Snowshoeing: Bald Knob from White Grass
If you’re looking for a great place to enjoy snowshoeing or cross-country skiing in the mid-Atlantic, don’t miss a visit to White Grass! Their extensive network of trails offer something for every skill level. Their terrain is beautifully groomed and the people who run the resort are so friendly and helpful.
If you don’t own snowshoes/cross-country skis, White Grass has them available to rent!
It has been over a year since we went snowshoeing. Our area of Virginia was robbed of any meaningful snow for the past two years, so we decided to cross the border to West Virginia to catch the elusive snow. Christine’s parents had bought us each a pair of Tubbs Frontier snowshoes for Christmas over a year ago, but it wasn’t until now that we were able to break them in. We were both very pleased with how they felt on our feet. They felt lighter than many I had tried before and were a little more sleek than some others I had tried. This enabled me to not feel too fatigued using them and I also didn’t feel like I had to walk like a cowboy in fear they would cross over and cause me to trip.
We had heard great things about White Grass from other friends of ours that had been there for cross-country skiing. White Grass maintains a great website where they will post weather conditions, snowfall, pictures, and trail maps. Check it out to get the best up-to-date information. They will typically be open December-early March to access their 40km of trails.
When we first arrived at White Grass, we checked in at the lodge. They informed us they were having a naturalist from the Canaan Valley Wildlife Refuge take a group out in about five minutes for a free snowshoe trail talk. We grabbed our shoes and met up with him. We were part of a small group of about 7 (including two little children). The goal of the walk was to teach us about the different trees that can be found in Canaan Valley, how to identify them, and threats to their future. We spent about an hour walking. The naturalist did a great job of teaching us many things about trees that I didn’t know before. After the walk, we decided to make make our way over to Hellbender Burritos for two Gendarme burrito bowls to power us up for our big snowshoe trip in the afternoon.
We returned to White Grass and paid our $20 trail use fee. We asked the woman in the shop for some trail suggestions, and she kindly mapped out a route that would take us to the top of Bald Knob. The trails criss-cross often and the maps, posted at each junction, a little confusing. We found ourselves asking other skiers and snowshoers where they had been to help us navigate through the labyrinth of junctions. We left the lodge and started on the Springer Orchard Trail, on the opposite side of the large Weiss Knob Slope that heads directly down the mountain. We stayed on this trail for about .35 miles, passing the Plum Orchard trail, until we reached the Highland View trail. We took a left on this trail and continued upward, crossing past several other confusing junctions. We stayed on the Highland View Trail for about .35 miles, until we made it up to its end at the Sawmill Flats shelter at .8 miles. The shelter was a small warming hut. There were a few ammo boxes that included snacks and there were some containers of bird seed that you could throw out to chickadees. From this point we made our way following the signs for the Double Trouble trail. We reached the junction at 1.0 miles, took a right, and headed up the Double Trouble trail. At 1.3 miles, we reached the Weiss Knob Ascent trail, took another right and made our way to the Roundtop shelter.
The shelter here was also filled with snacks and bird seed. The birds here were more accustomed to people and would actually eat the seed out of your hand if you wait patiently. We were also told that someone had left a Gatorade bottle of moonshine at the shelter. I picked it up and saw some stuff floating in the bottle and decided to pass. I find it is a good rule of thumb to at least know the person that has made the moonshine for you. There’s no need to go blind without anyone to blame. 🙂
We continued from this point following the signs to Bald Knob. You will cross a Boundary trail and then make a right on the Bald Knob Trail to wind up the mountain. The trail then takes a sharp right and a junction where you can continue to hike up the Bald Knob Trail. We reached the summit at around 2.1 miles. The scenery was breathtaking and you could see skiers on the Canaan Valley Ski slopes and mountains off in the distance covered in snow. The wind is strong here at the top, so we didn’t stay incredibly long, but made our way back down. We returned down the Bald Knob Trail to the Roundtop shelter and back down the Double Trouble trail. However, instead of heading back to the Sawmill Flats shelter, we followed Double Trouble until it led us to the Lift Shack, crossing over the Weiss Knob slope. Right behind the Lift Shack, we then took the Barton’s Bend Trail until we reached the Falls Overlook trail. We took a left on the Falls Overlook Trail and then a left on the Three Mile Trail until it brought us back to the White Grass lodge. Our return trip was around 2 miles, taking our snowshoe hike to be around 4.2 miles.
I had three big highlights on this trail. Feeding birds out of my hand, the peaceful scenery through the spruce on the Bald Knob trail leading to great views, and looking back and seeing my wife smile. I told her that her face was going to be sore from all the smiling she was doing. We really had a wonderful time at White Grass and we can’t wait to return. We will probably take the Three Mile Trail all the way up to the Roundtop Shelter next time.
I love some parts of winter – the snow (too bad there can’t be snow without cold), the potential for workplace closures, and most of all snowshoeing! For Christmas of 2011, my parents bought us snowshoes. And well… many of you will remember winter of 2011-12 as ‘the winter that never happened’ in Virginia. The only measureable snow we had was in October. The rest of the season passed – mostly warm and sunny – leaving our snowshoes to gather dust in the garage. This winter hasn’t been much better, but thankfully we live just a couple hours from Canaan Valley. Even though the areas lies less than 90 miles away as the crow flies, they have vastly different weather. It’s almost like a small chunk of Canada dropped into a bowl located in the mid-Atlantic.
We got up early on a Sunday morning and drove over to White Grass – one of the only big Nordic centers in our region. The entire drive, we saw nothing but bare grass and muddy fields. I’ll admit that I was a little worried that we were driving over for nothing. But as we grew closer, bare fields gave way to a dusting of snow and then smooth, billowing drifts. On the final drive up to White Grass, the road was not even cleared. As we pulled in to the parking area, an exuberant, bearded man gesticulated dramatically, guiding us to a parking spot. Every employee of the resort that we talked to during the day was super friendly and full of information happily shared about the area.
We headed into the lodge to get information and pay our trail use fees. The lodge is warm, cluttered and cozy, lacking the slick, commercial feel of most ski operations. Even though it wasn’t yet 10:00 a.m., it was packed with people chatting and enjoying hot beverages. The woman at the cash register told us we had arrived just in time to go on a free snowshoe walk with a naturalist. We had about five minutes to gear up and meet the group. She told us to run on ahead and to pay our trail fee later on. We ran back to the car, grabbed our snowshoes/poles, put on our layers, got the camera gear packed up and made it back just in time for the walk. The walk was more talking than active snowshoeing, but I enjoyed learning more about the areas fragile ecosystem.
The snowshoe walk finished up a little after 11:00, so we decided to drive into Davis for an early lunch before our longer snowshoe trek. At lunch, we learned something interesting – you can’t buy a beer in West Virginia on Sunday until 1:00 p.m. The restaurant was pretty crowded, and I don’t think I saw a single table not try to order a beer. I guess everyone was visiting from out of town and didn’t know the law.
After lunch, we headed back to Whitegrass. With our trail feed paid and our route mapped out, we headed up the trail. When I heard that we were walking up to the summit of Bald Knob, I was a little hesitant at first. Hiking up to the summit of Bald Knob didn’t necessarily conjure pleasant feelings; rather I remembered the last time I attempted to climb that peak. It was probably about 15 years ago when I was not a regular hiker and generally quite out of shape. Adam and I had hiked Bald Knob from the Canaan Valley Ski Resort side. We made it to the top, but it involved tears and suffering on my part. I remember the trail being unbearably steep and thought it was going to kill me.
However, this time, I found the terrain easy, pleasant and totally manageable – even on snowshoes! One of the nice things about White Grass is that the trail grooming takes some of the exertion out of snowshoeing. When you snowshoe on fresh, unpacked powder, the shoes do keep you aloft on the snow — but only to a degree. In fresh powder, you sink down and a certain level of ‘slogging’ is required. At White Grass, most of the trails are packed and machine-groomed. There are usually a pair of cross-country ski tracks worn into the snow, and then smooth packed trail alongside. As snowshoers, we’re careful to stay off of the ski tracks, as the blades on the bottom of shoes can easily chew up the established tracks.
Walking the trail system at White Grass was so fun! As Adam mentioned, I smiled the entire way! I loved chatting with other people we met along the way. I was enthralled by the gorgeous, snow-draped scenery. I had a blast hand-feeding the chickadees at the warming up. I have a slight phobia of flying things (bad experience with a bat and several moths over the years), so at first I looked away and closed my eyes as the chickadees fluttered down. But after a few landings, I opened my eyes and watched the birds perch. When they land, they are weightless; the only thing you feel is a slight pinch from their gripping feet. One chickadee sat on my hand long enough to eat several seeds. So fun!
When we made it to the summit of Bald Knob, I stood in awe of the beautiful, snowy valley laid out before me. The wind was whipping and clouds were moving in, so we didn’t stay long. The walk down went by so quickly — all downhill. We were back at the main lodge within an hour.
I’m hoping that we’ll get another chance to visit White Grass one more time this season. If we do get to go again, I definitely want to plan a meal at the White Grass Cafe. The food people were eating in the lodge looked amazing! We would have eaten there, but we already had plans to eat at another local favorite – Sirianni’s. We love their pizza and can’t visit the area without going there to eat.
If we make a return trip, I’ll also be sure to take a few photos of the actual facilities – the lodge, the cafe, etc. In the rush to meet the naturalist on time and my eagerness to spend as much time as possible on the trail, I neglected to take any photos of the facilities. They are really cute, so I feel bad that I forgot.
- Distance – 4.2 miles. This is approximate. It was hard to gauge mileage when the trails crossed each other so frequently and were labeled on the maps in kilometers.
- Elevation Change – 973 feet
- Difficulty – 2. The trail did go uphill most of the way up, but the grade was only seriously steep in a few spots.
- Trail Conditions – 4. The trail was in excellent shape. They spend a lot of time grooming the trails, so it was fine to have both snowshoeing and cross-country skiing on the same trails.
- Views – 4. The views from Bald Knob are some of the best you’ll see of Canaan Valley.
- Waterfalls/streams – 1. Only a few streams that you pass on the trail.
- Wildlife – 2. Red squirrels, Chickadees, and pileated woodpeckers were spotted.
- Ease to Navigate –1.5. You have to pay very close attention to the trails and maps at the junctions to keep your bearings.
- Solitude –2. The trails in this area are heavily trafficked, so expect to see others. We still felt that we had plenty of room for ourselves though as people are spread across all the distance of trails.
Directions to trailhead: The best directions can be found here. From Route 32 at Canaan Valley, take Freeland Road. Follow the signs to White Grass.