Snowshoe Trek on the Middle Ridge Trail
With all its snow, Canaan Valley provides wonderful opportunities for southerners to try out snowshoeing. The 2.5 mile Middle Ridge trail in Canaan Valley State Park is a pleasant trek through the woods.
We wanted to go snowshoeing at least once this winter. We enjoyed going to Canaan Valley last year, so we decided to take another trip to the high country of West Virginia. There are several short trails throughout Canaan Valley State Park that are suitable for snowshoeing or cross-country skiing.
Snowshoes can be rented for a day behind the Canaan Valley Lodge near the ice rink for $20/adult. You can also pick up a map and trail guide of the Canaan Valley Resort area at the lodge. The last two times we had rented more modern, aluminum snowshoes; this time, they had the traditional snowshoes with rawhide webbing. While we felt the traditional snowshoes seemed a little heavier initially, I actually found they were a little easier to use. The snow tends to not get piled on the top as often as with the modern snowshoes, making them feel a little lighter while on the trails.
We left the rental center and drove to the Balsam Swamp Overlook. From here, the trail starts cutting down across the meadow. At .2 miles, take a right on the green-blazed Middle Ridge Trail. This trail starts off with a short, steep uphill before easing to a gentle incline for the first mile. You then go down a steep hill until you reach the view of the Blackwater River at 1.2 miles. This area along the river has the best views of the meadow and the mountain ridges in front of us were covered with rime ice.
The trail takes a sharp left at this point and you follow the river for about .1 mile. At 1.3 miles, you reach a junction with a spur trail to the Railroad Grade Trail. Ignore this spur and continue on the green-blazed Middle Ridge Trail. You will begin your ascent. The trail ascends about 150 feet over the next .7 miles. While the map made it look quite tough, I felt that the elevation was not too bad. Near the crest, the trail tends to wind through the forest. You will then start your descent. At 2.1 miles, you will reach another junction leading to the Ridge Top Trail. Ignore this trail also and just stay on the Middle Ridge Trail. You will then steeply descend the Middle Ridge Trail. Stay straight on the trail until you reach your vehicle at the Balsam Swamp Overlook.
This snowshoe trip was more challenging than the Deer Run-Mill Run trails that we did last year, but it was worth it. The snow tends to keep people away from many of the hiking trails, so I really find it quite peaceful when all you can hear is your breath and the light crunching of the snow below you.
We finished up our trip with a short drive to Sirianni’s Cafe in Davis, WV. It is probably our favorite pizza place on the planet and you shouldn’t miss it. If you have the option, try to get a seat near the back left of the restaurant and read the notes/business cards placed under the glass-covered tables.
I love making a quick trip over to West Virginia for a day of snowshoeing. It’s become one of my favorite winter traditions! We chose to go on a weekend right after the area received a little over a foot of new snow. The conditions were great – the snow was a bit heavy and soft, but it was still fresh and pristine – a real winter wonderland.
I liked the traditional showshoes we rented. They were made by Tubbs and looked like snowshoes that explorers or fur trappers in the 1800’s might have used. The trail we chose didn’t offer any grand views or spectacular scenery, but it was a beautiful walk through the woods. The few trails we’ve showshoed on before were completely flat, but the Middle Ridge trail has a couple “easy” climbs. I say easy in quotes because climbing in showshoes is always harder work than walking on a dirt trail. It’s also tough to snowshoe across deep, unbroken snow. Even though the snowshoes hold you aloft and prevent you from having to go post-holing through deep snow, you’ll still sink a little bit if the snow is deep and soft.
We really tried our best to stay off the cross-country tracks, but in some places the trail was too narrow or the tracks were already trashed by other walkers. I have to admit, I was thankful whenever we got a chance to walk on already-broken snow!
The lowest point on the trail is along the Blackwater River. We couldn’t see the river at all under all of the ice and snow. It looked more like an open field than a river basin. After leaving the river, we had a slow and steady uphill back to the top of the ridge.
I enjoyed coming across a lone doe making her way through the deep snow. Deer in the Canaan area are very accustomed to humans, so she made no effort to run when she saw us. It gave me the opportunity to get a couple photos.
The rest of the hike along the ridge and back down to the parking area was easy and quick. After changing clothes and turning our snowshoes in, we headed over to Davis, WV for our pizza lunch. Sirianni’s was recently named West Virginia’s best pizza by USA Today. In addition to great food, I love the atmosphere in their little restaurant. It’s such a warm and cozy place!
- Distance – 2.5 miles
- Elevation Change – about 300 feet total.
- Difficulty – 2. The snow makes this easy trail a little more challenging. Take some breaks when you’re tired, but overall, this trail is quite manageable for most people.
- Trail Conditions – 3. While there were cross-country ski tracks, we tried to avoid those at all times for other people. Walking on snowshoes and establishing new tracks can be challenging, so it is best if going with others to alternate who is breaking the trail.
- Views –2. The only views are of the meadow and mountains near the Blackwater River.
- Waterfalls/streams – 2. You have views of the Blackwater River, but you won’t be getting too close to the river from the trail.
- Wildlife –3. You are likely to see some deer on this trail any time of year.
- Ease to Navigate – 3. Without any previous tracks, this could be challenging, but look for the green blazes on the trees.
- Solitude –5. We were the only ones on the trail, but this trail is used somewhat often by cross-country skiiers. If you’re going when it is not snow-covered, I would lower the solitude rating, since it is a popular, short hiking trail.
Directions to trailhead: The Canaan Valley State Park is located off Route 32. For snowshoe rentals, follow the signs from the entrance to the Canaan Valley lodge. This trail takes off from the Balsam Swamp Overlook.