Dolly Sods Wilderness: Lions Head Loop Day 1 – Part 1

Since my husband and I started hiking over two years ago, we’ve been to almost every trail in Shenandoah National Park within driving distance. We wanted to branch out and see something new, so we decided to go to Dolly Sods Wilderness in West Virginia, about a three-hour drive from DC. We’ve also been interested in going backpacking – hiking + camping. Over the past year or so we’ve been buying camping gear bit by bit (the price adds up!) and assembled all that we needed.

I’d been interested in going to Dolly Sods for a while, having seen pictures of the area by two of my favorite Twitter photographers Jen Johnson @tPFmariah9999 and Larry Brown @guidetosnp. Because of the three-hour drive we thought it would be best to go on an overnight trip and camp there.

We picked the Lions Head loop, but truncated  it to 15.4 miles by not including the Dolly Sods North portion of the hike. We started out at the trailhead for Blackbird Knob Trail.

You can see a map for reference.

Bushy St. John’s Wort

Bushy St. John’s Wort, or Hypericum densiflorum, is a member of the St. John’s Wort Family (Hypericaceae). It is a native shrub that grows along the east coast of North America and some places in the south, blooming in mid-summer. It likes to grow in low boggy places,  wet meadows, stream banks, roadside ditches, and moist pinelands.

There were a lot of these plants growing alongside the road near the parking lot and throughout the meadows and fields when we hiked in early August. When we returned to Dolly Sods for a separate camping trip in late August, some Busy St Johnswort remained, but it seemed like their season was over.

Flat-topped White Aster

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.

There were many of these Aster bushes along the road by the parking lot and in some of the marshy meadows.

At the entrance to the trail we started out walking through a refreshing spruce tree forest. As we went along, we quickly learned that the paths in this forest are not marked with trail blazes that are characteristic is other places such as Shenandoah National Park. Nope, you have to follow what looks most like the trail here. We also quickly learned that wearing hiking boots is a must here – there are many areas that seem to have eternal puddles and muddy areas.

The path was quite rocky, but it was enjoyable. We passed through different meadows and different types of forest.

About two miles in, we reached the first junction and continued along Blackbird Knob trail. Not too far before the junction, you pass by Red Creek. There are many campsites there.

Instead of following Blackbird Knob Trail to the end, we turned off on Harman Trail to catch one of the viewpoints before heading down the loop.


On the way, we passed through meadows with berries. Berry bushes were prominent on the hike, sweeping over the landscapes of several meadows. Dolly Sods features blackberries, blueberries, and huckleberries. Visitors are welcome to pick them, but it is prohibited to sell the berries.

Continue to Day 1 Part 2

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