Are you up for a challenge? Glorious, mystical Dolly Sods Wilderness in the Monongahela Forest is a 17,371 acre paradise for those who want to get off the beaten track, get a little muddy and wet, and be miles from civilization.
My husband and I visited last weekend on a cold, wet mid-May day. From the moment we left the car until the moment we returned five hours later, it poured rain, and yet we had the time of our lives. We chose to do the Lion’s Head loop, a ten-mile loop that starts at the Red Creek Trailhead not far from Harman, West Virginia. Thankfully we had a detailed topographical map with us because it would have been difficult to navigate the trail without it. The trails are unmarked and only far-spaced signs and rock cairns show the way. We got off the trail a few times, but after back tracking, inspecting the map, and looking for cairns, we soon were on our way again.
The trail snakes along Red Creek for a long way, and despite the weather, we were often blessed with lovely views of this rocky creek, and even of several waterfalls. Fortunately, we had worn heavy boots because the trail was unbelievably muddy and slick, and our trekking poles saved me on more than one occasion from slides on the slick rocks. And they kept me upright when we forded the swollen, moss-slippery Red Creek on the way out and back. We met another hiker along the way, who hadn’t thought to bring poles and he’d gotten drenched from top to bottom when he slipped on the moss.
The landscape was unbelievably magical – the rock, mountain laurel and fog reminded us of something right out of Patagonia or Lord of the Rings, and was distinctly different from other places in the Blue Ridge. The ground was rockier than any place we’ve visited and we had to watch every step so as to remain upright. Along the way, we saw a wide variety of camping sites and fire circles for adventurers who wanted to spend the night, yet never once — in the entire five hours we were out there – did we see a bit of trash. The people who come to Dolly Sods clearly respect this lovely place.
We didn’t see a soul for the first two hours, but when we climbed the last portion towards Lion’s Head, we ran into a gentleman standing under a tree with a barking hound dog. He was delighted to see us as his GPS wasn’t working in this far flung, rainy area and he couldn’t see anything with “his glasses all fogged up.” I pulled out my handy-dandy map and set him on the right course again.
If the day had been clear, we would have scrambled up the rocks to sit atop of the massive Lion’s Head rock formation that gave a 360 degree view of the Dolly Sods Wilderness rolling out in all directions. But given the day, we admired the fog and treetops for a moment and then set our sights on returning to the warm car. Our fingers were pretty numb and we were as wet as fish.
We were delighted to climb back in the car and return to Elkins for the evening. After a hot bath and fantastic dinner at the Graceland Hotel, we were feeling pretty good about life and chalked up this rainy hike as one of the best we’ve ever taken. There’s something so magical about Dolly Sods that even in terrible weather, it leaves a lasting impression on the mind and skin that makes an adventurer want to return again and again.