Backpacking Dolly Sods North Loop
My husband and I enjoyed our first trip to Dolly Sods Wilderness so much, we were itching to go back and explore the area more. Since we had been to the southern half, we decided to go to the northern part of the area where all the picturesque sandstone boulders are – the Dolly Sods North loop.
It was late August and there were many wildflowers blooming. There were more varieties than there were in early August.
Wildflowers on the Trail
Spotted Knapweed, or Centaurea maculosa, is a member of the Aster family (Asteraceae) and blooms in fields and along roadsides from June to August. Native to eastern Europe, it was introduced to North America in the 1800s, likely through contaminated seeds. It grows throughout North America now and is considered an invasive species and noxious weed in many places.
When researching this flower I was shocked to read this because it is so pretty.
Silver-rod, White Goldenrod, or Solidago bicolor, is a member of the Aster family (Asteraceae) and blooms in thin woods and clearings from July to October. A native plant, it grows throughout the eastern half of North America.
Flat-topped White Aster
Flat-topped White Aster, or Doellingeria umbellata, is a member of the Aster Family (Asteraceae). A native flower, it grows throughout eastern North America and blooms August to September. It favors moist thickets and meadows, as well as swamp edges. They can grow 2 to 7 feet tall. I was able to identify this Aster from others because (1) the color; (2) the flower cluster is relatively flat on top; and (3) the elongated flat leaves with smooth edges.
These Asters were common throughout Dolly Sods North.
Closed Gentian, Bottle Gentian, or Gentiana andrewsii, is a member of the Gentian family (Gentianaceae) and blooms in sandy, coastal areas, as well as saline to freshwater marshes from May to October. A native wildflower, it grows throughout north eastern North America.
We found these growing in a couple places by freshwater streams and marshy areas.
And all these flowers were found within the first mile or two from the trailhead! As you can imagine, our going was a little slow as I was snapping away all these pictures, but that was fine. The goal for the day was to hike 6 miles to the campsite just over halfway along the loop. We had time.
There was much more nature to enjoy along the Dolly Sods North loop. About a mile in, there was a lovely field filled with different kinds of Goldenrod wildflowers.
Tall Goldenrod, or Solidago altissima, is a member of the Aster family (Asteraceae) and blooms in thickets and clearings August to November. A native plant it grows throughout most of North America. These Goldenrods can grow to be two to seven feet tall. Tall Goldenrod grows in large colonies.
Just after the field of Goldenrods, we crossed a creek that had the characteristic reddish-brown color that most rivers in Dolly Sods have. I expect this tributary feeds into Red Creek.
There was one campsite next to the water here.
Continuing Along the Trail
For the next two miles or so we passed through open meadows with some great views.
There are two different campsites that you can find – one along Bear Creek Trail between the junctions for Dobbins Glade Trail and Ravens Ridge Trail, another one after on Ravens Ridge Trail. Neither of these campsites have access to water, nor wood to make campfires, but they do have wide open sky views. We noted these places as useful in the future for when we want to take pictures of the night sky and Milky Way.
Rocky Ridge Trail
About four miles in, after turning on to Rocky Ridge Trail, we came across the beautiful vistas full of sandstone boulders that Dolly Sods is famous for.
It was lunchtime by the time we arrived at the area and there were many people around. It seems like most people come for a day hike – no one we saw there had camping gear.
Even through it’s busy, there are plenty of boulders and the area stretches for some distance, meaning you can find some boulders to rest on or take pictures from, in any case.
In some places you can see down into a valley and the mountains beyond. It’s a unique and memorable location. I highly recommend a visit!
After hanging out at the sandstone boulders for a while, taking pictures, we decided to get a move on and find our campsite.
Dobbin Glade Trail
We left the sweeping vistas and turned onto Dobbin Glade Trail. There are not many campsites on this loop that are located next to water, so we were aiming for the spot next to a creek about 6 miles in pictured on the map.
Along the way, Dobbin Glade Trail had some lovely nature to take in.
Tawny Cotton Grass
Tawny Cotton Grass, or Eriophorum virginicum, is a member of the Sedge Family (Cyperaceae). It grows throughout eastern North America and some places in western Canada in bogs and wet meadows. It flowers June to September.
There was a huge field of these in a boggy area.
Along Dobbin Glade Trail I saw lots of green and red combinations of moss and plant life. I loved this unique mix of colors in the middle of the forest.
We arrived at our campsite around 3 pm and staked out our tent in the first empty spot by the trail. There were two more campsites available at this location – one just beyond the trees and another a minute or two walk beyond in a pine forest. Beyond this point on the loop there aren’t any good campsites next to water, so this is the best place to stay.
There was time as we settled in for the night, so we decided to make a campfire. Some wood that a previous camper had left next to the campsite remained, but it wasn’t enough, so we explored the area, hunting for some more tinder and bigger sticks. That’s how we found the two extra campsites. We found most of the wood in the pine forest just a couple minutes from the campsite. It was easy to find – there was a light path previous campers had made.
The last time we were in Dolly Sods we were unable to start a fire due to high winds and lack of experience. This time it worked!
My husband, who is from Japan, had never tasted roasted marshmallows before. I wanted to introduce him to the crispy outside-gooey inside deliciousness of roasted marshmallows, so we made some on the fire. We enjoyed them, although they were a bit sticky! I’ll introduce him to s’mores another time.
Milky Way Photography
With this and that, puttering around, it was time to sleep. Since my husband likes to take pictures of the night sky, we decided to get up in the middle of the night to see the situation. And my, what a situation! It had been a long time since I’d seen stars like that, dusting the entire sky, and a clear band of the Milky Way. It was wondrous.
It was about midnight when we got up and the moon was a sliver hiding just above the horizon, behind the trees, sparing us from the brightness that could impact star pictures.
My husband took this amazing shot of the Milky Way after about an hour of trying various permutations on his camera. He had to wipe his lens before every picture because of the fog condensation that would build. It took him about an hour to get this photo. I must admit, at some point I went back to the tent because I was shivering. After he finished, we went back to sleep in our cozy down sleeping bags.