherdstown in honor of its founder.Where is the real Tree of Life located? ›
The Tree of Life (Shajarat-al-Hayat) in Bahrain is a 9.75 meters (32 feet) high Prosopis cineraria tree that is over 400 years old. It is on a hill in a barren area of the Arabian Desert, 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from Jebel Dukhan, the highest point in Bahrain, and 40 kilometers from Manama.Why is it called Dolly Sods? ›
The plant life and climate on this high plateau resemble northern Canada, and many species found here are near their southernmost location. The name Dolly Sods comes from the use of open areas for sheep grazing by the German Dahle (hence “Dolly”) family and others.Is the tree of life still? ›
The Tree of Life Pondered
On one level, following the theme from Genesis to Revelation demonstrates that the tree of life has never been forgotten. In fact, it will continue to serve as a symbol of abundant life forever.
So yes, you can drive there with a conventional car (at least one that is not too low), but I would certainly avoid the northern entrance. Dolly Sods does have one big attraction for backpackers.
According to users from AllTrails.com, the best place to hike in Dolly Sods Wilderness is Bear Rocks and Lions Head Loop, which has a 4.6 star rating from 596 reviews.Can you camp at Dolly Sods? ›
Throughout the Dolly Sods Wilderness, you'll find that there are many great campsites. You can find some of the best spots along Big Stonecoal Trail and at the area where the Left Fork Creek and Red Creek meet called “The Forks.” I have many of the campsites marked on the interactive map below.
Dolly Sods is remote, and prospective hikers should not count on reliable cell phone service as they climb Forest Road 75 to the various trailheads.Is Dolly Sod dog friendly? ›
Dogs are welcome but must be leashed. With little elevation and limited hiking hazards, this Dolly Sods hike is great for families.Do I need a permit to camp in Dolly Sods? ›
No permit is required to camp in the Dolly Sods Wilderness, but there are rules and regulations regarding backcountry camping. You can find more information on the USFS Dolly Sods website here.Is it safe to camp around bears? ›
Never approach bears or offer food.
If you're lucky enough to see a bear, watch from a safe distance and enjoy this very special experience. If your presence causes the bear to look up or change its behavior in any way, you are too close.
This can lead to injured people. Sleep in a tent to reduce the chances of a bear attack and keep a bear spray with you at all times. Camping in bear country is a potentially dangerous challenge that has its specifics. True, bear attacks are rare and the chances of injury from a bear are very low but they do exist.Do air horns scare bears? ›
Air horns are an effective bear repellent. They are certainly loud enough to alert bears to your presence. Some campers like to fire off the air horn before they leave their tent in the morning to scare away any bears which might be at the campsite. If you see a bear, you can also use an air horn to scare a bear away.What is the poorest town in West Virginia? ›
Weirton, WV Ranks as One of the Poorest Big Cities in the Country | West Virginia | thecentersquare.com.Is West Virginia a cheap place to live? ›
West Virginia also ranked second overall in the “affordability” category, which was comprised of housing affordability, median annual property taxes, cost of living, median annual household income and homeownership rate.
- White Sulphur Springs.
- New Martinsville.
- Harpers Ferry.
The story of the Book of Genesis places the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden where they may eat the fruit of many trees, but are forbidden by God to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.What is the oldest tree in the world? ›
The Great Basin Bristlecone Pine (Pinus longaeva) has been deemed the oldest tree in existence, reaching an age of over 5,000 years old. The bristlecone pine's success in living a long life can be attributed to the harsh conditions it lives in.Are humans on the tree of life? ›
First, this Tree of Life is drawn from the human point of view. That is why humankind, instead of some other organism, occupies at the end of the tree, and why our vertebrate cousins (animals with a backbone) occupy a large part of the tree.What animals are in Dolly Sods? ›
- American Toad (Anaxyrus americanus) ...
- Spring Peeper (Pseudacris crucifer) ...
- Green Frog (Lithobates clamitans) ...
- Pickerel Frog (Lithobates palustris) ...
- Wood Frog (Lithobates sylvaticus) ...
- Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) ...
- Northern Slimy Salamander (Plethodon glutinosus)
Explore this 22.5-mile loop trail near Davis, West Virginia. Generally considered a challenging route, it takes an average of 8 h 52 min to complete. This is a popular trail for backpacking, hiking, and running, but you can still enjoy some solitude during quieter times of day.What's the highest point in WV? ›
At 4,863 feet above sea level, Spruce Knob is West Virginia's highest peak.Did Adam and Eve go to heaven? ›
After all, they disobeyed God's command to not eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. God is the One who decides who does or does not enter heaven. There's no place in the Bible that says they were saved. But there is no place in the Bible that indicates the couple was lost, either.Is there a tree that never dies? ›
The uses of the Moringa tree seem to be endless. Moringa Oleifera trees may survive despite high altitudes (up to 1500 meters) or very dry and arid deserts with less than 400 mm annual rainfall.Where is Garden of Eden located today? ›
The location of Eden is described in the Book of Genesis as the source of four tributaries. Various suggestions have been made for its location: at the head of the Persian Gulf, in southern Mesopotamia (now Iraq) where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers run into the sea; and in Armenia.
Any trail in the Monongahela National Forest can essentially be used as a backpacking location. It is legal to do dispersed camping anywhere that is not otherwise restricted.Can you ride ATV in Monongahela National Forest? ›
The following types of vehicles are prohibited on all Monongahela National Forest roads: Any unregistered or unlicensed all-terrain vehicles, utility-terrain vehicles, go-carts, golf carts, dirt bikes or any other unregistered or unlicensed motor vehicle.How many trails are at Dolly Sods? ›
Link together nine different trails for a tour through half the wilderness area: Bear Rocks, Raven Ridge, Rocky Ridge, Blackbird Knob, Big Stonecoal, Dunkenburger, Little Stonecoal, Red Creek, Dobbin Grade, and back to Bear Rocks.What is the hardest part of the West Coast trail? ›
Some people find the West Coast Trail section between Walbran and Camper to be the hardest part of the trail due to all the ladders. The trail from Walbran starts with a section of ladders. At the top, you'll go through a bog on boardwalks. When the boardwalk ends, the mud, roots, and logs begin.What is the hardest trail to hike? ›
The Everest Base Camp Trek in the Himalayas in Nepal is one of the most famous and also, the hardest hikes in the world. Everest Base Camp at an altitude of 5,364m is where some of the best mountaineers in the world start their attempt to climb the highest mountain on the planet, Mount Everest.What is the easiest trail in Mt Charleston? ›
- Bristlecone Trail. Type of hike: Trail. ...
- Fletcher Canyon. Type of hike: Trail and bouldering. ...
- Mary Jane Falls. Type of hike: Trail. ...
- Big Falls. Type of hike: Trail and route. ...
- Bonanza Peak. Type of hike: Trail. ...
- Cathedral Rock. Type of hike: Trail. ...
- Raintree. Type of hike: Trail. ...
- Charleston Peak via North Loop Trail.
The C&O Canal is a 184.5 mile long linear park stretching between Washington, DC, and Cumberland, Maryland. It is about a 4 hour drive end to end. The park offers two different types of campsites: Primitive Campsites for hikers and bikers, and Reservable Campgrounds for individuals and groups.Can we camp overnight at East Coast Park? ›
Camping. There are designated areas (Areas D, excluding Cyclist Park, and G) within East Coast Park where you can set up a tent temporarily or overnight. To do so, you need to apply for a camping permit first.How much is it to camp at Blackwater Falls? ›
The campgrounds also have plenty of room to set up your tent, have a picnic table to cook and eat, and has a fire ring for camp fires to make s'mores. The campgrounds do have bathrooms and showers, and as of 2017, cost 22 USD a night. The best part about camping in the Blackwater Falls State Park is the location!Does SIM card affect cell service? ›
Generally your SIM card doesn't directly affect how well your cellphone can pick up a signal, but a bad SIM card might prevent you from connecting to the network at all. If you have certain SIM cards, you may not be able to connect to all the services your carrier offers.
Consumers who qualify based on federal or state-specific eligibility criteria can obtain free phone service through the Lifeline Assistance program. Today Lifeline is still a federal program. Qualifying individuals are eligible to receive one Lifeline discount per household.What cell phone carriers use SIM cards? ›
All three major wireless carriers (AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon) as well as Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNOs) like Mint Mobile and Metro by T-Mobile use SIM cards to tie phones to the cellular networks. Think of SIM cards as keys to a wireless network.Can dogs pee on sod? ›
Keep Your Dog Off New Sod
The roots of freshly laid sod are close to the surface and much more susceptible to damage from animal urine. Keep your dog completely off your lawn until the new sod is established. If that is not possible, consider laying sod on half the lawn and reserving the other half for the dog.
Compared to other varieties, bermuda grass is the best grass for pets as it is tough against wear and tear and provides a great playing field for furry friends. Bermuda grass is anchored deep into the ground with strong, sturdy roots that are perfect rough play.Is West Virginia dog friendly? ›
West Virginia is a pet-friendly paradise with outdoor adventures and scenic road-trip routes.Is camping permit free? ›
Currently, there is no charge for camping permit application.What age can you camp on your own? ›
Campsites will require you to be 18 or older if you want to camp without parents. Also, you cannot rent a campsite if you are under age. While there is no age limit to enjoy a camping trip, under-age kids, children, and teenagers must have adult supervision.Why is it named Dolly Sods? ›
The plant life and climate on this high plateau resemble northern Canada, and many species found here are near their southernmost location. The name Dolly Sods comes from the use of open areas for sheep grazing by the German Dahle (hence “Dolly”) family and others.How did Dolly Sods West Virginia get its name? ›
Description. In the mid-1800s, the Dalhe family used open grassy fields called "sods" for grazing sheep in this area, which now bears the name Dolly Sods Wilderness. The region, located high on the Allegheny Plateau, is known for its extensive rocky plains, upland bogs, and sweeping vistas.What is something West Virginia is known for? ›
The state's rolling mountains, hills and valleys earned it the nickname of The Mountain State, and it is well-known for its range of outdoor activities, including hiking, mountain biking, skiing and whitewater rafting.
The main roads for driving in Dolly Sods are Forest Roads 75 and 19. They are rough, unpaved roads, but in normal weather conditions, they don't require a four-wheel-drive, although a vehicle with high clearance would be ideal.Can you car camp at Dolly Sods? ›
If you're looking to car camp, you have one option, but it's a really good one. Red Creek Campground lies inside the Dolly Sods Scenic Area along Forest Road 75. It's a small, primitive campground with only 12 sites and no electrical or water hookups. The sites are claimable on a first-come, first-serve basis.What did West Virginia used to be called? ›
In 1863, the western region was admitted to the Union as a new separate state, initially planned to be called the State of Kanawha, but ultimately named West Virginia.What was West Virginia supposed to be called? ›
Kanawha was originally proposed as the state's name.
The name honored a Native American tribe and a major state river of the same name. When the constitution for the proposed state was finalized in 1862, however, the name had changed to the more generic West Virginia.
Originally known as Charlestown for Clendenin's father, Charles, the name later was shortened to Charleston. Daniel Boone was among the early residents, serving as a Kanawha County delegate in the Virginia General Assembly in 1791. The local salt industry helped to build Charleston's early economy.What is the best city to live in West Virginia? ›
- #6 Morgantown. Home of West Virginia University, Morgantown in Monongalia County is known for being full of young people and full of life. ...
- #5 Winfield. ...
- #4 Star City. ...
- #3 Cheat Lake. ...
- #2 Athens. ...
- #1 Bridgeport.
This fall festival celebrates not only the area's rich Italian heritage, but West Virginia's official state food, the pepperoni roll. The pepperoni roll was developed by an Italian baker circa 1930 as an easy meal for coal miners to carry in their lunch pails, and it remains a popular snack today.
Tucked away between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Ohio River, West Virginia is an absolutely beautiful part of the States to explore, with a plethora of incredible landscapes on show. Its many mountains, forests, and whitewater rivers lend themselves perfectly to all kinds of fantastic outdoor activities.Are dogs allowed in Dolly Sods Wilderness? ›
Dolly Sods is a great place for dogs to go hiking as long as your dog is obedient so they don't get in any trouble, i.e. snakes, deep sticky mud. Enjoy.