Snowshoeing in Canaan Valley, West Virginia
Snowshoeing is a fantastic way to get great exercise and enjoy winter scenery. We’ve been lucky over the past two years. Above-average snowfall has given us several opportunities to enjoy a winter sport that isn’t very common in our area. Snowshoeing is a perfect recreational activity for anyone – it requires no special skills. If you can walk, you can snowshoe.
Last Saturday, we took a trip over to Canaan Valley for a day of snowshoeing. I really can’t think of a better way to spend a winter’s day outdoors. There is something so peaceful about walking atop the fresh snow surrounded by the hush of the winter woods.
We were extremely fortunate with timing on this trip. The conditions couldn’t have been more perfect. The Canaan area had about nine inches of fresh snow on Thursday into Friday (on top of the two+ feet of snow already on the ground). When we arrived on Saturday morning, roads were completely clear but the new snow was still practically untouched.
After renting gear from Canaan Valley Resort, we set out on the Blackwater River Trail as a warm-up. The trail is a pretty ¾ mile loop that starts off near the golf course and skims alongside the river. The snow was waist deep, soft and powdery, but the snow shoes kept us aloft and allowed us to only sink a few inches down into the snow. Most of the trail was completely untouched other than a short section that still had faint cross-country ski tracks. To navigate, we had to rely on blazes since no trail was visible.
It’s amazing how much more physically demanding snowshoeing is than normal hiking. You wouldn’t think a few inches of light, fluffy snow would cause so much resistance, but it does. I love the workout I get on snowshoes! By the end of the loop, my legs were already a little tired but we were just getting started.
After finishing our warm-up loop, we headed over to Canaan’s campground area to hike the circuit of trails created by Mill Run, Abe Run and Deer Run. All-in-all, the trails cover about 2.5 or 3 miles. Even though the distance was longer, these trails were much easier to walk. Earlier cross-country skiers and snowshoers had already traversed these trails, so there was no virgin snow to trudge through.
The area was spectacularly beautiful, draped with snow and ice that sparkled under the clear blue sky. Every time I looked up, the crystallized tree branches looked like prisms, glittering in the sun. We saw loads of whitetail deer in the woods. They were all chest deep in the snow. As they struggled to move forward, they all paused to stare at us with their wide, blinking eyes. It was almost like they were saying “Hey, snowshoes – no fair!”
It’s funny how different a trail can feel under a blanket of snow. Both the areas we snowshoed are areas I’ve hiked countless times in spring/summer/fall. The snow completely transforms the trails into something unfamiliar and beautiful. It was really a great day. I don’t think I stopped smiling for the three straight hours I was on snowshoes.
A month ago, we ventured out to Canaan Valley to try and do some snowshoeing. Christine was battling the flu and we had consecutive days of rain, so we decided to come back and try it again in February. This was only our second time snowshoeing, but we know this is an activity we both enjoy.
We rented our snowshoes from the Canaan Valley lodge and then drove over to the golf course to begin the Blackwater River Trail. We parked and started putting on our gear when another car drove up and parked behind us. We brought snowpants, but opted against putting them on because we felt they may be too hot (regretfully, our jeans got quite wet). The couple in the vehicle asked if you could cross-country ski this area, somehow missing the ski sign about 20 feet away. They got into their gear quickly and seemed to want to race us to start. The woman as she started said, “Could you please keep your snowshoes off our tracks if you get in front?” This is a given rule of etiquette – snowshoers should leave ski tracks undisturbed whenever possible. However, she was a little rude in her delivery. The couple got a little ways in front of us, but then she fell over. While her husband just stared at her offering no assistance, Christine and I helped her to her feet. She thanked us, demonstrating just a tinge of guilt from her attitude at the beginning of the trail. The snow was probably about 3 feet high on this trail and our snowshoes would sink down about 8-12 inches each step on the fresh powder. This does make for some great exercise and I could definitely feel my heart pound on occasion. When we got near the riverside with the beaver dams, just a few feet away I saw a bald eagle take off from a nearby tree. This was such a treat to see such a majestic bird soaring in the peace of the snow-covered, mountainous valley. We continued on the trail and again caught up to the couple on skis. The woman had fallen again and her husband just told her, “Put one foot in front of the other”. He eventually came downhill to her to try and help as we passed them and made our way back to the car.
We made our way to the Deer Run/Abe Run/Mill Run trip by parking at the campground. We did this trail the first time we tried out snowshoeing. The snow was a little more packed down on this trail, which made for an easier traverse. The trail crosses through many nice forests and the snow was still sticking heavily to the branches of the trees, providing a picturesque backdrop to a nice dose of exercise. This series of trails is nice because there are many options to shorten the trip. The Abe Run and Mill Run Trails are loops that spur off the Deer Run trails, so you can eliminate them if you are getting tired. The Deer Run Trail is about 1.5 miles; Abe Run is .75 miles; and Mill Run is 1 mile. You should pick up a map beforehand at the lodge.
When we were almost back to our car we saw another group of cross-country skiers and we knew they were getting ready to enjoy a beautiful trail through the woods. We got back to our car and then headed to one of our all-time favorite pizza spots, Sirianni’s, in Davis, WV for a much-earned warm meal after a tough bit of exercise.
- Distance – Blackwater River Trail: ¾ mile – Deer Run/Abe Run/Mill Run: Varies 1-4 miles
- Elevation Change – Negligible
- Difficulty – 3. The deep powdery snow provided a good workout.
- Trail Conditions – 4. The snow was perfect.
- Views –0. No views, but gorgeous winter woodland scenery.
- Waterfalls/streams – 0. There are some streams and rivers along the trails, but everything was frozen.
- Wildlife – 4. Lots of deer and a bald eagle!
- Ease to Navigate – 5. Very easy to follow.
- Solitude – 4. The park is typically very quiet if you’re away from the ski slopes.
Special Note: Canaan Valley offers all day rentals of snowshoe equipment for $20/adult $18/child. (Blackwater Falls State Park and White Grass also offer trails and equipment rental)
Directions to trailhead:
Canaan Valley Resort is on Rt. 32 about halfway between Harman and Davis. It’s really in the middle of nowhere. At the junction of Rt. 33 and Rt. 55 in West Virginia, continue on Rt. 33. In Harman, pick up Rt. 32 and follow signs to the park.