Trail Review: Dolly Sods North

Herein you will find my thoughts on each of the trails I’ve hiked at Dolly Sods North. These entries are more a collection of my thoughts so that I won’t forget little details as time goes on.

I’ve attempted to highlight each trail with it’s own graphic. The map was originally found at the US Department of Agriculture website.

Bear Rocks Trail – 522

I’ve started at the Bear Rocks Trailhead each of the two times I’ve hiked at Dolly Sods.

Bear Rocks Trail,  Trail Number 522

Bear Rocks Trail, Trail Number 522, 2.4 miles long.

This trail features predominately open views with just a few instances of walking through wooded areas. The trail contains a lot of broken rock in the beginning. The rocks aren’t terribly big and don’t slow you down much. Unlike most of Dolly Sods, the rocks in this area are tannish red in color. There are two minor hills and one creek crossing. If it’s raining, or has rained recently, this trail ends up being a closer to a creek than a trail.

There are at least two campsites that I can remember: The first is on the south side in a grove of pines as you head down the first hill (assuming westbound travel, about 3/4 of a mile). The second campsite is right at the creek crossing in another grove of pines (slightly more than a mile in).

After climbing the second hill when coming out of the creek crossing, you’ll come to a plateau vista filled with greenery and wide open views. This was the first moment at Dolly Sods when I went “wow.”

The trail ends at the midpoint of the Raven Ridge Trail.

Raven Ridge Trail – 521

Raven Ridge Trail, Trail Number 521, 2.8 Miles Long

Raven Ridge Trail, Number 521, 2.8 Miles

To date I’ve only done half of the Raven Ridge Trail, which is about 1.4 miles long (From Bear Rocks to Rocky Ridge). The Bear Rocks Trail intersects the trail at it’s midpoint. The trail continues the open vistas from the latter half of Bear Rocks before turning into a slightly rocky path through what I can best describe as hedges or shrubbery. When we went in late June 2015, these “hedges” were filled with pretty pink and white flowers. When we returned a month later, the greenery remained but the flowers were gone.

The rocks on the trail here are light grey for the most part.

Rocky Ridge Trail – 524

Rocky Ridge Trail, Trail Number 524, 3.0 Miles Long

Rocky Ridge Trail, Trail Number 524, 3.0 Miles Long

I’d have to say that the Rocky Ridge Trail is my favorite trail at Dolly Sods. When travelling southbound on the trail, it starts off moderately rocky with open views. It quickly transitions in to very rocky terrain which will cause you to slow down quite a bit else risk a twisted ankle. There are many very large wind swept boulders adding to the ambiance of the place.

As you near the midpoint of the trail, you descend gently down into some pine trees. There are a couple of campsites here on the east side of the trail just before Dobbin’s Grade. The terrain switches back to the tannish red rocks that the Bear Rocks Trail started with. Right after you pass the intersection with Dobbin’s Grade, you ascend up a moderate grade onto another wide open ridge with tremendous views all around. About 3/4 up the hill is another great campsite on the east side of the trail.

After hiking along the ridge for a time, you descend gently again and the trail merges with the end (or beginning) of Blackbird Knob Trail. This marks the boundary of Dolly Sods North.

Dobbin’s Grade Trail – 526

Dobbin's Grade Trail, Trail Number 526, 4.3 Miles Long

Dobbin’s Grade Trail, Trail Number 526, 4.3 Miles Long

It had rained all night and was raining intermittently the only time we have done the entire Dobbin’s Grade Trail. The second time we were out there, we did the section between Upper Red Creek Trail and Beaver Dam Trail, aka The Swamp! For this second trip, the weather was beautiful and most of the trails were dry. Both times we travelled eastward.

Going east, the trail descends moderately, with a couple of little rises to mix things up. The terrain is rocky, much like Bear Rocks trail, and there are large water erosion troughs throughout. If it’s raining or has rained, then this trail is actually a creek. Most of it was ankle deep. Just over a mile in you’ll come to the first creek crossing. When we were there, the water was mid-thigh in depth and the current was very strong. The rocks on the creek bed are very large making footing absolutely treacherous. Exercise extreme caution here.

Once you get past that, the trail enters a wide open valley of sorts, and the trail is better, but can still be a creek in the wet. Once you pass the intersection with the Upper Red Creek trail, you’ll come across the second creek crossing. The first time we were there, the water was mid-thigh deep again, but the current wasn’t as strong due to the fact that it was a bit wider than the previous crossing. The rocks were also a little more consistent in size. When we came the second time, the creek was only ankle deep and was a breeze to cross.

Shortly after the second creek crossing, you’ll enter the swamp. Don’t let the greenery fool you, whether it’s raining or not, the area will be filled with stinky water. It’ll probably be consistently boot deep, leaving you with swamp water inside your shoes. If you’re extremely cautious and you bushwhack around the worst parts, you might be able to keep the water from going over your boots. If you’re using trail runners, well, you’re screwed and you’ll have wet feet.

The swamp section is roughly between the intersections with Raven’s Ridge Trail and Beaver Dam Trail. If you’re traveling eastward, it’s ever so slightly uphill.

By time you’re out of the swamp, you start to go up hill and the trail is still mostly open. You’ll come across a third creek crossing. The only time we went up this far, it was raining and the creek was waist deep, and wider than the other two crossings. On top of that, it smelled more swamp like than the other two did. Right after you cross this creek, you’ll enter a slightly wooded area and ascend up a decent hill until you reach the end of the trail when it intersects Bear Rocks Trail.

Upper Red Creek Trail – 509

Upper Red Creek Trail, Trail Number 509, 1.3 Miles Long

Upper Red Creek Trail, Trail Number 509, 1.3 Miles Long

Upper Red Creek trail is probably my second favorite trail at Dolly Sods. When travelling north from Blackbird Knob, you’ll ascend a slight hill and enter a plateau of sorts that is completely wide open. This has the “biggest” Big Sky feel of any of the trails I’ve seen here. The vast majority of the trail is up on this plateau with nothing but field grass around you. If your purpose is to stargaze, this would be the trail to do it on.

The trail ends by descending through some trees and then entering the valley that Dobbin’s Grade traverses. There is a small creek crossing right at the northern end of the trail.

Beaver Dam Trail – 520

Beaver Dam Trail, Trail Number 520, 0.7 Miles Long

Beaver Dam Trail, Trail Number 520, 0.7 Miles Long

Travelling east from Dobbin’s Grade, this trail is completely up hill, though some sections are steeper than others. The trail is mostly open, especially at the ends. In the middle it does go through a couple of wooded areas, and these areas were muddy.

The trail head is nicer than Bear Rocks as it features a “real” parking area. It’s not very big though, so it could fill up quick on the weekends. Another reason to start a trip here would be due to the fact that it’s all downhill to start.

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