Bear Rocks Preserve
Bear Rocks Preserve Bear Rocks Preserve © Kent Mason

Places We Protect

Bear Rocks Preserve

West Virginia

Bear Rocks Preserve is a cornerstone of a diverse and complex ecosystem of windswept heath barrens.

Covid-19 Update (May 29, 2020)

The US Forest Service has reopened Forest Service Roads 19 and 75 that provide access to Bear Rocks. When planning your visit to the preserve, please keep in mind the following guidelines:

  • If you are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 or have been in contact with someone that has, please stay home.
  • Carry a CDC-approved mask and hand sanitizer. Practice social distancing.
  • Come prepared with all the gear/food/snacks you will need for your preserve visit. 
  • Stay local: Hike close to home. Limit stops for gas or meals along the way. 
  • Stay small: Hike with members of your immediate household or in small groups that have also been following CDC guidelines. 
  • Avoid areas and times of high traffic periods. Have a backup plan if the area you plan to visit is full. Do not park in undesignated areas or block roads or gates. 
  • Be prepared: Carry a physical map of the area you are hiking. Share your plans with someone you know in case you need assistance. Review Leave No Trace principles so you can leave the area the same or better than when you found it. 
  • Be patient: Check state and local guidelines if different from where you are traveling. Remember our small towns are stressed and while local businesses will welcome the increased traffic, they may not be prepared to handle large crowds.
  • Be respectful and courteous. Remember people are handling this difficult time differently, and people need to take measures that are comfortable for them and their family.

Thank you for helping us in our efforts to protect our visitors’ health and well-being. Together, we can each do our part to stop the spread of COVID-19 so we can continue to do the important work needed in West Virginia.


Time stands still high above Canaan Valley, in Dolly Sods, where a flat, windswept expanse of subalpine heath barrens opens up to the sky. Stunted red spruce, ancient bogs and forlorn boulders define this haunting landscape, where creatures typically found in more northern environs roam oblivious to their geologic isolation.

Once mostly covered by dense, towering red spruce and hemlock forest, Bear Rocks and the surrounding area saw major deforestation, followed by livestock grazing, by the turn of the last century, leaving the region ecologically distressed. Today, however, the much-visited landscape is recovering well, with Conservancy efforts in the region focusing on mending and connecting large protected landscapes in order to breathe new life into this timeless region. 

What We're Doing

  • Planting red spruce trees on the preserve, to connect with a stand on adjacent U.S. Forest Service property. 
  • Protecting private properties surrounding Forest Service land through the use of conservation easements.
  • Acquiring more than 6000 acres (known as Dolly Sods North) in the early 1990s for the Forest Service.
  • Acquiring 15,000 acres of coal rights in the 1970s and transferring them to the Forest Service, allowing for the creation of the 10,000 acre Dolly Sods Wilderness Area.

Whipping, whistling wind greets visitors to Bear Rock’s barren expanse, where the undulating mountains of the east fold out across the skyline. Dotting this view are large birds of prey that ride warm air currents rising from the valley below, while colorful warblers, vireos, thrushes and other songbirds hug low to the ground, where a profusion of plant life provides protection and food.  

Lightly treaded trails entwine throughout the preserve’s unique plant communities, leading hikers through a variety of shrubs like blueberry, huckleberry, mountain laurel, azalea and rhododendron. In some areas, soggy, decay-logged soil supports unique high-elevation cranberry bogs, which flourish each autumn. Throughout, red spruce trees poke from patches of soil, and are at once both nurtured and hampered by the icy cool climate. 

Secreted away amidst these plant communities is an assortment of unique creatures that cling heartily to the unforgiving landscape. Here, lucky travelers might catch a glimpse of the Cheat Mountain salamander, on the federal threatened and endangered species list. Harder still to spot is the snowshoe hare or saw-whet owl, animals that typically are found further north.

Bear Rocks
Bear Rocks Preserve
Bear Rocks offers striking views of the Appalachians and opportunities to discover plants and animals rare to West Virginia.

Bear Rocks Preserve Located in the Monongahela National Forest of West Virginia.

CAUTION: UNEXPLODED ORDNANCES MAY BE ENCOUNTERED!

Dolly Sods — including the Bear Rocks Preserve — was an artillery training area during World War II. Please, stay on existing trails, keep children close by and do not pick up or remove shells or shell fragments.

Preserve Guidelines

The following activities are NOT permitted at Bear Rocks Preserve:

  • Biking and mountain biking
  • Camping 
  • Driving an ATV or off-road vehicle
  • Cooking or camp fires 
  • Horseback riding 
  • Removing any part of the natural landscape 
  • Snowmobiling
  • Geocaching

Visitors should carry the appropriate USGS topographic map (Blackbird Knob, Blackwater Falls, Hopeville, and Laneville cover the entire Dolly Sods area). Topographic maps and additional information about adjoining federal land can be obtained from: 

Monongahela National Forest  
Potomac Ranger District
HC 59, Box 240
Petersburg, WV 26847
Phone: (304) 257-4488

Downloads

I wanted to be able to stand on a property and say to myself, 'This will always be nature.' I wanted to visualize a piece of land that I could save for future generations.

Support Our Work at Bear Rocks Preserve

You can help us protect West Virginia's diverse plant and animal communities. The Nature Conservancy seeks to expand protection efforts and combat threats to Bear Rocks Preserve and the surrounding Dolly Sods area.