What is the number one, must-see attraction (or place) in West Virginia you wonder? Though it’s obviously subjective, my all-time favorite place to explore in the wild and wonderful state is: Dolly Sods Wilderness. This area blew my mind and opened my eyes to a whole new beauty in the Eastern U.S. I can’t believe it took so long for me to see this breathtaking side of my neighboring state! Dolly Sods is a raw and magnetic place and there’s so many adventures to be had in and all around it. In this post, I’ll provide helpful information for you to use when planning your West Virginia trip and, hopefully, inspire your visit.
- Best time to go
- What to do and see
- Places to stay at
NUMBER ONE ATTRACTION IN WEST VIRGINIA?
When is the best time to visit the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area (plus surrounding places)?
Fall season is the best time to visit this number one place in West Virginia (and its amazing surrounding destinations)! Specifically during their peak fall foliage weeks to witness endless rolling mountains of the utmost brilliant and vibrant colors. Peak foliage dates vary a little, depending on the year and weather, but generally they occur around these weeks in the following places:
- Bear Rocks Preserve: Peak foliage usually occurs in Late September (particularly the last week).
- Seneca Rocks: Mid-Late October (usually 3rd – 4th week of October).
- Blackwater Falls State Park: Early-Mid October (usually first or 2nd week of October).
In 2020, My husband and I took a trip to all the above places during the 2nd-3rd week in October and we saw some stellar foliage in many of the above places, the best being in Blackwater Falls State Park during that week. However, the colors were still showing beautifully in Bear Rocks Preserve, even though it was a little past prime there. And they were about half-turned in Seneca Rocks since it was a little before this area’s prime weeks. Nonetheless, mid-October is a great time to visit!
As far as the temperature goes here, for this time of the year, the Fall season is typically (on average) in the low 60s (F) during the day and low 40s (F) at night. However, this can change year to year so it’s always best to look up the weather ahead of time and plan accordingly. We were very fortunate and blessed with sunny skies and ~65 degree weather when we went last season. It was perfect!
NUMBER ONE ATTRACTION IN WEST VIRGINIA?
What to do and see in the Dolly Sods Wilderness and nearby places?
Bear Rocks Preserve (photo’d in above slideshow)
Bear Rocks Preserve is, perhaps, the most iconic area of the Dolly Sods Wilderness and rightfully so! One of the greatest sunrises I’ve ever witnessed in the Eastern U.S. with stellar, sweeping views of the mountainous layers upon layers, was at Bear Rocks Preserve last Fall. As you crest the Eastern Continental divide, high along the edge of the Allegheny Plateau, you will come to discover eco-systems more comparable to Canada than to the rest of the Southern and Eastern U.S. This makes it a rare, one-of-a-kind treasure in the country that begs to be seen at least once in a lifetime. I didn’t know a place like this existed in the U.S. let alone in my neighboring state, West Virginia! MIND-BLOWN!
Unlike the adjacent wilderness areas, there are no official trails to be explored here. However, you can find several paths to take directly from the parking lot through the heath bogs and to the edge of the cliffs. The trails wind through the bogs and boulders, forming a fun maze to explore as you roam the surreal grounds of Bear Rocks Preserve.
Hike Bear Rocks Trail (one of the main entry points to Dolly Sods Wilderness)
- This is a great hike to do with your family and/or those who aren’t well-versed with hiking tough terrain. Thus, it’s a wonderful opportunity to see more of the Dolly Sods Wilderness with loved ones of varying ages and abilities. Along the hike, you’ll find an array of flora and fauna. If you venture past the intersection of Dobbin Grade Trail, you’ll cross Red Creek and hike up a hill where you’ll be greeted with stunning views of the Sods on top.
- 2.4 miles (point to point) and connects to Raven Ridge Trail & Dobbin Grade Trail.
- rated intermediate/moderate
- Trailhead location: 39.0636102, -79.3031966
Backpack Coal Knob and Breathed Mountain Loop (via Bear Rocks Trail above)
- This overnighter hike traverses wild and isolated land more similar to Northern Canada than the rest of the forests in the state! Again, this is what makes this place number one in the state in my books! The scenery will drop your jaw and widen your eyes around each bend and over every climb of the trail. The trail is accessible year- round and dogs are allowed to use the trail as well, but must be kept on a leash. It’ll take you through unmatched West Virginian scenery through a large and gorgeous portion of the Dolly Sods Wilderness. You’ll be sure to see why it’s my favorite attraction/place in West Virginia – no doubt!
- 24.4 miles (loop)
- rated moderate (despite the distance, if you break it up in days and camp along the way – it’s not a very difficult hike).
- 3,087 ft. elevation gain
- trailhead location (same as above): 39.0636102, -79.3031966
Check out my post below, Beginner’s Guide to Backcountry Camping, to see how to fully prepare for your backing journey on Coal Knob and Breathed Mountain Loop. Included in the post is a free, downloadable backpacking packing list, a comprehensive list of ways to prepare for your trek into the wilderness and a list of helpful apps to assist in your backcountry journey!
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Climb to the top of Seneca Rocks
- This totally vertical and razorback ridge line with ~1,000 ft. drop-offs on both sides does NOT look like it belongs amid its surroundings – it’s so enchanting and enthralling! I highly, HIGHLY recommend this hike, regardless of your fear of heights. If you’re afraid, there’s a safe platform at the top of the trail providing fantastic views. However, if you’re unafraid and are a bit of a daredevil like myself, you can climb onward and upward – scrambling across the iconic ridge itself (as photo’d above). The views from the top are endless and panoramic – stretching far across the valley and reaches of the Monongahela National Forest. Without hesitation, I can confidently exclaim that this is, indeed, the most thrilling hike I’ve done on this side of the country. The adrenaline was rapidly pulsating through my veins as I slowly inched across this gnarly, insane ridge.
- 1.9 miles (point to point)
- Rated intermediate/difficult (though, I found it to be more moderate to the top platform and only difficult after that)
- Trailhead location: 38.8356226, -79.3724029
Explore the nearby Blackwater Falls State Park (photo’d in all the above photos in the slideshow)
Chockfull of fantastic, scenic overlooks (utterly magnificent in the Fall) and teeming with gorgeous hikes, picturesque waterfalls, dense forests and vast valleys – this is, no doubt, my favorite state park in the state! It’s blatantly evident why West Virginia’s slogan is “Almost Heaven” when you visit this park and the entire Dolly Sods Wilderness Area.
Best, Can’t-Miss Views in the Park:
- Blackwater Falls (its namesake)
- Hike the half mile, down and back, to see the beautiful 57-foot cascading falls tinted black by the tannic acid of fallen hemlock and red spruce needles. This is a heavily trafficked, short and easy, well-maintained trail with steps. See the second photo in above slide for Blackwater Falls.
- Lindy Point Overlook
- My favorite and most impressive scenic viewpoint in the park; This is a spot you cannot miss when visiting! At the end of the easy 0.4 mile trail (0.8 mile out and back in total), you’ll reach an insane view of Blackwater Canyon from 3,000 feet above. Just look at the first and last photo in the above slide to see a small glimpse of its wonders and magic.
- Pendleton Point Overlook
- This is the most easily accessed scenic viewpoint on this list – a short walk from the parking lot. But its views of Blackwater Canyon are expansive and offer stellar sights of Blackwater River far, far below. There’s a wooden platform, with tower viewers, for visitors to admire the canyon scenery however, the best vantage point is from a rocky outcrop about 30 feet or so from the platform (see the 3rd photo in above slide).
- Elakala Falls
- Another short hike (0.6 miles out and back) that will take you to an ethereal series of four waterfalls of Shays Run, descending into the Blackwater Canyon. The trail begins on the south side of the parking lot next to Blackwater Lodge. Many people miss this spot due to the more popular attraction: Blackwater Falls. But, I feel Elakala Falls deserves some well-given and undivided attention as well.
Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge
Canaan Valley is the highest large valley east of the Rocky Mountains and comprised of 23 types of wetlands. Moreover, as you could probably guess by now, its flora and climate most closely resemble that of Ontario, Canada. Here, guests can choose from a bevy of recreational activities among the 8,500 acres: 31 miles of trails and roads to hike, bike or cross-country ski; 23 miles of trails to bicycle; 22 miles to horseback; hunting and fishing; wildlife observing and photography – to name a few.
Hike Cabin Mountain Trail (in Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge)
- Climb high up on this trail and come within a mile to the edge of the Dolly Sods Wilderness. All the while, witnessing some of the most spectacular views of Canaan Valley and the multitude of wetlands below. Furthermore, the entire A-frame road area of the refuge is not to be missed.
- 4.4 miles (in total, point to point)
- Rated moderated-difficult with almost 1,000 feet of elevation gain.
- Trailhead location: At the end of A Frame Road, 39.096538, -79.363341 (note: these set of coordinates may work better in apple maps).
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NUMBER ONE ATTRACTION IN WEST VIRGINIA?
Where to stay in and near Dolly Sods Wilderness Area?
As those who know me know, I prefer camping above any other lodging. Thus, let me begin there…
- Cost: $11 per night
- Type of lodging: tenting, car-camping or camper vehicle.
- Notes: This is a first come, first serve campground – no reservations, so arrive early. There are vault toilets but no showers. However, fire rings are at every site and fires are permitted (unless otherwise noted).
Not only is this the cheapest option (apart from backcountry camping), but it’s also the dopest in my opinion. The crazy amazing views of Bear Rocks Preserve are right down the road from this campground, making it the optimal spot to wake up early and catch the best sunrise of the area. Furthermore, its remoteness allows for dark night skies and star-gazing, wildlife sighting and sounds (we heard so many coyotes howling and yipping nearby – so cool) and an overall more peaceful nature experience.
- Cost: starting at $22 per night
- Type of lodging: tenting, car-camping, RV etc
- Notes: Accepts reservations and they’re recommended. The campground is open from beginning-April to end-October. Flush toilets and drinking water are available, along with picnic tables and a fire ring at each site. Again, no showers. See below if you require camping with guest showers.
This campground provides its guests with awesome views of Seneca Rocks and is surrounded by mountains. The sites are grassy and level, making a comfortable night for tenters.
- Cost: campsites are $10 per person for tenters and $28 per 1-2 people for RV-ers; cabins range from $85-245 per night.
- Type of lodging: camping, cabins, motel and tepees.
- Notes: this place fills up fast so make reservations ahead of time for cabins, motel etc. They do not accept reservations for their campground/camping so be sure to get there early to snag a spot. This campground does have full bathrooms and showers and is close to Seneca Rocks, as well.
This place, as stated above, has a wide array of lodging options and as far as non-camping accommodation options go (such as cabins, motel etc), this is THE only place in the heart of Seneca Rocks, WV. There’s also a small convenience store on the property along with views of Seneca Rocks.
- Cost: varies depending on season, starting (and currently) at $89 per night.
- Type of lodging: Full, private condominium amid a resort in Davis, WV on Airbnb.
- Notes: Cable TV, wifi, full kitchen, indoor fireplace, dedicated workspace, outdoor patio/balcony and over 30 more appreciated amenities for guests.
It’s in the ‘back yard’ of the Dolly Sods Wilderness and at the base of Timberline Ski Area – ideal for a winter vacation, too! Its rustic, log-cabin decor and style make it the perfect lodging for those who want their comforts while still feeling like they’re on a proper mountain getaway.
- Cost: $192 per night
- Type of lodging: AirBnb tiny home
- Notes: Sleeps 4 guests, 1 queen bed and one sofa bed, bathroom, wifi, indoor fireplace, kitchen, tv, private entrance, lake access plus more!
This unique tiny home, called “Tiny Peace of Zen“, is not only charming, but it’s centrally located in the town of Davis, WV! It is walking distance to breweries, restaurants, antique shops and art galleries. Thus, if you prefer to be near the town attractions – this lodging is ideal for you.
- Cost: Currently, $120 per night on Booking.com (click link to see if this deal still applies).
- Type of lodging: hotel room
- Notes: microwave and refrigerator, outdoor pool, indoor pool, sauna, TV with cable channels, skiing and other winter activities, hiking and biking and other summer activities, golf, sporting clays and archery plus more.
This place is luxe! It has mountain views and is only 15 miles from Blackwater Falls State Park. Another nearby attraction is the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge only 9 miles away. Not to mention, couples in particular like this location. They have rated it a 9.1 out of 10 for a two-person trip!
Thank you so much for referring to and reading my guide! The Dolly Sods Wilderness Area is, indeed, my number one place in West Virginia and I am thrilled to be able to share it with you all. Have you discovered the beauty of the wild and wonderful West Virginia yet? If so, what’s your number one attraction/destination in the state? Please feel free to share below in the comments.
Much love and happy travels,
Mindy (on the move)