dolly sods wilderness sign

How to plan the perfect elopement at Dolly Sods

Updated April 22, 2024.

The Dolly Sods Wilderness in West Virginia is known for its lush grassy meadows and breathtaking vistas. Because of its distinctive landscape, many people are interested in getting married in this region. If you’re in the process of planning a Dolly Sods elopement or micro wedding, there are a few things you’ll want to know.

dolly sods wilderness

Know the Weather!

Look at the weather forecast! One of the downsides of getting married in the great outdoors is that you’ll be at the mercy of the weather. There’s no way to guarantee that you won’t have rain, strong winds, or stormy weather on your wedding day. However, you can get a better idea of what to expect by looking at the weather forecast from years past. 

In certain months, Dolly Sods gets a lot more rain, while other seasons tend to be a lot drier. It’s worth noting that due to its elevation this area is prone to frosts and freezes at any time of the year. Dolly Sods gets quite a bit of snow in the winter, and FS Rt 75, flanking the eastern side of Dolly Sods, is typically closed to vehicles from January 1 to April 15. If you’re set on planning a winter wedding, you’ll be better served looking at some of the ski resorts in Canaan Valley. By checking the forecast in advance, you’ll be able to find the best possible date for your wedding.

While getting married in a U.S. Wilderness Area might seem unusual, weddings at Dolly Sods are actually quite common. So many people are drawn to the natural beauty the area. A wedding here is unlike a wedding that you could have anywhere else. Planning a wedding here is a lot less difficult than you might think, too!

Even if you’re not sure that you’d like to get married in the Dolly Sods Wilderness, you should look into having your engagement photos taken here. The scenery you’ll find here makes a lovely backdrop for photos, and it can make for engagement photos that are highly memorable. If you’re having a larger event in the nearby Canaan Valley area, you can even just come up to the area during or after your wedding to do some portraits.

Best Times to Get Married at Dolly Sods

The absolute best time to get married at Dolly Sods is on a weekday (Mondays through Thursdays). Unless the weekday is also a holiday, you should experience smaller crowds, which means more of an intimate setting for your ceremony!

Dolly Sods has become increasingly popular not only as a tourist destination, but also as a destination for weddings. Due to the large crowd sizes in the area, having anything more than a couple of people present at your wedding on the weekends is inadvisable. Remember, there are other people visiting Dolly Sods, so it’s important to be courteous! This area has exploded in popularity in the past few years, especially during the fall season. We do not recommend trying to get married at Dolly Sods on a weekend from September through peak foliage in October. The parking situation can be extremely difficult and you’re likely to be dealing with very large crowds of people.

Note that Dolly Sods is NOT a wedding venue, and as such it’s not a great place to get married if you’re planning on having more than 10 guests. The geography doesn’t lend itself to big guest lists and any larger events (especially on Saturdays during busy months) are likely to be shut down by park rangers. If you’re interested in seeing actual commercial wedding venues throughout the Mountain State, we have a comprehensive guide here.

Parking can also be an issue at Dolly Sods during peak visitor times. The roads in and out of the area are narrow, gravel roads and can quickly become a nightmare when there’s a traffic jam. We recommend that if you are going to elope at Dolly Sods you keep your group size small and carpool if possible.

How Much Will it Cost?

Weddings come at a cost, even if you’re going to be eloping. You’ll want to think about what you can reasonably afford to spend on your wedding. From there, you’ll want to see if a wedding in the Dolly Sods Wilderness is something that will fit into your budget.

There are no fees related to having your elopement or wedding at Dolly Sods. With that said, this area doesn’t provide much in the way of amenities either. Dolly Sods Wilderness is definitely a wedding location for those who truly love nature. There are no bathrooms and any food or beverage you want to have will need to be brought along with you.

Where to Stay

If you’ll be having any guests, it’s important to take them into account when planning your elopement. How far are you from Dolly Sods? Will your guests have to travel a long distance if they want to attend your wedding? What are you and your guests going to eat?

The closest town to Dolly Sods Wilderness is Davis, WV. It generally takes around an hour to travel from Davis to Dolly Sods. If you’re planning on eloping here you need to allow for plenty of transit time. The roads into the wilderness area are gravel, so you can’t blast up the mountain at 60 MPH (unless you like beating the crap out of your car).

Camping is allowed at Dolly Sods, but visitors are cautioned to “leave no trace.” Nearby towns like Davis have a few lodging options such as the Billy Motel, Alpine Lodge, and Bright Morning Inn. The larger Canaan Valley area also has a number of resorts like Canaan Valley Resort and Timberline in case you crave more amenities. There are also a few private rentals and Airbnbs in Davis.

Where to Eat

Getting hitched works up an appetite, and luckily the surrounding area has you covered. In Davis, hit up Sirianni’s Cafe and grab a pizza, Hellbender Burritos for awesome burritos, or hit Stumptown Ales and pick up a growler of tasty craft beer from one of WV’s finest breweries to toast after you tie the knot. If you want cool cocktails and a mid-century modern vibe definitely pop into The Billy Motel even if you’re not planning to stay there!

If you travel to nearby Thomas you can hit up TipTop for food and some of West Virginia’s best coffee. The Purple Fiddle has lots of good, organic food options and frequently has live music in the evening. We’re huge fans of the cute little taco shop known as Picnic tucked into the side of a building. Picnic recently opened up a new indoor dining room, so you can now chow down indoors and out! Mountain State Brewing has good beers and a spot to host small receptions.

What to Bring

If you’re planning a Dolly Sods elopement or wedding, you’re definitely going to want to look at this packing list of items. A lot of folks don’t realize that Dolly Sods isn’t just right off the road near a town. This is a wilderness area that is at least around 45 minutes to an hour removed from the nearest town. You don’t want to get up on the mountain only to realize you’ve forgotten something!

Must-have Items

  • Appropriate shoes – The terrain is rocky, so feel free to bring a few pairs of shoes. Most brides wear outdoor sandals like tevas or chacos in the summer, but it’s not a bad idea to bring hiking boots/boot socks as well. Please don’t wear heels of any kind. We don’t want you twisting an ankle, and your choice of footwear could slow us down from moving around to get portraits!
  • Water & snacks – Bear Rocks is likely 40-60 minutes away from where you’ll be staying – we don’t want you getting hangry! Protein bars, trail mix, candy, chips, jerky – whatever you like to snack on, feel free to bring it along! It can be hot in the summer so bring plenty of water/gatorade/Liquid IV to make sure you stay hydrated. If you’re dehydrated, you’ll lick your lips a lot without realizing it and that will mean we have to reject a lot of otherwise good photos. 
  • Toilet paper – Hopefully you won’t need it, but please note: there are no bathrooms up at Bear Rocks!
  • Make sure you’re cozy – If you’re eloping anytime that isn’t June-August, it could be chilly! Feel free to bring a cozy flannel blanket to cuddle underneath or a denim jacket, some gloves, and a few packs of Hot Hands. (Sometimes it’s chilly in June, July, and August too – but usually those months are warmer up at the Sods).
  • Hair spray – It can be super windy. We love windswept hair in photos but just keep this in mind when doing your hair.
  • Bug spray – It can be super buggy. We recommend Sawyer spray with Picaridin.
  • Sunscreen – It can be really bright – there’s not really any trees for coverage, so it’s important to protect your skin since we’ll likely be out there for a few hours. For ourselves, we usually just use a spray sunscreen to save time, but if you use a lotion-based sunscreen, make sure it’s a kind that dries clear– no zinc-based sunscreens. I recommend Korean sunscreen like Miisha Sun Milk, which dries clear and isn’t greasy at all. 
  • Cleaning up after ourselves: A bag for collecting any trash – we want to Leave No Trace and make sure we leave Dolly Sods just as beautiful as when we arrived!
wedding cake on bear rocks

Optional Items

  • Drinks for toasting – You just got married! Let’s celebrate! Bring some champagne – you can shake the bottle and do a champagne spray. Bring some beers (with or without glasses to pour them into). A growler from nearby Stumptown Ales or Mountain State Brewing is a good idea. Think about how you want to celebrate and load up a cooler with options! We love photos of couples toasting!
  • Sweet treats – We had a couple cut a small wedding cake on Bear Rocks and feed pieces to each other. You don’t have to bring a cake, but if you want to share a sweet treat, think about it in advance! We’ve also seen custom cookies and cupcakes. This is something that a loved one may want to help with, if someone in your family makes any baked goods that you love. 
  • Non-sweet treats – No sweet tooth? That’s just fine! Feel free to bring other food if you’d like photos of you eating, say… celebratory pizza? Burritos? Or whatever else you want to eat after saying ‘I do’. Feel free to keep it creative and true to you and your partner!
  • Dried flowers for tossing – If you don’t have guests, we can take turns tossing stuff in the air for you for photos. Note: we do not recommend ANY paper projectiles, even if they claim to be biodegradable. We don’t want to litter in any form. If you want to toss something, consider an assortment dried flower petals or dried lavender. 
  • Sunglasses you love – If it’s really bright, we could take some photos of you both in your sunglasses. Everyone looks cooler in sunglasses.

Choosing the Right Photographer

One of the biggest reasons people choose to get married here is that they want to have stunning wedding photos to look back on. Because of this, you’ll want to be very careful about the photographer you hire for your wedding. You should think about whether or not the professional you’re working with has captured weddings here in the past. As highly experienced West Virginia wedding and elopement photographers, we’ve shot many weddings and portrait sessions in the Dolly Sods area, so if you need a couple of experts to help you get the best photos, then we’re your people! Reach out if you’d like to go on adventure with us!

couple eloping at dolly sods wv

Best Photo Spots

If you work with a photographer that doesn’t know the Dolly Sods area very well, you might miss out on some beautiful photo opportunities. When you’re contacting potential photographers, you should make a point of asking them about weddings they’ve done at Dolly Sods.

If you do opt to get married in this region, you won’t be limited to just one location. There are several spots that make for picture-perfect weddings, but the Bear Rocks Preserve is one of the most popular wedding and elopement locations. Its pine trees, exposed rocks and stunning views make it one of the most gorgeous places to exchange vows in all of West Virginia.

Make sure you take everything into account as you’re planning your Dolly Sods elopement. Getting married in the Dolly Sods Wilderness can be a magical experience, and you should try to make the most of the opportunity. Keep the advice above in mind, and your wedding planning should go off without a hitch!

If you’re interested in booking a Dolly Sods elopement package with us just get in touch! We’d love to hear all about whatever plans you can dream up!


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