Breakfast for us has always been serious business, and this morning was no different. Maura cracked a few eggs at our secluded car-camping site near Seneca Rocks, and we ate a hearty breakfast from a big Coleman camping stove. Usually we are pretty minimal with our gear loadout, but we really wanted to have some luxury items for this long awaited trip to explore West Virginia’s insanely beautiful Dolly Sods Wilderness. We got a relatively huge 4-person tent, brought tons of cooking amenities and made sure our site was close to the showers at Seneca Shadows Campground. Today is our hiking day, so we carb up.
Maura had researched the area, and we decided that Rocky Ridge Trail would be our must-see trail to hike in the wilderness. Rocky Ridge Trail traverses a gorgeous ridgeline (who’d have thought?) and is beautifully peppered by bright white rock and groves of various, deep-green trees. The color palette alone is worth the visit.
Getting to the trailhead would take a little extra time, as Google Maps took us the wrong way to the trailhead. Backtracking a bit, we climbed a beautiful dirt road to the trailhead parking lot, loaded our packs with water, cameras, lunch and beer, and set out. A week prior, my friend had an encounter with a black bear here, so my previous experience backpacking in Glacier’s backcountry came in handy. We happily clapped and spoke loudly as we made our way toward Rocky Ridge.
Once the trail reached the ridge, breathtaking views to the west demanded our attention – it was hard to not trip over rocks in the trail. The greens of West Virginia summers are spectacular and varied. Wildflowers grow abundantly in the meadows of the ridge, and the air carried the smells of the flora. It’s hard not to feel poetic and inspired.
But make no mistake, hiking in the Sods is pretty tough. Oftentimes the trail is straight, jagged rock. We recommend hiking in high-ankled boots and bringing some moleskin, because your feet are going to get worked. We don’t hike that often, but we know hiking takes muscles that aren’t activated from normal walking. The trail was often very muddy in parts, and undulates with some decent elevation changes. It also should be noted that some route finding is required in the more rocky parts. We even encountered a family who had lost the trail while picking wild blueberries.
Our best view of the valley below came after encountering a beautiful maze of rock cairns, which lead up to the edge of the ridge. All of a sudden a house appeared, perched just below a bench on a rocky ledge. We hiked onward, and the rocks became noticeably bigger and whiter. The trail was less defined and our stomachs growled louder. Eventually, a picnic and beers on top of a tall rock outcropping was the only rational course of action.
After we made it to the northwest corner of the wilderness, I became a bit overzealous in our hiking abilities. We turned down an out-and-back and in favor of a different way back to the car. Unknowingly, we underestimated the true length of the detour and ended up hiking 12.5 miles that day (probably 4.5 of those miles were ones I spontaneously attached to our return journey). We should have walked back down on Rocky Ridge Trail, because that trail was the most beautiful one we hiked, by far. Our detour would lead us East and then South before rejoining the trail we already hiked. We preferred the big rocks and epic views to the grassy meadows of the inner Dolly Sods Wilderness. But hindsight is 20/20 and we enjoyed the trip nonetheless.
By the time we got back to the car, we were humbled, bewildered, amazed and satisfied.