Our first backpacking trip in West Virginia did not disappoint! It was absolutely wild and wonderful. Though a somewhat crowded weekend, we still found some tranquility and had two AMAZING camp sites. Between animal encounters and gorgeous views, this is absolutely our favorite trip we’ve been on to date! After reading be sure to visit our YouTube channel and watch the video of this adventure.
********Wanna watch the YouTube video of this trip? Click here! ********
Both of us having a long weekend available due to the Memorial Day holiday meant one thing….two nighter backpacking trip! We very rarely get the opportunity to do this so we wanted it to be worth it. A couple friend of ours had suggested that we check out Dolly Sods months prior to planning this trip. They really sold us on the difficulty and wildness of this trail. They were 110% correct. We read some reviews on the several different trails and made our own path. **This was a HUGE draw for us. There are SO many choices when it comes to the trails that you can literally make any length loop you want and if any circumstances would arise, there is always a shortcut back to the car.**
We had a pretty good idea of what we were getting into but we definitely over packed a bit, especially food. Seeing as it was about a five hour drive for us, we left on Friday evening after work and found a hotel about an hour away. We had a hot shower, good night’s sleep and then a lovely continental breakfast before heading out for adventure!
The trailhead was PACKED when we got there at about 9am. We began at the Red Creek Trailhead. We were beyond excited and got a little ahead of ourselves and right off the bat missed a trail marker (an arrow made of rocks pointing the way to the trail). We made our way through a camping area and bushwhacked until we found a noticeable trail. As I usually do, I was already getting anxious at this point thinking this trail was going to be the death of me and I was going to be lost forever in the wilderness of West Virginia.
We started on TR514 (Red Creek) after we found the trail for about 1.5-2 miles before turning off onto TR513 (Big Stone Coal). Immediately we got to our big water crossing. This was not a little piddly stream, it was one small step down from a river. As you can see in the video this “creek” has a decent current and you cross beside a small waterfall. **Note – cross upstream from the waterfall, this should go without saying but again we were excited and apparently forgot our bush-know-how at home. There were also quite a few others crossing at the same time and we followed them** I am 5’0 and the crossing was up to my crotch so I was very thankful it was a nice warm day and I was wearing shorts. After that I felt indestructible. Bring it on West Virginia!
From the creek crossing we stayed on TR513 for another 1.5-2 miles (pretty much straight up hill) until we hit TR554 (Rocky Point). The name says it all. This trail was very rough on the feet. There were large beautiful rock outcroppings and we decided to stop and have a little snack. At this point we thought we were at “Lion’s Head” but later figured out we weren’t and will be making it a point on our next trip to find the real spot. There was a Boy Scout troop also taking a break here so it was not exactly peaceful but it had some great views. Rocky Point was about 2 miles long and then we hopped back onto TR513 heading north for another couple miles.
In this stretch of the Red Creek Trail is a beautiful small waterfall area. It is right at the junction for TR553 (Breathed Mountain). We stopped and filled up our water and ate our lunch. Again, there was a group of Boy Scouts camping in this area upstream from where we stopped. Back on the trail we went and headed west onto TR553.
Breathed Mountain gave us our first real look at the “sods”. It was enchanting to be hiking on top of the mountain and seeing the beautiful views without trees. We had never been in an area like this so there was a lot of oo-ing and aw-ing. We hiked the entire 2.5 mile Breathed Mountain trail and then connected onto TR511 (Blackbird Knob). This trail essentially just took us the exact same place we had just come from only a little farther north. We were just connecting trails to give ourselves the weekend mileage we were looking for and yes I realize it seems like we just backtracked but it was intentional.
Blackbird Knob was another cool trail with good views and a nice spot to fill up water. There were a ton of camping sites around the stream and several people already set up. Once we crossed the stream we got a bit turned around but realized if we had just went straight we would have continued on the correct trial. We had turned left and went further back into the camping area. If you don’t mind camping with others, this is a nice spot but we were looking for a little more privacy. Not far off from this camping area we found ourselves a spot on top of a hill that was perfect. It gave us a GORGEOUS view and the privacy we were searching for.
Our day one ended up being about 12 miles total. There was a perfect sunset and we ate a delicious feast of potatoes, stuffing, and chicken. After the sun went down we watched a storm rolling across to the east that was just magical. It looked like a crystal ball flashing through the clouds. As we were hanging our bear bag and preparing to hit the hay I decided to take a pee. Mid-squat I noticed a set of eyes staring at me from across the field. I loudly whispered to Bryce to make him aware that I thought a bear was going to eat me while I was peeing. As we stared at the eyes, two more sets appeared. After watching them a bit more we realized by their movements that these were merely three deer passing through. We had a good laugh and retired for the night.
About 8am we roused and made ourselves some tea and oatmeal. After some filming we packed up and bid our perfect campsite farewell for now. We were back on the trail by 9:30am. We continued on Blackbird for about a mile before hitting TR509 (Upper Red Creek). Upper Red Creek was a nice 1.3 mile trail and also had a good area to refill water right before it ends. We hung out and ate a little snack before tackling the next trail, which we’d heard was not a fun one. After our snack we trudged east onto TR526 (Dobbin Grade).
We had read horrid things about Dobbin Grade, but in our planning we realized that there was a way to only be on it for about 1/4 of a mile. For that 1/4 of a mile we were halfway up our boots in a watery swampland. Half of the time we weren’t really even on a trail but we could see the connector trail and knew where we had to get. After about 10-15 minutes we had squished our way to TR521 (Raven Ridge).
Raven Ridge was a welcome dry trail for the most part. It took us back up on top of the sods and gave us some nice views of the incoming rain clouds. We went into a little pine forest area and upon coming out the rain had arrived. We stopped and pulled our rain covers over the packs and put on our Mountain Hardware Rain Jackets. While I wasn’t real stoked to be in the rain it was cool to finally use our rain gear that we’d had for two years and never needed. We finished up the 2.8 mile trail in the pouring rain before heading south onto TR524 (Rocky Ridge).
Once on Rocky Ridge we found another little pine grove and hid inside to eat our lunch. We broke out the stove and warmed some water for our Cup’o’Noodles. It was nice to have a hot lunch to warm us up from the rain. After lunch we headed back onto the trail. We saw a cairn and followed it to check out a nice little overlook. **It should be noted that we don’t show it in the video but we followed what we thought was a trail here and had to backtrack after realizing it wasn’t the trail.**
After 3 miles on Rocky Ridge we came to a trailhead where TR524 (Rocky Ridge), TR511 (Blackbird Knob), and TR513 (Big Stone Coal) all meet. We continued our trek south onto TR513 (Big Stone Coal). A couple miles into this trail we found our campsite for day 2. We hiked a total of just over 10 miles for day 2. This campsite had a couch made of huge rocks and a big fire pit. There was also a nice little stream across the trail. The rain had stopped and we threw a tarp over the rocks and made ourselves at home. While setting up our tent I realized that we had a visitor. A beautiful doe was munching the brush just beyond where I stood. Bryce managed to get within about 10 feet of her and got some fantastic footage….as if you needed another reason to go to our YouTube Channel to watch the accompanying video. Boots and socks were hung to dry and I started warming water for our meal. For dinner we decided to try something new, a Wise Company meal. We’ve always done Mountain House Meals but Wise Company is equally as good. We had the Teriyaki Chicken and Rice with some “adult juice” to top it off. After a relaxing fire and a couple of random rain drops we decided to turn in.
We awoke the next morning refreshed and a little sad that our adventure was ending. I made us some coffee and oatmeal and we took our time packing up. We were pretty slow moving just enjoying our last hours in nature, taking in all of the chirps and whistles. About 10:30 we finally got back on the trail to finish up our last 5 miles.
We had a couple more miles of unseen area on Big Stone Coal before we were back to the part of the trail we had been on during day 1. There was one notable waterfall just before the turnoff for TR588 (Little Stone Coal). It was pretty impressive and can be seen in our video. Continuing south were stayed on Big Stone Coal and were back to the hill we had initially climbed to reach Rocky Point. Going down was FAR more enjoyable although the slippery rocks were unforgiving and both of us about fell on more than one occasion. At the bottom of Big Stone Coal was the dreaded crotch deep river crossing. We decided to have a snack first and watch the other suckers cross that were in front of us.
Having our wits about us this time, we crossed a bit farther up and walked upstream, away from the waterfall. This technique had far better results and we crossed much easier. After that we hit back onto TR514 (Red Creek) headed west to the car. At this point the sadness of heading out of the woods was turning into the excitement of knowing there was a custard stand in the neighboring town.
As we ended our hike on Red Creek we realized the mistake we had made in the beginning. When you enter the trailhead to go into the forest instead of wandering straight into the campsites along the stream you turn right and hit the trail. The perfectly manicured, no bushwhacking trail. We were out by 1:30 and ready for custard!
In conclusion, this hike was one in a million. It was 28.4 miles total. The terrain was incredibly varied and the scenery was ever changing. The trails are well worn and there are plenty of cairns to let you know you are on the right track. We were there on a holiday weekend so it was quite busy but even so we had a great time and there were no shortages of camp sites. There are plenty of places to get water if you have a purification system. We used our Sawyer mini all weekend and it worked out great. OH and make sure you hit The Custard Stand in Elkins! We WILL be going back next year. Be sure to check out the accompanying YouTube video by clicking here!
Notable Gear – North Face Flint2 Tent & Footprint
– Kelty Pawnee 40 (Ashley) & Kelty Redcloud 90
– Mountain Hardware Raincoats
– CanonT3i/Rode Mic & GoPro