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.

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.

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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 extending eastward into Virginia. A cooler climate supports wildlife typically found in more northern locales, offering hikers an opportunity 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.

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

Support Our Work at Bear Rocks Preserve

You can help us protect the 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.