Nestled within the Monongahela National Forest, the Dolly Sods Wilderness stands as a testament to nature’s resilience and the passage of time. This captivating expanse along the Allegheny Mountains of eastern West Virginia beckons travelers with its distinctive high-elevation plateau, the highest of its kind east of the Mississippi River. The horizon unfolds with sweeping vistas from the Allegheny Front, punctuated by the wind-shaped forms of red spruce trees and the vast stretches of upland bogs.
The history of Dolly Sods is both vibrant and poignant. In the early 20th century, the land underwent a dramatic transformation. Logging trains roared through, and a stray spark ignited a colossal wildfire, turning lush forests into barren meadows. For a time, the Dalhe family grazed their sheep on this altered landscape, and the echoes of wartime reverberated across the wilderness as the area served as a training ground for World War II soldiers. Unexploded artillery still lurks beneath the surface, remnants of a time when battle cries, not birdsong, filled the air.
But as the decades passed, nature began to heal and reclaim its territory. By 1975, recognizing the region’s unique beauty and significance, Congress bestowed upon it the title of Dolly Sods Wilderness, protecting over 17,700 acres from the clutches of mining and power interests. Adjacent to this wilderness are the private Bear Rocks nature preserve to the north, and the less-frequented landscapes of Mt. Porte Canyon and Roaring Plains to the south.
A journey through Dolly Sods today is a tale of two terrains. Wander the lower trails, and you’ll wade through a sea of northern hardwoods, with yellow birch and hemlock trees reaching skywards, their roots weaving through trails blanketed by laurel thickets. Venture higher, and the landscape transforms. Here, the rugged beauty of wind-whipped red spruce, expansive heath barrens, and rocky plains take center stage. Amidst these barrens, nature showcases a palette of colors: the vibrant hues of mountain laurels, azaleas, and rhododendrons contrast with the deep greens of blueberries. The bogs, a unique feature of this wilderness, play host to cranberries, delicate sundew plants, and cushiony sphagnum moss.
And as you breathe in the crisp air, with elevations soaring above 4,000 feet, you might feel like you’ve been transported to northern Canada. Dolly Sods is a place where time has etched its story, a wilderness reborn, waiting to share its tale with every intrepid traveler.