Fisher Springs Run/Rohrbaugh Plains – Dolly Sods
The Fisher Springs Run – Rohrbaugh Plains hike is a five mile out-and-back that leads to spectacular wilderness views from a cliffside.
Christine and Adam Say…
For this particular post, we decided to team up and write one massive post, instead of the normal ‘He Says, She Says’ versions. Enjoy!)
Last year, we participated in a Potomac Appalachian Trail Club workshop called Backpacking 101 (read part one, part two, and part three). Initially, we were scheduled to do an overnight trip to the Dolly Sods Wilderness as a ‘graduation’ from our class. Sadly, we ended up missing that trip because Christine’s ankle sprain still hadn’t healed enough for the rigors of backpacking. While the make-up trip we eventually did to Hazel Mountain in Shenandoah National Park was great, we still wanted to do an overnight trip in Dolly Sods.
Dolly Sods is such a unique area for the mid-Atlantic region. It’s the only area close to us with a sub-Arctic tundra climate – loaded with heath barrens, blueberry bushes, acidic bogs and coniferous forest. You feel like you’re somewhere far north of West Virginia when you visit this wilderness area.
The route we chose through Dolly Sods was of a length and difficulty we would typically choose for an easy day hike. (5 miles with 900 feet of elevation change) But we decided it would be fun to do an easy hike and enjoy camping at one of the most beautiful sites in the entire Monongahela National Forest’s wilderness area.
We also were lucky to have some awesome company for this trip. In Backpacking 101, we met a nice couple – Suzanne and Anthony. We enjoyed hanging out with them on our class trip to Hazel Mountain and had stayed in touch with them ever since. We tried planning trips together a couple times, but until this trip our schedules just hadn’t matched up. We were thrilled when plans finally came together for this Fourth of July weekend trip.
Suzanne and Anthony drove down to our house on Friday night so we would have time to go through all our gear before getting an early(ish) start on Saturday morning. We spent most of the evening fiddling with our packs, splitting up shared gear and contemplating how many Clif bars we truly needed to survive our expedition. That evening, it looked like an REI store exploded in our basement. We laughed about how much stuff we had to pack for just one night of camping. We ran through our checklist to make sure we had everything – stove, tent, sleeping bag, clothes, food, emergency kit, etc.
On Saturday, we had a big breakfast and were out the door a little after 9:30. We didn’t make it to the trailhead until after 1:00. We made a stop at Seneca Rocks Visitor’s Center and ended up buying another trail guide and a new map for West Virginia hiking. (Not for use on this trip, but just to have for the future.) We also stopped at the Subway in Franklin, WV to grab sandwiches to have for lunch on the trail.
When we got to the Fisher Springs Run trailhead, the parking lot was overflowing with cars. A couple people had decided to park sideways in the lot instead of straight-on, so they took up space that could have accommodated five or six more cars. It was a little annoying and worrisome – would we get out to Rohrbaugh Cliffs and find all the prime campsites already occupied? We ended up parking a short distance down Forest Road 75, in a patch of dirt just wide enough to get our car off the road.
We found space to shove the sandwiches into Suzanne’s pack, slathered ourselves with sunscreen and bug spray, and got to the business of walking. Almost immediately after stepping off the dusty, gravel forest road onto the trail, we found ourselves ensconced in a cool, lush, green forest. Ferns spread across the ground for as far as the eye could see. The trail descended gradually, occasionally crossing small, mostly dry streams. The trail got rockier as we followed it for a little over a mile to its junction with the Rohrbaugh Plains trail. We stopped at the trail junction and ate our lunch. We chatted with a passing backpacker who was doing a 19-mile loop through Dolly Sods. She was on a solo trip and told us she was headed down into the Red Creek basin. We asked her if she had noticed many camps set up near the cliffs. She said she hadn’t seen anyone, so we took that as a hopeful sign.
After lunch, we took a left onto the Rohrbaugh Plains trail. The trail at this point was all rocks. They almost looked fitted together like a jigsaw puzzle. Almost immediately after the rocky patch, we dipped deeply into a ravine with a pretty flowing stream. It was a perfect water source for backpacking. We figured that in the worst case scenario, we could hike back to this point to fetch water for cooking and cleaning at camp.
The last 1.2 miles to our campsite ascended ever so slightly, winding past giant mossy boulders and through dense thickets of rhododendron. With about a half mile to go, we passed another trail junction with the Wildlife Trail. Taking the Wildlife Trail to the Rohrbaugh Plains trail is probably the most popular route for day hikers to reach Rohrbaugh Cliffs. After this trail junction, we crossed a swampy, muddy area and walked across a grassy meadow. A couple tenths of a mile past the meadow, we came to a beautiful clearing where we ended up making camp.
There were so many soft, flat spots that were perfect for our tents! We chose a couple spots located out of sight of the trail. We had a fire pit, a nice place for cooking, a view and shady trees. It was nothing short of perfect.
It felt great to shed our packs and get to work setting up camp. Our Mountain Hardwear tent (the Drifter 3) is super-simple and was pitched in just a few moments. While Adam worked on staking the tent, Christine inflated our Big Agnes pads. We put them in the tent along with our sleeping bags, so they’d have some time to re-fluff after being compressed in stuff sacks all day.
On this backpacking trip, we had a few new and exciting ‘creature comforts’. Since our last backpacking trip, we acquired Alite camp chairs. They’re so comfortable and lightweight! We also both got the large Thermarest pillows. They’re really bulky and take up a ton of pack space, but they’re very lightweight and make a world’s difference for getting comfortable at night. Christine also brought a fitted sheet for her sleeping pad. Even though the sheet is made by Thermarest, it fits the Big Agnes pad perfectly. A sheet is not a necessity, but it definitely improves the texture and breathability of your sleeping pad. Christine especially hates feeling clammy or slippery when she’s trying to sleep, so having the sheet made a huge difference. Neither of us actually sleep inside our sleeping bag unless it’s freezing cold. We prefer to open our bags up and use them like quilts.
After we finished setting up our tent, we carried our cooking stuff down to our kitchen area. We also pulled out all our ‘smellables’ and set them aside so they could easily be stowed away in our hanging bear bag. Christine found a couple branch stubs to hang our trekking poles and our packs. We both covered our packs with garbage bags in case it rained overnight.
Anthony and Suzanne were still working on getting there camp set up, so we decided to go on a water run. We hadn’t passed a better water source after the stream near the trail junction, so we took our collapsible bucket and headed back down the trail. Filling up was easy, but getting two gallons of water in a soft-sided bucket back to camp without spilling anything over a 1.2 mile distance was substantially trickier! We were very thankful we went as a pair to get water, because it was nice to trade off carrying the bucket. We joked that it was like being in a challenge on some adventure reality show. We made it back without much spillage at all! (Note: We hiked this trail as a dayhike in 2014 and found a closer water source just a few hundred yards past where we stopped to camp… so you don’t have to hike back like we did!)
When we got back, Anthony and Suzanne were all set up, so we decided to walk a few hundred feet further down the trail to explore the cliffs. Rohrbaugh Cliffs were spectacular. The view into the valley below was all wilderness – not a single road or farm or house – just mountains and streams for as far as the eye could see.
We visited the area at a truly beautiful time of year. The Rosebay Rhododendrons were just starting to bloom. The mountain laurel was a bit past peak, but there were still plenty of flowers to enjoy. And best of all WILD BLUEBERRIES were everywhere along the cliffs! Suzanne and Christine were significantly more excited about the berries than the guys and spent a lot of time searching for ripe berries tucked into the bushes.
Most of the late afternoon was spent relaxing near camp and getting dinner ready. Around 5:30, Adam got out the JetBoil and boiled water for all of our dinners. We had wanted to come up with some homemade backpacking recipes, but never got our act together. Adam and Christine ended up eating Backpacker’s Pantry Chicken Risotto with Mocha Mousse Pie for dessert. It was satisfying and very filling! Anthony and Suzanne had macaroni and cheese and blueberry cobbler from some backpacking meal company (AlpineAire) none of us had heard of before. They were pretty happy with their dinner, too.
We cleaned up our dishes, brushed our teeth (We love Colgate Wisps for backpacking) and hoisted our bear bag into the highest, safest tree we could find. We decided to play cards and watch sunset from the cliffs. We found a big flat rock near the edge and played the card version of Monopoly. The game took a long time, and Adam eventually won. The sky turned to hues of pink and soft purple and the sun dipped down behind the mountains. It was so beautiful!
Shortly before full dark, a couple more groups of backpackers showed up – maybe five people and two dogs. They set up their camps down the trail from us. So even though we weren’t the only people up there, we still felt like we had a good measure of solitude. It definitely was not the situation we feared when we saw the packed parking lot at the trailhead. We’re guessing most of the other backpackers ended up along Red Creek.
Once the sun was down, we all retreated to our tents. Christine listened to a book on her iPod for a while. By the light of his headlamp, Adam enjoyed reading some of his book by John Muir. He’s been reading this book exclusively on backpacking trips. It’s a nice tribute to read something by the ultimate outdoorsman while having our own experience with nature.
Christine started getting really sleepy, so she stowed her iPod away and dozed off, only to be woken almost immediately by the sound of fireworks in the valley below. We think we heard fireworks shows from three different locations, because there were definitely three distinct grand finales. The booming sounds and bursts of light in the sky came from different directions, too. We contemplated leaving our tent and going back out to the cliffs to see if we could see the fireworks from above, but we ended up staying put. Christine didn’t feel like getting dressed again. When all was said and done, we kind of regretted not going back out to see the fireworks.
Eventually the fireworks drew to a close, and Christine drifted back to sleep. Unfortunately, Adam did not sleep that well on this trip. He was physically comfortable, but he just wasn’t tired enough to sleep soundly. Going to bed shortly after sunset just isn’t what his body is used to, so he did a lot of tossing and turning during the night.
Around 2:30 a.m., Adam shook Christine awake to close the rainfly on the tent – a storm was approaching. Christine stumbled and grumbled and totally failed at closing the fly. Adam had to crawl over her to get both sides of the tent closed. Christine completely lacks dexterity when she’s half asleep. The storm never really materialized beyond some lightning and wind. We both fell back to sleep and didn’t wake up again until about 6:15. Christine said it was the best night of sleep she’s ever had in a tent.
Shortly after sunrise, we got out of the tent and took a walk over to the cliffs. Christine thought there might be some pretty morning light, but it was completely cloudy. Back at camp, we started breaking down our tent, deflating our sleeping pads and re-stuffing our sleeping bags. We got the bear bag down and got everything ready to cook breakfast.
Christine tried Starbuck’s instant coffee, Via, for the first time. It was surprisingly delicious. Once she added sweetener and powdered Coffeemate, it tasted almost identical to a cup of brewed coffee. In addition to coffee, we had boxes of apple-grape juice and instant maple-brown sugar oatmeal. We figured that would be plenty of food to give us energy for the short hike out.
After everyone was done with breakfast, we finished packing up and cleaning up our camp area. We were back on the trail by 8:45. Our exit route simply retraced the trail we had hiked in. We were back at the car by 10:15.
On the way home, we stopped at Fat Boy’s Pork Palace (now permanently closed) for lunch. With a name like that, you know it’s going to have perfect options for a post-backpacking calorie splurge! We enjoyed BBQ sandwiches with coleslaw and French fries. Suzanne got breakfast and Anthony got a burger. It was all delicious!
Once we were back at our house, we split up our group gear and saw Anthony and Suzanne on their way. Christine said her post-backpacking shower might have been one of the best showers of her entire life. It always feels awesome to wash away DEET, sunscreen and sweat!
We all had a great time on the trip. We’re already trying to plan our next backpacking adventure for some time in September! Although, it’s going to be hard to top the scenery at Dolly Sods!
- Distance – 5.2 miles total
- Elevation Change – 900 feet. The Fisher Springs Run trail descends about 500 feet and the Rohraugh Plains ascends about 400 feet.
- Difficulty – 2. The hike was not that difficult, even with 35 pounds on my back.
- Trail Conditions –2.5. The Fisher Spring Run trail was well-maintained, but there are lots of rocky spots on the Rohrbaugh trail where you could turn your ankle.
- Views –5. The views from Rohrbaugh cliffs were quite spectacular and it was nice to see the sun disappear over the mountains.
- Wildlife – 1. We were expecting to see some wildlife up here, but we didn’t see anything other than squirrels, frogs and some birds. We did wake up to the sounds of dark-eyed juncos in the morning.
- Ease to Navigate – 3.5. There are not any blazes on trails at Dolly Sods, but the trails are very well-defined and signs are in place to mark junctions. Stay on the trail as much as possible and you won’t have any trouble. I can imagine that when leaves fall and cover the trail in the fall, it would be more challenging to find the trail.
- Solitude –4. On a nice day, you may see some people at the overlook.
Directions to trailhead: From Seneca Rocks, go North on WV 28 for 12 miles. Take a left on Jordan Run Road. Go one mile up Jordan Run Road and take a left on to Forest Road 19. In 6 miles, Forest Road 19 comes to a T on to Forest Road 75. Take a right, heading north on Forest Road 75. Drive for three miles until reaching the small parking lot and the trailhead for Fisher Springs Run.