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Black Forest Trail, PA – April 2014 (Backpacking Trip Report)

Black Forest Trail Backpacking Overview

View all of my Black Forest Trail pictures

  • Location – Tiadaghton State Forest, Pennsylvania
  • Trail – Black Forest Trail
  • Trailhead – On Slate Run Rd about 1 mile northwest of Hotel Manor in the town of Slate Run
  • Fees & Permits – None needed (Backpackers only need permits to camp along Pine Creek or Slate Run)
  • Length Of Time Hiked – 4 Days, 3 Nights
  • Trail Type – Loop
  • Miles Hiked – 39.3 Miles
  • Trail Difficulty – 6.5
  • Solitude – 3
  • Fires Allowed – Yes
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black forest trail miles hiked and elevation gain/loss

map of th e black forest trail tiadaghton state forest pennsylvania

Map of the Black Forest Trail

the weather during our hike

Getting There

I left home around 6am after meeting up with my buddy Ryan. It’s about a 7.5 hour drive (440 miles) to Slate Run, PA. We escaped rush hour traffic and where soon into Ohio. Ryan was set on Chick-Fil-A, so we made sure to stop at the first one we found. We don’t have them in Michigan.

On the way into Slate Run, coming heading north on 414 from 80, we passed a Tiadaghton State Forest building. Although they did have some maps, they did not have any for the Black Forest Trail.

Day 1 – Wednesday April 16th, 2014

Miles Hiked – 6.8
Route – Slate Run Trailhead to campsite near Little Slate Run along the BFT

picture of the trailhead for the black forest trail in slate run, pa

We arrived in Slate Run around 2pm as anticipated. The trailhead is located on Slate Run Rd, less than one mile north of Hotel Manor. It’s marked by a brown sign for the Black Forest Trail, and the road has pull off spaces for parking along side it. There was a large “church van” parked here, but that was it. We weren’t expecting to see many people out here.

Heading down to the trail from the trailhead, almost instantly you are faced with a choice: left or right? We planned on hiking clockwise, but we actually had to make a left. It makes more sense when you are looking at the map. The first 1.5 miles parallels Slate Run Rd. The trail was well maintained here, with lots of logs that looked somewhat freshly cut. The trail also parallels the river (Slate Run) here, but just out of sight mostly.

Once on the trail, it took 20-30 minutes for my GPS to find satellites and get a proper signal. It often takes a while when it’s first turned on somewhere far away from the last time it was turned on. Also, even though I had cleared all the previous trip data, my current trip odometer stated 404 miles from the start. There must have been remnants of a previous trip that didn’t get erased somehow.

After about 1.5 miles, the trail turns northwest and crosses Slate Run Rd and heads uphill. It’s a 1,000ft climb out of the gorge in less than a mile. As soon as we started heading up hill, we lost sight of the trail. We didn’t notice for a few minutes since there was a path up the drainage, but soon it faded. Rather than backtracking, we bushwhacked our way up the hill until we crossed the trail. This was pretty strenuous, especially since we were less than an hour into the first day of the hike after a 7 hour drive. On top of that, I was throwing up only 48 hours earlier from a 24 hour bug, and still not feeling 100%.

black forest trail view april 2014

Once at the top of the gorge, we had our first view. Being mid April, everything was still bare and brown, and has a way of looking rather plain. In forested areas, I personally prefer to hike when things are in bloom, when everything that lush green color. Not that I am a big fan of the heat of the summer, but that’s when I find everything to be the most beautiful. It’s funny though, because I was reading through some Black Forest Trail trip reports before this hike and came across someone who has the opposite view on this as I do… he actually prefers to hike when the trees have shed all their leaves, because of the ability to see farther.  I wasn’t able to find it again after the trip to get his exact words, but it was something along the lines of “I’ve got to get out there and hike more before everything turns into monotone green”. Monotone green? What about monotone brown, that’s better? While I can see the appeal of being able to see farther, it doesn’t make up for the lack of beauty compared to late spring/summer/early fall hiking in my mind. Ryan and I got a bit of a chuckle out of this every time we came across a vista, commenting on the monotone brown landscape. Laughs aside, we were just glad to be out here regardless of the season.

We walked by a white cabin not long after hiking out of the gorge. There was nobody here, but looked like it was maintained fairly well and still in use. Farther down the trail we ran into a group of maybe 7-10 people camping. We spoke with one of the guys for a few minutes and found out that it was his van that was parked at the trailhead. He ran a group that takes “troubled boys” out on hikes instead of them going to juvenile detention. He mentioned that he had lost his map somewhere along the trail earlier near a specific mile marker (which are only printed on the map he had). I had a GPS track of the trail to follow, but having a physical map to refer to is always nice. Especially with those mile markers.

It was now early evening and time to start looking for a campsite. Today’s high was only 45 to begin with, and the temps were starting to drop. We found a decent campsite along Little Slate Run shortly thereafter. This area had received some rain and snow in the last 48 hours, and the ground was still pretty damp in spots. There was also not a great deal of level ground for tents, but we were able to find room for two one man tents.

campsite along little slate run - black forest trail, pa

Getting a fire going was a pain tonight due to all the damp wood around, but we made it happen. Good thing too, because it was really cold. However, the fire never got very big and required constant attention. No cooking over the fire tonight. After eating some food and huddling around the fire for a while, it was time for bed around 9pm.

Day 2 – Thursday April 17th, 2014

Miles Hiked – 13.9
Route – Little Slate Run campsite to Blackberry Trail campsite

little slate run morning day 2

Last night was a calm night. The sound of Little Slate Run trickling nearby was soothing, but the bitterly cold temperatures could not be ignored. The overnight low was 24°F, well below the comfort level of my sleeping bag. I still use a cheap 30°F bag, the Silver City by Eureka. I had all my extra clothes on inside the bag last night and was still cold, mainly my feet. I really need to get a better bag, just putting it off due to the $400+ price tag of the one I want.

black forest trail pennsylvania view april

pine creek gorge in april

I didn’t eat much for breakfast, all I wanted to do was get moving and warm up. Immediately after leaving camp, the trail climbs about 900ft to the top of a ridgeline that we would follow for a while. There were a few clearings here and there with some good views of monotone brown. At one of the vistas, I found the map that belonged to the guy we spoke with last night. Man, this thing was great compared to our map! Of course, we had no way of getting this map back to the guy we saw yesterday, so we kept it for the remainder of our hike.

bft pine creek gorge

along the ridgeline above naval run

The trail on the ridgeline is actually a two tracker road for a while before heading back into the woods. The trail then starts dropping in elevation and passes through an area with a lot of downed trees. We lost the trail here for a moment, our fault by not watching for the orange blazes on the trees like we should have. We had to backtrack a little way, uphill of course. Thankfully, it was only a few minute detour and we were now descending into the right valley.

along naval run black forest trail pa

small waterfall on naval run

After hiking the switchbacks down to Naval Run, trail crosses the stream. We decided to stop here for a food break as this was the nicest spot we’d seen in a while. Still not having much appetite, I just grazed a little. There was a small waterfall here, maybe 6 feet high.

view of pine creek gorge in pa

The next section was one of the toughest climbs on the trip at around 1100ft in a mile. Although the grade may have been steep at times, the trail was always maintained well and easy to traverse. This was true for the entire length of the Black Forest Trail. Having eaten only about 25% of my normal calorie intake over the last several days, I was feeling really weak. I just couldn’t eat anything, and that’s frustrating. Ryan was also not feeling like himself, as had a more serious sickness about a week before me and was still sort of recovering. We made good time up out of the gorge but it was tiring. Fortunately, that was the last big climb of the day. Now up on another ridgeline, there were a couple of good views of the Pine Creek Gorge. This is what they call “Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon”. Impressive, but still monotone brown!

The Black Forest Trail now follows the ridgeline west towards 44. Looking at our map, we discussed our route options. We had a campsite in mind already based on mileage. But we had 2 options: hike along 44 north and then head west on the Blackberry Trail to our intended campsite, or hike the route as normal. The normal route would have us crossing 44 and continue west, in and out of the Baldwin Branch drainage, and looked longer. We figured a road walk would be much faster than our alternative, and that’s what we chose.

The ridgeline dumped us out onto Big Trail Rd, then Trout Run Rd before hitting 44. After an uneventful 2.5 mile road walk, we hit the Blackberry Trail. After following the trail west for a short distance, the trail emerges from the woods and into an open, soggy area. Our map showed the campsite along the trail as it starts to descend into a drainage just past this field. As we headed down into the drainage we heard some voices and eventually saw a group of people camping in the distance, through the trees. This was the campsite we were looking for, but it’s taken. I was a little surprised to see another group of people out here. We scouted around and found another decent site nearby. Good thing, because we were both pretty tired, and there were no more campsites in this area on the map.

bft camp night 2

The campsite was situated at the fork of two small streams, on the inner portion of the “V”. It featured an elaborate stone structure, a firepit/bench/dining area thing. I don’t know why I didn’t take a picture of it, as I have never seen a campsite with something as elaborate as this for a firepit.

tiadaghton state forest camping black forest trail

Ryan took a nap for an hour after setting up his tent, while I relaxed by the creek under a tree and filtered water. I grazed more heavily on my food now, which was about the only time of day I could actually eat anything.

For dinner, I cooked some italian sausages over the fire. The wood was dry enough tonight to allow a larger fire. Last night, the wood was too damp, and there was no way I would have been able to cook them then. Our stone structure kept the wind out of the fire, mostly, and gave us somewhere to sit and put our stuff.


Day 3 – Friday April 18th, 2014

Miles Hiked – 11.3
Route – Blackberry trail campsite to Red Run campsite

Last night was another cold night, with a low of 28°F. I did a lot better job of keeping warm last night by filling the area around my feet with spare clothing, that was a big help.

hiking the blackberry trail

pennsylvania backpacking tiadaghton state forest blackberry trail

Instead of following the BFT down to County Line Branch up up that drainage, we backtracked .7 miles to a trail (don’t recall the name) that heads north, and runs in between 44 and County Line Branch. After hiking about a mile and passing Grade Rd, we ran into a local and his daughter out for a walk. He was a nice guy, gave us some history on the area and info on the trails. We passed several cabins as the trail paralleled a road at times. Other times the trail followed an old railway. South of 44, we saw a deer near a logging area.

gorge view northern side of black forest trail

The next section of trail was rather boring. After crossing 44 again on the northern side of the loop, the trail follows close to roads and passes by many more cabins, and there isn’t much to see. There was one or two good views of the gorge but for the most part, like most of the trail, the view is obstructed by trees.

black forest trail stream

crossing a footbridge on the black forest trail

After being teased with views just out of sight for a while, the trail descends into another gorge. At the bottom is Slate Run (the creek, not the town). This was a pretty cool little area, with a few drive in campsites along the road. We took our time hiking through here, and ultimately stopped for a while near a small waterfall. Ryan wanted to jump in the water but had second thoughts after feeling the temperature. It was a nice day out now, with the sun shining and all, but still only in the low 50’s.

campsite along red run on the balck forest trail

We were thinking about campsites now at this point but were still a mile or two away from our intended site. Our map shows a campsite at the junction of Red Run and an unnamed creek at the last possible point before the trail starts heading out of the gorge again. We were starting to see more people on the trail now so we were worried about the site being available, but we found the area to be empty. However, several other groups of hikers came down the trail after we set up camp, so we may have lucked out.

red run creek black forest trail pa

waterfall on red run blackforest trail

two waterfalls tiadaghton state forest backpacking

There were two smaller, but still photographable, waterfalls next to the campsite which was pretty cool. We got to camp a bit earlier today than previous days, and actually had time to hang out and relax. The sun was hitting one of the waterfalls just right and I decided to take out my tripod and play around with manual mode on my camera. Ryan was off doing much of the same on his own, and that’s how we spent the afternoon/evening.

ryan sitting on a rock in red run

Day 4- Saturday April 19th, 2014

Miles Hiked – 7.3
Route – Red Run campsite to Slate Run trialhead

Like day 2, as soon as we hit the trail in the morning we were faced with a big climb. This one is the last of the trip, but always hard in the morning. At least it warms up the body quickly!

algerine wild area tiadaghton sf

After reaching the top of the 600’+ climb, we were presented with a nice view of the gorge below. After marveling at the monotone brown for a while we moved on.

BFT View

BFT View Day 4

Much of the trail up here today was rather boring. There were only a few scenic vistas, the majority of the trail just passed through nondescript woods. Ryan had mentioned a mine that was alongside the trail coming up, but that proved to be uninteresting as well. There was no evidence of any opening, and even the dump around the mine was just the same slate rock as everywhere else along the trail.

a huge and elaborate cairn on the black forest trail

The trail then proceeds to head downhill and towards the town of Slate Run. The trail here was an old road at one point, probably leading to the mine above. Then we passed an interesting outcrop of rocks marked by one of the most elaborate cairns I’ve ever seen. This thing was neatly constructed and huge. We dropped out packs and hung out in this area for a while, checking out the various areas tucked away behind a multitude of rock formations.

nice section of the black forest trail

a view of pine creek and slate run from the black forest trail

After leaving the rocky area behind, we saw a snake on the trail. Not sure what kind but he slithered away and we let him be. Thankfully we saw that snake because otherwise, we didn’t see crap for wildlife besides the deer yesterday. As the trail dropped in elevation even more, Pine Creek and the town of Slate Run is visible through the trees. I wish the trees would clear for a view at some point but they didn’t.

getting ready to ford slate run

Once we got down off the hill, we had one more obstacle to face before reaching the car. We still needed to ford Slate Run, which was a decent sized creek due to the recent rains. There is no bridge here which is surprising given the popularity and condition of the rest of the trail. However, I found it to be knee deep at the most, without scouting for a better crossing location.

turquise water of slate run

beautiful slate run creek

After crossing the stream, we passed some really beautiful sections of water before the trail heads up the banks. Definitely some good looking fishing holes right here, but there were also signs for fly fishing only and I believe catch and release only in one spot as well. When we made it back to the car, there were at least 10 other vehicles parked here. We saw a few guys with fly fishing gear, not sure if the rest were here to hike or what. Either way, we were glad to be back at the car and ready for some hot food!

Final Thoughts

I liked this hike, but it would have been a whole lot nicer if we had done it when everything was in bloom. I’m glad I didn’t bring my fishing gear, there really wasn’t any good spots along much of the streams except where the trail intersects Slate Run. Those spots were near the bridge on the northern crossing and where we forded the creek right before making it back to the car. There were a lot of roads, cabins, and other signs of human activity here and there along large portions of the trail. However, there were a couple of views when up on top of the gorge where I couldn’t see anything but trees.

It was nice to be able to get away for a few days and do this hike, even if it wasn’t on par with my trips out west. I was dealing with a lot of stress at the time and getting my mind off things for a few days was nice. Hiking really is great for that. No matter what I am dealing with “back in the world”, none of it matters out here.

As always, questions and comments are welcome!

If you found my trip report useful, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment! Alternatively, if you feel you have any information you’d like to share with others regarding this hike, please feel free to leave that below in a comment as well.


Dolly Sods Wilderness, WV Backpacking – June 2012

Dolly Sods Wilderness Backpacking Overview

Complete Dolly Sods Photo Gallery | Dolly Sods Wilderness Video

  • Location – Dolly Sods Wilderness, West Virginia
  • Park – Monongahela National Forest
  • Trail Hiked – Custom Route
  • Miles Driven To Destination – 920 miles roundtrip
  • Length Of Time Hiked – 4 days, 3 nights
  • Trail Type – Loop
  • Miles Hiked – 21.9
  • Trail Difficulty – 4.5/10
  • Fires Allowed – Yes

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Get a printed topographical map of the above GPX route here: Dolly Sods Wilderness Topo Map

map of hiking trails in the dolly sods wilderness

Download this map without my writing on it here:

Only three weeks after returning from the Gila Wilderness, NM I decided that I wanted to take my father somewhere for his birthday instead of getting him another crappy gift that we’ll both have forgotten about by the next year. He’d never been on a hike over 4 miles and that was without a pack, so for a guy turning 61 this was going to be an adventure. I picked the Dolly Sods Wilderness because it looked like it had a lot to offer in a small area, and was not going to be too physically demanding for dad. Also, it was “only” an 8.5 hour drive from home.

Getting There

We got up at 5am and cooked breakfast, and headed out the door by 6am. We were able to beat the morning rush hour traffic and get past the worst of it without delays. Ohio’s toll road got us for $10.50, and the PA toll road totaled nearly $10 as well. Nothing like paying to drive on roads that are always under construction! Glad we don’t have toll roads in my home state. Ohio is a pretty boring drive, but once we got into Pennsylvania the landscape was much more to look at. Maryland and West Virginia were both beautiful drives, the kind you don’t mind driving through at all.

We got to our planned trailhead at around 3:30pm. We parked at the Blackbird Knob/Big Stonecoal/Breathed Mountain trailhead off Public Road 80 (aka Freeland Rd or hwy 37). We expected to have been able to drive all the way up to the trailhead itself, but deep puddles and rough road ahead were signs that my small car wasn’t to go any farther. We ended up having to hike an extra mile to the trailhead itself from where we parked our car. Even if you have a truck, you could have only gone a few hundred yards farther before large rocks block the path from here from any vehicle traffic. So, add an extra mile if you plan to start here.

Day 1 – June 4th, 2012

dolly sods wilderness

Cairn On The Rocky Ridge Trail

From the moment we got out of the car, we noticed how the climate was different here. It was fairly cool out, maybe in the upper 50’s and windy. Once you finally reach the actual trailhead itself, you’ll see signs for several trails that branch off from this area. We hiked north on the Rocky Ridge Trail, number 524. This was a really nice hike, and great way to start our trip. There are excellent views to the West, but since this trail is right on the Wilderness boundary at this point, you can still see many signs of civilization down below… houses, roads, farms, etc. We pretty much followed the perimeter of the park’s Northwestern corner on our first day, constantly hugging the boundary line. This area was covered with large boulders and rocky outcrops that I would have loved to climb, but we didn’t have a lot of time to spare. Today, we were trying to make it to the junction of the Raven Ridge Trail and Beaver View Trail, trail numbers 521 and 524.

dolly sods wilderness

Hiking The Rocky Ridge Trail

dolly sods rocky ridge

Dad on the Rocky Ridge Trail

Northen Dolly Sods Wilderness

Northern section of the Rocky Ridge Trail

We made it to our planned destination around 6:30, which ended up being a little over 6 miles. Not bad for 3 hours, with a 61 year old first timer! Camp was a small clearing under some pine trees along the Raven Ridge Trail. I helped my dad set up his tent (my spare one-man, an Alps Mountaineering Zephyr 1) since it was his first time using it. The weather was looking cloudy, so we put our packs in the vestibules and headed down the trail to find a place to cook our dinner. Usually on my first or even second night in the backcountry, I’ll eat a nice meal like burgers or italian sausages. If you freeze them and keep them in a cooler until you reach the trail, these types of foods can be kept 1-2 days depending on the temperature and how well you keep them insulated in your backpack. I know many people don’t do this, but I like to eat GOOD! Unfortunately, I forgot the cheese for our burgers. But that’s the only thing I forgot for this entire trip, and seeing how as I planned it in such little time, I’m ok with that.

It was nearly 9pm by the time we finished cooking and cleaning, and by this time my old man was worn out. He was off to bed, and I did the same about 30 minutes later. This night was eerily quiet… I don’t ever remember having such a quiet night in the woods. When I was trying to get to sleep, I couldn’t hear one cricket, bird, anything. It was so quiet, all I could hear is a slight ringing/buzzing in my ears.

Day 2 – June 5th, 2012

My alarm went off at 7am and it was time to get out of bed. My dad is an early bird, and was already up on his own without an type of alarm. It was pretty overcast, and looked like rain in the distance. It looked like this the whole afternoon/evening the day before though and we didn’t see rain then, so we hoped today would be the same. We hit the trail around 8:30am and headed East on the Bear Rocks Trail, number 522. This area had nice views of rolling hills and meadows, with low rain clouds at the tree tops in the distance. The openness of this terrain was a welcome sight to my last hike in New Mexico.

dolly sods open meadow

Raven Ridge Trail just south of the Bear Rocks Trail

hiking the dobbins grade trail

Upper Red Creek along the Dobbins Grade Trail

Shortly after turning hitting the Dobbins Grade Trail, number 526, we crossed our first stream, the upper portion of the Red Creek. After hiking a bit farther, we passed the river again, which was deeper and wider at this point. We decided to drop our packs and try fishing some of the small pools. I usually bring a collapsible rod strapped to the outside of my pack and store my reel inside. My dad brought his fly rod, in a case strapped to the side of his backpack. A few minutes after throwing our lines in the water, an older man walked by on the trail above us, and asked if we caught anything. This was the first person we’d seen, but not the last. After a half hour, we weren’t getting any action and we called it quits.

Red Creek along the Dobbins Grade, near Raven’s Ridge Trail intersection

Eventually this area became very wet and boggy as we made our way down the Dobbins Grade Trail. This was probably my least favorite section of our hike. Everywhere you stepped was wet and muddy, sometimes mid shin depth and probably much deeper in areas we avoided. If I were to hike this area again, I’d follow a ridge on higher ground rather than trekking through this swampy area. I can’t complain though, because my boots did keep my feet dry. My dad’s brand new thinsulate water proof boots did not keep his feet dry, but once again my Zamberlains served me well. Before I left for this hike I applied some Sno-Seal on them to treat the leather and water proof them. At first, the water was beading off pretty well, but eventually the wax wore off and although the water didn’t bead up, they still didn’t leak.

Once we hit the Upper Red Creek Trail, number 509, we followed it South and left the sinking mud pits of the Dobbins behind. This trail was much drier and pleasant. After 1.25 miles, the 509 ends at the Blackbird Knob trail, number 511. We followed this west for 1/3 mile and continued south on the Red Creek Trail, # 514. Our plan for today was to stop at a campsite along this trail, explore the river and it’s waterfalls and maybe get some fishing in. We found a great campsite along the river by 12:30pm, probably the earliest I’ve ever stopped hiking. We’d covered 6 miles already so this was good enough for me. I had to keep in mind that my dad is not used to this kind of activity, and I tried to keep the hike as easy as possible for him. His only complaint so far was that my crappy High Sierra backpacking was hurting his hip. If anything, I was expecting a back problem… if you could see how this backpack sits on your back, you’d understand. The straps at the top have a buckle that prevents the weight from being pulled right up to your back, leaving a gap between your back and the backpack. I put the pack on and could feel the weight of it just wanting to pull you backwards.

Upper Red Creek Trail

They don’t call it Red Creek for nothing

It still looked like it was going to rain, so we promptly set up camp. We then headed up the river a few hundred feet to check out a small waterfall. After snapping some pictures here, we headed downstream through the river, hoping rocks and following the banks past our campsite. There were several other groups of people camping just a few hundred yards downstream from us near another small waterfall, at the forks of the Red Creek and another stream. We hiked upstream of one of the forks for a ways, but didn’t see any waterfalls here.

dolly sods waterfall cave

Waterfall on the Red Creek with a cave behind it

waterfall and cave

Adjusting the shutter speed to blur the water. Still practicing!

backpacking in the dolly sods wilderness

View of the waterfall from higher ground

We headed back to the forks and downstream along the other direction. It was starting to sprinkle now, but we kept going as there we encountered numerous waterfalls that became more impressive as you progressed downriver. With the added beauty came increasingly difficult terrain. We came up to a waterfall that was 15 feet or so in height that had a good sized cave behind the falls just as it began to rain harder. The cave provided excellent shelter from the rain, but after 2 hours it was still coming down. I suggested that we make a fire to warm up a bit and to give us something to do. Even though there were plenty of sticks in this cave, they were pretty damp and we had no dry tinder. We spent a good 20 minutes trying to get this fire lit but it did not want to catch. I flipped over a large rock and there was a small, wet piece of birch bark underneath. This was all we needed to get it going, and soon we had a roaring fire. But wouldn’t you know it… the rain stopped 10 minutes later!

dolly sods waterfall on red creek

Waterfall on Red Creek

taking shelter in a cave, warming up with a fire

Dad tending to the fire

Taking advantage of the break in the weather, we headed back to camp. We had planned on cooking hot dogs over the fire tonight, but the weather didn’t look like it was going to cooperate for long. All the firewood we gathered earlier was already soaked. Fortunately, there were a lot of birch trees in the area and with a few handfuls of bark, we just might be able to have a fire after all. We gathered more “dry” firewood and tinder from areas underneath pine trees and rock overhangs, and started a fire with the birch bark once again. Once lit, even the wet stuff was burning. However, the fire was requiring a lot of attention and we didn’t have many large pieces of wood, so we ate our night 3 dinner tonight, 2 tortillas each with cheese and pepperoni. Hopefully tomorrow night will be dry so we can cook the dogs over a fire.

I went to bed around 10pm tonight, and it wasn’t raining at the moment. Minutes after I laid down, I heard a small animal moving around very close to my tent. VERY close. I shouted at it but whatever it was would not go away. I got up and out of the tent to make my presence known, but didn’t see anything. I laid down again and didn’t hear anything else, and eventually fell asleep.

Day 3 – June 6th, 2012

I woke up around 4am to the sound of rain. It wasn’t heavy, but it the fact that it was raining at all was disheartening. Today we were supposed to hike to Breathed Mountain and visit the Lion’s Head. I went back to sleep and woke up at 7 when my alarm went off. It was still raining, and my dad was up walking around with his rain gear on. I opted to stay in my tent, and figured we’d wait a few hours to see if the weather clears up before breaking camp. We only had to hike about 4 miles today, so there was no hurry.

Eventually, the rain let up after 11am and I crawled out of my tent. When I reached into my backpack to grab breakfast, which was in my vestibule, I saw evidence of the animal that had been rooting around near my tent. I had a ziplock bag with hot dog buns and bagels that was chewed open and had mouse crap all around it. I usually don’t hang my food, because I use these OP Saks, which are advertised to block the scent of anything inside. I’ve tested these bags by putting food inside it and putting it under my dog’s nose, and the dog had no interest in it. However, my bread was in a separate ziplock bag that was not stored inside the OP Sak, and it fell victim to the mouse. Fortunately only 1 bagel and a few hot dog buns were affected, and it wasn’t a total loss. Lesson learned.

The weather appeared to be clearing up at this point so we decided to pack up and head out. And by clearing up, I mean becoming only 95% cloudy. Seeing a little patch of blue in the sky was a glimmer of hope as broke camp around 12:30 and headed South on the Red Creek Trail. I was disappointed that this trail had no view of the river below, as this is where I saw some nice waterfalls the day earlier. Not having the chance to push farther downstream yesterday and now not having a view from the trail was killing me! You could rear the roar of the water for a ways, before the trail curved away from the river. The trail was muddy, but still not as bad as the Dobbins Grade Trail.

Rock point trail - dolly sods wilderness

Hiking the Rocky Point Trail

Between the Breathed Mountain Trail, 553, and the Rocky Point Trail, 554 was a relatively easy hike. There really wasn’t much to see here though, so we made good time through this section and took the Rocky Point Trail. I had read there was a campsite near Lion’s Head, a rock formation on Breathed Mountain, so my plan was to camp up there for our last night. I had considered camping here the first night and doing the loop in the opposite direction, but am now glad that I chose to do it this way. The weather was looking better and just maybe we’d get a chance to take some pictures of the sunset and sunrise here without cloud cover. We found the side trail near the Southern end of the Rocky Point Trail, on the West side. After a short scramble up some rocks, we found a small campsite right on the edge of a wooded area. It was barely large enough for our two one-man tents, but we made it work. My tent was sopping wet when I set it up and after it had rained several more times that afternoon, I noticed it was now completely dry thanks to the pine tree above. Usually when it rains at camp, I’ll just hang out in my tent. My area was dry enough to just stand out in the rain, which was really nice.

Dolly Sods Wilderness - Breathed Mountain Campsite

Campsite near the Lion’s Head

View from our campsite on Breathed Mountain

View from our campsite on Breathed Mountain

Me on the rocks of Breathed Mountain

We spent the afternoon exploring the open rocky area surrounding the Lion’s Head and snapping pictures. That is, of course, in between the frequent rain showers. Navigating these rocks required jumping over deep cracks ind gullies form time to time, but nothing too extreme. The rocks were not slippery, even when wet. In fact, they had a sandpaper-like grip which was nice for once. There were tons of pinkish flowers up here which I was not expecting to see on an exposed rock face, but added to the beauty of this already amazing vista. I had an elevated view of my surroundings in a 270 degree field of view, and could hear the distant roar of Red Creek below. No wonder this is known as the best view in the Dolly Sods Wilderness!

Breathed Mountain View dolly sods

Breathed Mountain View

Breathed Mountain View dolly sods

Breathed Mountain View

dolly sods wilderness lions head point

The infamous Lion’s head

Clouds over the Dolly Sods Wilderness

The last of the nasty weather rolling through

There were two other guys up here who we ended up talking to for a while. They were locals, both in their early 20’s. One of them had never been to the Dolly Sods Wilderness or backpacking at all for that matter, but I if I remember right they both frequent Seneca Rocks nearby for rock climbing. They were taking pictures on the Lion’s Head and wanted to “trade” pictures with us. My dad and I stepped out onto the Lion’s Head as they took a few pictures of us together, and then we returned the favor. They were busy climbing so I set their camera on one of their backpacks and I noticed one of them had the same backpack as the one my dad was using, the High Sierra 75. Do yourself a favor and spend a little more money on a better pack if you plan to use it more than once…this thing sucks. Check my gear section for the complete review.

dolly sods wilderness sunset

We had an awesome view of the sunset as the weather cleared

Again, finding dry firewood would be a challenge. We gathered even less than the night before but enough to cook with. My dad gathered some birch bark earlier and had it stuffed in his pocket. This got the fire going rather quickly and it was time to grill some hot dogs! Since that damn mouse ate some of the buns, I had to “double up” the meat in each bun. This was another meal where I wish I remembered to bring the cheese… I always put shredded cheddar on mine, it’s great! But to anyone in the backcountry, a couple of plain hot dogs is as good as it gets. They must have smelled great, because I saw another mouse on the rocks below while we were eating. I grabbed a 20lb rock and hurled it at the mouse, and I still don’t know how he didn’t get crushed… it looked like it landed right on top of him! It scurried away and we did not see any more animals in the area or hear any throughout the night.

Day 4 – May 7th, 2012

lion's head sunrise

Setting up the tripod shortly after 5am

dolly sods wilderness pre dawn moon

Moon and the mist

sunrise from lion's head

Sunrise in the Dolly Sods Wilderness

I woke up at 5am today to watch and photograph the sunrise, and I’m glad I did because the weather had cleared overnight and the sky was as clear as you could get.  Immediately after leaving the cover of the trees near camp and making my way onto the exposed rocks, I could see the intensely thick cloud cover in the valleys. I’ve never seen anything like this before… it was awe-inspiring. While waiting for the sun to come up, I set up my tripod and fooled around with my new camera, a Sony Nex-5. I have to admit though, I’m a complete novice when it comes to photography. I really need to educate myself more but haven’t had the time before this trip. Regardless, I was going to fool around with it and see what I could do. This really just consisted of adjusting the aperture and shutter speed manually. I had a polarized filter which I used for most of the trip as well.

Dense fog glows under the sun


The sun rose around 6am, and the rapid changes in lighting offered many photo opportunities. The fog had an orange glow to it as the sun climbed higher in the sky. The moon was still very brightly visible as well… a stark contrast to the vividly blue sky. Shortly after sun rise, my dad got up and joined me. He took a few pictures with his camera, but I easily snapped over a hundred this morning.

Morning fog in the Dolly Sods Wilderness

sun burning off the morning fog in the dolly sods wildnerness

We headed back to camp around 7:30am to pack up and head back to the car. Today’s hike would be around 5 miles. We were almost out of water and began to ration it to last us to the car. I had eaten a Met-rx bar earlier, around 7am, but this is not enough for me. I was pretty hungry by the time we hit the trail at 8:30, but I didn’t want to eat without having enough water to drink, so I skipped a full breakfast this morning.

Back on the Rocky Point Trail, it became less rocky as we headed North. After reaching Big Stonecoal Trail, number 513, it’s a straight shot back to the trailhead we started at. From this point, it’s about 3 miles to the trailhead, and another mile to the car from there. Now on the 513, the two hikers we saw up by the Lion’s Head the night before passes us. For the rest of the morning, we’d play leap frog on the trail, passing each other several times. Not long after, we passed a cascading waterfall about 20 feet in height. I climbed down to get some pictures, and then it’s back to the trail.

dolly sods waterfall

Another waterfall on the Red Creek

The next section of the trial consisted of multiple meadows separated by patchy wooded areas. It was pretty wet through here, but there was almost always a rock or log to hop your way past anything that looked deep. There were a few campsites through here that would have been nice, but we didn’t bother to investigate. We were both ready to get back to the car, and didn’t stop for much. After passing through a pine forest, the trail became rocky again and was wreaking havoc on Dad’s endurance. He doesn’t complain though, and before you know it we were back at the trailhead. Only 1 mile left to go! This section seemed twice as long coming back. When we got within sight of the car, there were three people on horseback coming our way. One of the horses got spooked by the sound of our trekking poles hitting the rocky ground and looked like he was going to bite us!

Final Thoughts

The Dolly Sods Wilderness has it’s own little climate pattern. It’s a wet region, bring good water proof boots and your rain gear. Also, a tarp would have been nice so that we had something to sit under when it rains. I’ve carried one before but have opted not to recently due to weight and bulkiness… I’d have carried it this time but the weather forecast looked good before we left so I chose not to. Be prepared to start a fire in wet conditions, or have no fire at all. If you choose to hike that route we took, leave your fishing pole at home. We didn’t see any fish anywhere, and had no luck fishing.

This hike wasn’t particularly difficult, and is suitable for most people. There were some ups and downs, but never anything real steep and nor was it for longer than a tenth of a mile or so.

I’m really glad I did this hike. Dad had a good time, and I know this trip will be something he’ll never forget. Watching the sunrise on Breathed Mountain was incredible, and worth the drive alone. I highly recommend camping up by the Lion’s Head and spending some time up here.

Complete Dolly Sods Photo Gallery


As always, questions and comments are welcome!

If you found my trip report useful, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment! Alternatively, if you feel you have any information you’d like to share with others regarding this hike, please feel free to leave that below in a comment as well.