Dolly Sods Wilderness: Lions Head Loop Day 1 – Part 2

Continued from Part 1

There was more interesting plant life along the trail.

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.

Because Dolly Sods has lots of marshy areas, we saw these little fuzzy flowers quite often.

Just beyond the junction at the end of Harman Trail we passed through a grassy meadow to this viewpoint. From there we could see a valley with some farms and low mountains extending into the distance. It wasn’t a super impressive view, but it was wide open and nice.

On the map we saw a few more viewpoints to the north, and were itching to go see them, but afternoon was getting on and we calculated that we needed to head south and find a campsite. I was getting a bit anxious that we wouldn’t be able to find a good campsite because we saw many backpackers, mostly in groups.

Great Laurel

Great Laurel, Rhododendron, American Rhododendron, Great Rhododendron, or Rhododendron maximum, is a member of the Heath Family (Ericaceae). My National Audubon Society Field Guide to Wildflowers tells me it blooms June to July, but these were still blooming in early August. Great Laurels grow in damp woods and forested wetlands. Its hard wood can be used in making tools and ornaments.

A fun fact -the Great Laurel is also the state flower of West Virginia. It was great to see the state flower blooming in its home!

I was so interested to find out what this wildflower was because the flowers and the leaves looked like a bigger version of Mountain Laurels and I had never seen it before.

Similar to Mountain Laurels, Great Laurels also vary in color from pink to white.

We saw a few of these Great Laurel trees on our way down to our campsite on Big Stonecoal Trail.


Although we hadn’t hiked that many miles, we were already tired by the 5-mile mark. Multiple times we commented how carrying around 20-30 pounds of weight makes it feel like you’re hiking double the distance.

Since my husband enjoys chances to take photos of the stars and the Milky Way, we were set on finding a campsite that had open sky. Walking along Big Stonecoal Trail, we had already passed several campsites by the river, but all of them were in the forest with no sky. When we came upon a meadow around mile 6.5 or so, we decided to call it a day, although it would mean 8.5 miles were left over on the loop for the next day. Not having been to Dolly Sods before, we didn’t know if there would be any other meadow campsites.

We settled down in our little home for the night. The air was fresh and the sound of the bubbling brook was calming.

Unfortunately, the wind was quite strong, and our fire starter wasn’t good, so we couldn’t start a fire. We had brought plenty of water with us, but to be safe we filtered some river water with our Saywer Mini filter. When we took the water out of the river it had a yellowish brown tinge to it. After filtering it, the color was removed somewhat, but you could still see it. We drank the water both cold and boiled and had no issues.

After a nice, hot meal of Mountain House Mexican Style Rice and Chicken made with our Jetboil, we tucked into bed.

Continue to Day 2

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