Backpacking The Dolly Sods Wilderness

Over Memorial Day weekend my husband and I joined my sister, her boyfriend and a couple other friends for a backpacking trip to the Dolly Sods Wilderness to celebrate my sister’s 30th birthday.

And when I say “wilderness,” I certainly do mean it. The landscape in this West Virginia national park is akin to what you’d find in the Canadian wilderness; it’s a vast landscape with all kinds of vegetation that differs from one ridge to the next. The trees were stunning, but I found two things most fascinating: the soft, fluffy moss all throughout the forest and the endless wild, native blueberry bushes. We weren’t there in time to actually try the blueberries; they were just starting to bloom. But I’ve heard they’re sweet and tart, and I can only imagine how stunning the landscape will become once all the deep blue pops!

Dolly Sods Wilderness Blueberries and Moss

We spent our three days working a 15 mile loop around the Dolly Sods Wilderness. This means we parked the cars on the first day at the south end, started hiking northeast and looped back around westward until we hit the road within a mile of our parked cars on the third day.

Dolly Sods Wilderness

It was both exhilarating and exhausting, and my legs and feet are definitely giving me grief the day after. I’ve explained the feeling as training for a 5K and then going out and running a half-marathon. The mix of thin and rocky trails, LOTS of uphill paths, the weather (cold and very windy), and my 35 year old body sleeping on the hard forest floor, really packed a punch.

Funny thing is, I didn’t really notice just how much of an impact the trip had until after we finished. I think part of that is survival – there is no giving up when you’re 10+ miles into the wilderness and stubborn as all get out! The other part is that we had really great company, and our little backpacking tribe laughed a lot. A LOT. Even when things got frustrating.

Dolly Sods Wilderness

Like on day one when there were no available campsites to be found, and we looked…and looked…and finally made do with a spot that had room for us, but wasn’t really ideal. We got the tents half-way up, started gathering firewood, and low and behold one of our group found a hidden site about 50 feet off the trail, with enough space to perfectly hold our three tents and one bivy sack.

And the unrelenting winds during the first two days, about 30 miles per hour – not just gusting, but nearly constant. And cold. So, so cold. It was actually frosty on the morning of the third day. FROST. IN TENTS. Cold.

Also bogs. A trail that actually contained bogs, which meant walking through swampy, muddy paths where there’s just no chance of coming out with dry, warm feet. (Remember I said cold, frosty nights? Yep.)

And the quirky water filters we had to use in order to drink fresh water. Temperamental and necessary – it makes you value how easy it is to get fresh water at home, that’s for sure. Here’s my husband making our first batch of potable water:

Dolly Sods Wilderness

But you know what? It’ll be a trip we’ll all never forget. The good, bad and the ugly. And really, there wasn’t much in the way of bad or ugly…unless you count the awful hat-head, wind burn and sore leg limps. Ha!

Dolly Sods Wilderness

My sister took the photos in this last collage – all of me!

Wondering where all the food shots are? Well, I can tell you what we brought: granola, apples, peanut butter, hot dogs, protein bars and rice. And s’mores, with dark chocolate!

But I can’t show you any photos because my camera’s memory card only holds 38 photos, and I used them all up on day 1 as we hiked 5 miles into our campsite. SO DUMB. But also not the end of the world. The focus of this trip was certainly more about the company and surroundings than it was the food.

I’d go back.

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    • (a)Musing Foodie says

      It is a great time of year, but the weather can be so unpredictable! My sister went on the same Dolly Sods loop the year (or maybe two years) before, and it was unrelentingly HOT. Crazy! I will say this – definitely tested me. Also gave me deeper perspective while watching the movie “Into the Wild.”


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