This hike starts at the eastern Continental Divide at Bear Rocks with its spectacular scenery and expansive views. It crosses the “sods” along the high windswept Allegheny Plateau with its open heath bogs, and it arrives at the wide rocky ridge of Cabin Mountain with stunning views into the Canaan Valley. Here the hike heads south along the ridge and then returns via an alternative route that re-crosses the plateau and then follows the placid upper section of Red Creek.
This is a moderate loop hike of about 11.5 miles with several small stream crossings. In high water, one crossing can be challenging. Part of the loop along Dobbins Grade Trail, made on an abandoned dirt road, is usually wet. Note that the weather can change suddenly, and freezing weather has been recorded in all months of the year. Strong summer thunderstorms can roll in quickly. Be prepared for foul weather. Also, trails are maintained to wilderness standards, so be able to navigate trails that may not be signed or blazed.
This route starts at the Bear Rocks trailhead. Try to reserve some time to explore Bear Rocks and the adjacent Bear Rocks Preserve before or after your hike. It is a neat area with great views and spectacular sunsets and sunrises.
Bear Rocks Trail heads west from the trailhead information sign. The information sign has a general map of the wilderness and provides information on the area as well as a warning on potential unexploded ordnance in the area and the need to stay on trails with its spectacular scenery and expansive views. The recommended map for this area is Purple Lizard’s, “Dolly Sods & Seneca Rocks” map. It only has official trails of Monongahela National Forest, even though there are many short side trails and bushwacks.
Heading west, the trail makes a gradual descent down to Red Creek and the Dobbins Grade Trail. Enjoy the flag trees, wind sculpted rocks, and wild blueberries if you are there in season. The forest begins to fill in as you descend, and after about a mile you will come to Dobbins Grade. Purple Lizard’s map shows this trail junction as a “T-junction." Since there are many unofficial trails in the area, it is really a four-way trail junction. Go straight to stay on Bear Rocks Trail. In a few hundred yards you will come to an easy “rock hop” crossing of Red Creek. Ascend the easy hill on the other side. Near the top of the 200-foot ascent, the forest opens to one of the open areas that Dolly Sods is so well known for. After 2.4 miles from the start, Raven Ridge Trail enters from the hiker's left and merges. You are now on Ravens Ridge Trail, which skirts the northern boundary of Dolly Sods as it undulates its way to Cabin Mountain and Rocky Ridge Trail. At the western edge of Dolly Sods, on top of the long, rocky, Cabin Mountain, you will get your first views down into Canaan Valley. Though the views are not from cliff tops as they are on the eastern side at Bear Rocks, they do provide 360-degree panoramas of the vast Allegheny Plateau cleaved by endless ridgelines and the valley below.
Canaan Valley is about 800 to 1,000 feet below you. It is home to the large Canaan Valley Wildlife Refuge, two fantastic State Parks, two cross-country and two down hill ski areas, and the headwaters of the Blackwater River. Less than 10 miles from here, the Blackwater River makes a spectacular plunge over the Blackwater Falls in the state park of the same name as it descends the steep, remote Blackwater Canyon.
Enjoy the rocky outcrops as you continue south (hiker's left) on Rocky Ridge Trail, slowly descending about 150 feet into a shallow gap. Here you will pick up the start of the Dobbins Grade Trail to head back east (hiker's left). The trail will be more forested, but it will still provide access to additional treeless areas, especially near the shallow river crossing of the Left Fork of Red Creek. Ascend a slight ridge after the creek crossing and then descend to the main Red Creek following an unnamed creek. In normal water levels, this Red Creek crossing is easy, but in high water it can be challenging.
After crossing Red Creek, Dobbins Grade Trail turns north (hiker's left) and closely follows Red Creek back to Bear Rocks Trail. Be forewarned, in this section of trail, Dobbins Grade can be quite wet and muddy. At Bear Rocks Trail, retrace your steps back to the Bear Rocks Trailhead.