West Virginia

Bear Rocks Preserve: Central Appalachians

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. The Nature Conservancy’s 477-acre Bear Rocks Preserve is a cornerstone of this wonderfully diverse and complex ecosystem, which lies on a ridge crest that forms part of the Eastern Continental Divide.

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. 

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Conservation Work

In order to protect these 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. Efforts include:

  • 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.

Restoration Slideshow

The Conservancy recently completed restoration work at Bear Rocks Preserve. See how we did it.

What You'll See

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.

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

Download a brochure to help prepare for your visit.

Bear Rocks Preserve is open to the public for hiking and nature study. Informal trails weave across the preserve, and an extensive trail system occurs on adjacent national forest lands. 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


Download a brochure for directions to Bear Rocks Preserve from Petersburg and Canaan Valley, and for information about hiking trails and more. 


Have you been to this preserve? Are you thinking of visiting? See what others are saying about their experiences and add your comments below.

Add Your Comments

Time for you to join the discussion. Tell us about your experience at this preserve. What plants and animals did you see? When did you go? You can help others plan their visit when you share your thoughts. And thank you for visiting one of our nature preserves!

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