I’m not sure why, but I’ve wanted to check out the Dolly Sods in WV for quite some time. Part of it is definitely that I love the name. I was also intrigued by a place that was for hiking only, so I couldn’t drive down there with my bike.
Earlier this year, one of our local adventurers sent me the maps (as well as tips for all of my other trips this year, as it seems like I’m copying his vacations… I’m ok with it). I’ve had a pretty busy summer and I also didn’t want to go by myself. I wanted to split the cost of a car rental (if needed) and gas, but I also didn’t want my first overnight backpacking trip to be by myself.
After I got back from Colorado, I did a search to see when the peak fall foliage would be in the area and – almost to my dismay – it was pretty much already happening. So I put up messages on social media and shot a text to a few potentially interested parties. Luckily Emma (who I have bike camped with in the past) excitedly replied. She invited another backpacking friend and we were set.
Our original goal was to make it down Friday night and hike about a mile in, even in the dark, just so we could get an early start on Saturday. This didn’t happen. We ended up camping in Deep Creek, MD. Still set up after dark, and I got to see how “freestanding” my tent is because the ground was pretty much solid (doable but not awesome).
The next morning we chose to have breakfast at a diner and refigure our options. We had already shortened our total hike after the forecast for Sunday turned into rain & thunderstorms. Oh, and the sunrise was incredible – we watched it over some pharmacy, I’m not even sure which one (Walgreens?) but it was only a little bit of a bummer that we weren’t in the woods to see it.
Driving into the Dolly Sods Wilderness was already pretty, although pretty typical for Appalachian woods in the fall. Then we got to the Bear Rocks parking area and we all kind of lost our cool little bit. It was a whole different kind of beautiful.
We did Bear Rocks > Raven Ridge > Rocky Ridge > Harmon > Blackbird Knob (only a short ways in) on day 1. It was very open and sunny so we all were struggling a bit with hydration. Someone told us that the streams had all dried up so there was a little bit of panic. Luckily the first campsite we hit was right on a creek. We ended up staying there even though our goal was to go a few more miles, mostly because I was starting to bonk but we were also closing in on our evening.
The campsite was neat, beneath a bunch of spruce trees. There were a ton of people packed pretty close together, but not a lot of noise. I dug my first cathole! (Crazy?) we chilled at someone else’s campfire and looked at the Milky Way for a while.
We woke up the next day to a light drizzle. Somehow it seemed to make all of the colors even more vibrant. Our plan was just to finish Blackbird Knob and then take the fire road back to the car. We ran into a few other groups doing the same and had company for part of our hike.
Note for next time: the Blackbird Knob trail has a bunch of easily accessible camping spots not insanely far from the parking area. It also wasn’t rocky and there weren’t any trail splits. We had been glad that we didn’t show up after dark because Bear Rocks had a few spots that would be really confusing without being able to see everything clearly (also it was one of the more beautiful seas of red). However, starting where we ended would have been super easy.
Doing this update on my phone so the photos aren’t integrated into the post. Any that include me were taken by Emma.