The Beall Trails (WV)

The Beall Trails are a relatively short and flat figure-eight series of trails in Canaan Valley, West Virginia that provide open areas for viewing wildlife and a scenic walk along the Blackwater River.

Woods Along the Beall Trails
The woods along the Beall Trails are pretty and lush. Below: Flowers were still blooming at the end of summer; The area is part of a National Wildlife Refuge; Lots of deer inhabit the area of the Beall Trails.

Flower NWR Sign Deer

Adam Says…

This figure-eight loop trail was a great way to experience some early fall weather and scenery.  This trail doesn’t have a lot of elevation change, so it is doable by most people.  It is also a birdwatchers paradise if you hit the trail in the early morning.  The open fields and nearby Blackwater River make this an active spot for birds.

We parked at the parking lot and started by taking the South Beall trail.  The trail started off cut through grass.  There are a couple of signs that point to the left, but stay straight on the trail.  Eventually, you will approach an area that is wooded.  There is a sign here for a handicapped hunting shed, that hunters use for deer hunting.  The trail begins to loop away to the left near the sign and begins to descend towards the Blackwater River.  The trail hugs closely to the River and gives you a few views of the water before you ascend back up the trail.  You will eventually rejoin the trail.  Take a right and make your way back to the parking lot.

For the North Beall trail, the trail starts off instantly in the woods.  After a few tenths of a mile, it opens back up into a large field (where a large barn used to exist) and then brings you back into the woods.  The North Beall trail then continues to loop to the east, and then brings you on more of a fire road to take you back to your vehicle.

There is a Beall Connector trail that bisects the North Beall trail to make a shorter loop.  There is also a Bog Overlook Trail and Hemlock spur trail that are both out-and-back short trails if you wanted to add more to your hike.

One interesting thing that happened along our hike is that we heard and saw about 12 fighter planes streak across the sky at lower elevations and then bank hard over the nearby mountains.   The area is used for pilot training. I’m not sure exactly what type of planes these were, but they were definitely combat-type planes.  We tried to get some pictures, but whenever we heard them we were deep in the woods and couldn’t get a clear shot with the speed they were flying.

Black Swallowtail Caterpillar
A Black Swallowtail Caterpillar.  Below: Adam and Wookie walking along the trail; Wookie perches in a tree; Trail marker

Many Ferns Pug in a Tree Beall Trail Marker

On the fire road on the North Beall trail, shortly before returning to our vehicle, I spotted a bright green caterpillar.  We inspected it closely and it had large orange antennae.  We had never seen any caterpillar that was so bright and colorful before.   After returning home, Christine was able to identify it as a Black Swallowtail caterpillar.  It also gave off a strong stench when we picked it up on a stick.  It turns out that these caterpillars brighten up and secrete a chemical as a defense mechanism.  After getting a few close photos, we put it back down to let him travel along to one day become a gorgeous butterfly.

After our short hike, we made a trip into Davis, WV for lunch at Hellbender’s Burritos.  This was our first trip there, but the food was amazing!  Christine got the Gendarme burrito, which was similar to a Philly cheese steak and I got The Admiral, which had chicken and bacon.  We will definitely make this a must-stop place for lunch in the future.

Christine Says…

When Adam and I decided to get away to Canaan Valley for a long weekend, I thought we’d do a couple hikes, go for a bike ride and maybe take a ride up to Dolly Sods. In the end, it turned out to be a chilly, gray weekend, so we opted for just one really easy hike on the Beall Trails and lot of movies on DVD, crackling fires, pizza eating and wine drinking. It was nice to have such a relaxing weekend, but I am glad we did manage to get in one hike!

We decided to take Wookie along on this hike.  He really hasn’t been hiking much lately because of the summer heat.  He was beyond thrilled to accompany us.  When he saw us packing his leash and portable crate, he started spinning in circles and whining excitedly.  That dog loves outings more than any dog I’ve ever known!

Wookie Runs
Wookie runs on the South Beall trail.  Below: Leaves were starting to turn colors; A bluebird box on the trail.

Signs of Fall Bluebird Box
The Beall Trails, which essentially form a large figure-eight path, are part of the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge.  The trails go across open meadows, through boreal forest and along a small stretch of the Blackwater River.  It’s very easy, mostly flat walking.  The trail is in great shape, so it’s really a suitable hike for all kinds of people.

We started off South Beall Trail.  Essentially, the path crosses a large open meadow before turning left into the woods and dropping down to the shore of the Blackwater River.  After following the river for a few tenths of a mile, the trail ascends quickly and returns hikers the same meadow path back to the parking area.  The river is lovely and in the meadow, you’ll likely see whitetail deer, wildflowers, birds and butterflies.  There are bluebird boxes around the meadow and an accessible hunting blind is located a short distance from the trail.

Along the Blackwater River
Stopping along the Blackwater River.  Below: Adam and Wookie make their way along the South Beall Trail; More pretty trail scenery.

Old Barn Field Along the Beall Trail

The North Beall Trail is a little bit longer and a little bit more densely wooded.  There is one distinctly open area a couple tenths of a mile into the trail.  The field used to house a beautiful, run-down old barn that we enjoyed exploring and photographing.  However in May of 2008, the barn was torn down to supply the barn timbers to the National Park Service for restoration projects at Antietem Battlefield.  I’m sure the wood from the Beall Barn lent a lot of authenticity to the battlefield projects, but I wish they had left the barn where it originally stood.  I wasn’t happy about them taking history from one place and falsely installing it in another.  It also took away the home of the owls that used to roost in the barn.  You can still read about the barn and the owls on the plaque at the trail entrance.  The interpretive sign about the barn was still there as of 2011. Oh well…

Even without the barn, the area is still very pretty and we enjoyed our short hike very much!

wookieWookie Says…

This was a great trail for a dog!  Even though it went along the river, I didn’t get wet or muddy at all.  I especially liked running in the open meadows!

Trail Notes

  • Distance 3.5 miles total.  1.4 miles for the South Loop and 2.1 miles for the North Loop
  • Elevation Change – about 100 feet
  • Difficulty – 1.5.  There is only one slightly steep climb on the South Loop.
  • Trail Conditions – 3.5.  The trail is maintained, but may be overgrown in some of the summer/fall months.
  • Views – 2.5.  You will get nice views of the mountains around you from the open fields, but this isn’t a hike for overlooks.
  • Streams/Waterfalls3.  On the South Loop, you do walk along the Blackwater River for some nice views between the trees.
  • Wildlife – 3.5  We saw a few deer on the trail, but the birdwatching on this trail is prime.
  • Ease to Navigate – 3.5.  This is an enclosed group of inter-connected trails, so you shouldn’t get lost.
  • Solitude – 4.5.  We’ve hiked this a few times and haven’t seen anyone. 

Directions to trailhead:  Heading north on Route 32 through Canaan Valley, WV, take a right on Cortland Road.  In about 1.5 miles, you will reach a one-lane bridge.  Nearby is the Canaan Valley sign that points to the short road that leads to the parking lot.  The parking lot is the center of the South and North Beall trails, so you can pick which one you would like to start first.

Fisher Springs Run/Rohrbaugh Plains – Dolly Sods (WV)

The Fisher Springs Run – Rohrbaugh Plains hike is a five mile out-and-back that leads to spectacular wilderness views from a cliffside.

Rohrbaugh Cliffs at Sunset
Rohrbaugh Cliffs at Sunset. Below: Gearing up at the car before starting the hike;  Making the short walk down Forest Road 75; Adam points out our route on the trail sign.

Gearing Up Forest Road 75 Trail Sign

Christine and Adam Say…

For this particular post, we decided to team up and write one massive post, instead of the normal ‘He Says, She Says’ versions. Enjoy!)

Last year, we participated in a Potomac Appalachian Trail Club workshop called Backpacking 101 (read part one, part two, and part three).  Initially, we were scheduled to do an overnight trip to the Dolly Sods Wilderness as a ‘graduation’ from our class.  Sadly, we ended up missing that trip because Christine’s ankle sprain still hadn’t healed enough for the rigors of backpacking.  While the make-up trip we eventually did to Hazel Mountain in Shenandoah National Park was great, we still wanted to do an overnight trip in Dolly Sods.

Dolly Sods is such a unique area for the mid-Atlantic region. It’s the only area close to us with a sub-Arctic tundra climate – loaded with heath barrens, blueberry bushes, acidic bogs and coniferous forest.  You feel like you’re somewhere far north of West Virginia when you visit this wilderness area.

The route we chose through Dolly Sods was of a length and difficulty we would typically choose for an easy day hike.  (5 miles with 900 feet of elevation change)  But we decided it would be fun to do an easy hike and enjoy camping at one of the most beautiful sites in the entire Monongahela National Forest’s wilderness area.

We also were lucky to have some awesome company for this trip.  In Backpacking 101, we met a nice couple – Suzanne and Anthony.  We enjoyed hanging out with them on our class trip to Hazel Mountain and had stayed in touch with them ever since.  We tried planning trips together a couple times, but until this trip our schedules just hadn’t matched up.  We were thrilled when plans finally came together for this Fourth of July weekend trip.

Day One:

Suzanne and Anthony drove down to our house on Friday night so we would have time to go through all our gear before getting an early(ish) start on Saturday morning.  We spent most of the evening fiddling with our packs, splitting up shared gear and contemplating how many Clif bars we truly needed to survive our expedition. That evening, it looked like an REI store exploded in our basement.  We laughed about how much stuff we had to pack for just one night of camping.  We ran through our checklist to make sure we had everything – stove, tent, sleeping bag, clothes, food, emergency kit, etc.

On Saturday, we had a big breakfast and were out the door a little after 9:30.  We didn’t make it to the trailhead until after 1:00.  We made a stop at Seneca Rocks Visitor’s Center and ended up buying another trail guide and a new map for West Virginia hiking.  (Not for use on this trip, but just to have for the future.) We also stopped at the Subway in Franklin, WV to grab sandwiches to have for lunch on the trail.

When we got to the Fisher Springs Run trailhead, the parking lot was overflowing with cars.  A couple people had decided to park sideways in the lot instead of straight-on, so they took up space that could have accommodated five or six more cars.  It was a little annoying and worrisome – would we get out to Rohrbaugh Cliffs and find all the prime campsites already occupied?  We ended up parking a short distance down Forest Road 75, in a patch of dirt just wide enough to get our car off the road.

Sea of Ferns
The forest floor was a sea of ferns.  Below: Adam hikes along the Fisher Springs Run Trail; The trail junction of Fisher Springs and Rohrbaugh Plains; Subway for lunch;  Our huge pile of packs; Adam traverses a rocky section of trail, Suzanne crosses a small stream.

Adam hiking Junction of Fisher Springs Run and Rohrbaugh Plains Trails
Lunch break
Stack of packs Rocky trail Crossing the stream

We found space to shove the sandwiches into Suzanne’s pack, slathered ourselves with sunscreen and bug spray, and got to the business of walking.  Almost immediately after stepping off the dusty, gravel forest road onto the trail, we found ourselves ensconced in a cool, lush, green forest.  Ferns spread across the ground for as far as the eye could see.  The trail descended gradually, occasionally crossing small, mostly dry streams.  The trail got rockier as we followed it for a little over a mile to its junction with the Rohrbaugh Plains trail.  We stopped at the trail junction and ate our lunch.  We chatted with a passing backpacker who was doing a 19-mile loop through Dolly Sods.  She was on a solo trip and told us she was headed down into the Red Creek basin.  We asked her if she had noticed many camps set up near the cliffs.  She said she hadn’t seen anyone, so we took that as a hopeful sign.

After lunch, we took a left onto the Rohrbaugh Plains trail.  The trail at this point was all rocks.  They almost looked fitted together like a jigsaw puzzle.  Almost immediately after the rocky patch, we dipped deeply into a ravine with a pretty flowing stream.  It was a perfect water source for backpacking. We figured that in the worst case scenario, we could hike back to this point to fetch water for cooking and cleaning at camp.

The last 1.2 miles to our campsite ascended ever so slightly, winding past giant mossy boulders and through dense thickets of rhododendron.  With about a half mile to go, we passed another trail junction with the Wildlife Trail.  Taking the Wildlife Trail to the Rohrbaugh Plains trail is probably the most popular route for day hikers to reach Rohrbaugh Cliffs.  After this trail junction, we crossed a swampy, muddy area and walked across a grassy meadow.  A couple tenths of a mile past the meadow, we came to a beautiful clearing where we ended up making camp.

Crossing the meadow
Crossing the meadow. Below:  Christine and Adam’s camp; Adam collects water for cooking and cleaning; Anthony and Suzanne’s camp.

Camp Anderson Fetching water Camp Suzanne and Anthony

There were so many soft, flat spots that were perfect for our tents!  We chose a couple spots located out of sight of the trail.  We had a fire pit, a nice place for cooking, a view and shady trees.  It was nothing short of perfect.

It felt great to shed our packs and get to work setting up camp.  Our Mountain Hardwear tent (the Drifter 3) is super-simple and was pitched in just a few moments.  While Adam worked on staking the tent, Christine inflated our Big Agnes pads.  We put them in the tent along with our sleeping bags, so they’d have some time to re-fluff after being compressed in stuff sacks all day.

On this backpacking trip, we had a few new and exciting ‘creature comforts’.  Since our last backpacking trip, we acquired Alite camp chairs.  They’re so comfortable and lightweight!  We also both got the large Thermarest pillows.  They’re really bulky and take up a ton of pack space, but they’re very lightweight and make a world’s difference for getting comfortable at night.  Christine also brought a fitted sheet for her sleeping pad.  Even though the sheet is made by Thermarest, it fits the Big Agnes pad perfectly.  A sheet is not a necessity, but it definitely improves the texture and breathability of your sleeping pad.  Christine especially hates feeling clammy or slippery when she’s trying to sleep, so having the sheet made a huge difference.  Neither of us actually sleep inside our sleeping bag unless it’s freezing cold.  We prefer to open our bags up and use them like quilts.

After we finished setting up our tent, we carried our cooking stuff down to our kitchen area.  We also pulled out all our ‘smellables’ and set them aside so they could easily be stowed away in our hanging bear bag.  Christine found a couple branch stubs to hang our trekking poles and our packs. We both covered our packs with garbage bags in case it rained overnight.

Anthony and Suzanne were still working on getting there camp set up, so we decided to go on a water run.  We hadn’t passed a better water source after the stream near the trail junction, so we took our collapsible bucket and headed back down the trail.  Filling up was easy, but getting two gallons of water in a soft-sided bucket back to camp without spilling anything over a 1.2 mile distance was substantially trickier!  We were very thankful we went as a pair to get water, because it was nice to trade off carrying the bucket. We joked that it was like being in a challenge on some adventure reality show.  We made it back without much spillage at all!  (Note: We hiked this trail as a dayhike in 2014 and found a closer water source just a few hundred yards past where we stopped to camp… so you don’t have to hike back like we did!)

When we got back, Anthony and Suzanne were all set up, so we decided to walk a few hundred feet further down the trail to explore the cliffs.  Rohrbaugh Cliffs were spectacular.  The view into the valley below was all wilderness – not a single road or farm or house – just mountains and streams for as far as the eye could see.

Adam on rohrbaugh cliffs
Adam on Rohrbaugh Cliffs. Below: Wild, ripe blueberries; A cute frog that visited our camp; Rosebay Rhododendron were in bloom; Our group on Rohrbaugh Cliffs; A couple more views of the cliffside.

Wild blueberries Frog Rosebay rhododendron
The groupView from Rohrbaugh Cliffs Cliffside

We visited the area at a truly beautiful time of year.  The Rosebay Rhododendrons were just starting to bloom.  The mountain laurel was a bit past peak, but there were still plenty of flowers to enjoy.  And best of all WILD BLUEBERRIES were everywhere along the cliffs!  Suzanne and Christine were significantly more excited about the berries than the guys and spent a lot of time searching for ripe berries tucked into the bushes.

Most of the late afternoon was spent relaxing near camp and getting dinner ready.  Around 5:30, Adam got out the JetBoil and boiled water for all of our dinners.  We had wanted to come up with some homemade backpacking recipes, but never got our act together.  Adam and Christine ended up eating Backpacker’s Pantry Chicken Risotto with Mocha Mousse Pie for dessert.  It was satisfying and very filling!  Anthony and Suzanne had macaroni and cheese and blueberry cobbler from some backpacking meal company (AlpineAire) none of us had heard of before.  They were pretty happy with their dinner, too.

Chef adam
Chef Adam filters and boils water for dinner. Below: Chicken Risotto for dinner; Anthony and Suzanne relax after dinner; Playing Monopoly on the cliffs; Hanging our bear bag.

Chicken risotto Relaxing after dinner and dessert Monopoly Bear Hang

We cleaned up our dishes, brushed our teeth (We love Colgate Wisps for backpacking) and hoisted our bear bag into the highest, safest tree we could find.  We decided to play cards and watch sunset from the cliffs.  We found a big flat rock near the edge and played the card version of Monopoly. The game took a long time, and Adam eventually won.  The sky turned to hues of pink and soft purple and the sun dipped down behind the mountains.  It was so beautiful!

Shortly before full dark, a couple more groups of backpackers showed up – maybe five people and two dogs.  They set up their camps down the trail from us.  So even though we weren’t the only people up there, we still felt like we had a good measure of solitude.  It definitely was not the situation we feared when we saw the packed parking lot at the trailhead. We’re guessing most of the other backpackers ended up along Red Creek.

Once the sun was down, we all retreated to our tents.  Christine listened to a book on her iPod for a while.  By the light of his headlamp, Adam enjoyed reading some of his book by John Muir.  He’s been reading this book exclusively on backpacking trips.  It’s a nice tribute to read something by the ultimate outdoorsman while having our own experience with nature.

Christine started getting really sleepy, so she stowed her iPod away and dozed off, only to be woken almost immediately by the sound of fireworks in the valley below.  We think we heard fireworks shows from three different locations, because there were definitely three distinct grand finales.  The booming sounds and bursts of light in the sky came from different directions, too.  We contemplated leaving our tent and going back out to the cliffs to see if we could see the fireworks from above, but we ended up staying put. Christine didn’t feel like getting dressed again. When all was said and done, we kind of regretted not going back out to see the fireworks.

Eventually the fireworks drew to a close, and Christine drifted back to sleep.  Unfortunately, Adam did not sleep that well on this trip.  He was physically comfortable, but he just wasn’t tired enough to sleep soundly.  Going to bed shortly after sunset just isn’t what his body is used to, so he did a lot of tossing and turning during the night.

Our sunset card game
Our sunset card game.  Below:  Layers of mountains frame the Red Creek Valley; We had a pretty sunset; Suzanne takes a few final photos of the evening sky.

Mountain Layers Dramatic sky Taking one last photo

Around 2:30 a.m., Adam shook Christine awake to close the rainfly on the tent – a storm was approaching.  Christine stumbled and grumbled and totally failed at closing the fly.  Adam had to crawl over her to get both sides of the tent closed.  Christine completely lacks dexterity when she’s half asleep. The storm never really materialized beyond some lightning and wind.  We both fell back to sleep and didn’t wake up again until about 6:15.  Christine said it was the best night of sleep she’s ever had in a tent.

Day Two

Shortly after sunrise, we got out of the tent and took a walk over to the cliffs.  Christine thought there might be some pretty morning light, but it was completely cloudy.  Back at camp, we started breaking down our tent, deflating our sleeping pads and re-stuffing our sleeping bags.  We got the bear bag down and got everything ready to cook breakfast.

Christine tried Starbuck’s instant coffee, Via, for the first time.  It was surprisingly delicious.  Once she added sweetener and powdered Coffeemate, it tasted almost identical to a cup of brewed coffee.  In addition to coffee, we had boxes of apple-grape juice and instant maple-brown sugar oatmeal.  We figured that would be plenty of food to give us energy for the short hike out.

After everyone was done with breakfast, we finished packing up and cleaning up our camp area.  We were back on the trail by 8:45.  Our exit route simply retraced the trail we had hiked in.  We were back at the car by 10:15.

Breaking camp
Breaking camp in the morning.  Below:  Fat Boy’s Pork Palace for lunch!

Fat Boys Pork Palace

On the way home, we stopped at Fat Boy’s Pork Palace (now permanently closed) for lunch.  With a name like that, you know it’s going to have perfect options for a post-backpacking calorie splurge!  We enjoyed BBQ sandwiches with coleslaw and French fries.  Suzanne got breakfast and Anthony got a burger.  It was all delicious!

Once we were back at our house, we split up our group gear and saw Anthony and Suzanne on their way.  Christine said her post-backpacking shower might have been one of the best showers of her entire life.  It always feels awesome to wash away DEET, sunscreen and sweat!

We all had a great time on the trip. We’re already trying to plan our next backpacking adventure for some time in September!  Although, it’s going to be hard to top the scenery at Dolly Sods!

Trail Notes

  • Distance 5.2 miles total
  • Elevation Change – 900 feet.  The Fisher Springs Run trail descends about 500 feet and the Rohraugh Plains ascends about 400 feet.
  • Difficulty – 2.  The hike was not that difficult, even with 35 pounds on my back.
  • Trail Conditions –2.5The Fisher Spring Run trail was well-maintained, but there are lots of rocky spots on the Rohrbaugh trail where you could turn your ankle.
  • Views –5.  The views from Rohrbaugh cliffs were quite spectacular and it was nice to see the sun disappear over the mountains.
  • Wildlife – 1.  We were expecting to see some wildlife up here, but we didn’t see anything other than squirrels, frogs and some birds.  We did wake up to the sounds of dark-eyed juncos in the morning.
  • Ease to Navigate – 3.5.  There are not any blazes on trails at Dolly Sods, but the trails are very well-defined and signs are in place to mark junctions.  Stay on the trail as much as possible and you won’t have any trouble.  I can imagine that when leaves fall and cover the trail in the fall, it would be more challenging to find the trail.
  • Solitude –4.  On a nice day, you may see some people at the overlook. 

Directions to trailhead:  From Seneca Rocks, go North on WV 28 for 12 miles.  Take a left on Jordan Run Road.  Go one mile up Jordan Run Road and take a left on to Forest Road 19.  In 6 miles, Forest Road 19 comes to a T on to Forest Road 75.  Take a right, heading north on Forest Road 75.  Drive for three miles until reaching the small parking lot and the trailhead for Fisher Springs Run.

Snowshoe Trek on the Middle Ridge Trail (WV)

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.

Doe in the Woods
A whitetail doe watches us in the woods.  Below: Adam walks along the trail, being careful not to ruin the cross country ski tracks; The Blackwater River is covered with snow and ice; A sign cautions cross country skiers to take care on the steep hill.

Walking Along Along the Blackwater River Steep Hill Caution

Adam Says…

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.

Tubbs Snowshoes
We rented snowshoes from Canaan Valley State Park.

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.

Rest Stop at the Trail Junction
Adam takes a rest stop at the trail junction.

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.

Christine Says…

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.

Trees and Snow
The trees and fresh snow made a beautiful and stark landscape. Below: Adam looks down on the trail from the Balsam Swamp parking area; Walking uphill across the open meadow; The snow was heavy and deep.

Adam looks at the trail Walking Uphill Deep snow

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!

Sirianni's pizza
We got to sit in our favorite little corner booth at Sirianni’s – best pizza in West Virginia.  Below:  People from all over have written notes to tuck under the glass tabletops in the back corner of Sirianni’s – such fun to read!;  Sirianni’s is right on the main street through Davis, WV.

Table notes at Sirianni's Davis WV

Trail Notes

  • 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.

Greenbrier River Trail – Cass to Marlinton (WV)

The Greenbrier River Trail is a rails-to-trails bike path that meanders 78 miles along the Greenbrier River in West Virginia. This portion we biked was about 25 miles from Cass to the little town of Marlinton.

Biking the Greenbrier River Trail
Adam crosses Sharps Bridge on the Greenbrier River Trail. Below:  Due to drought conditions, the Greenbrier River was very low;  Trail signs mark each entry to the trail; The Clover Lick Depot is one of the old train stops you’ll pass on the trail.

Adam on the River Greenbrier River Trail Sign with Bike Clover Lick Depot

Adam Says…

Our main reason for staying around the Marlinton, WV area was to do some biking on the Greenbrier River trail.  A few friends of mine that had done the Virginia Creeper Trail told me that we should do the Greenbrier River Trail sometime.  The trail was very similar to the Virginia Creeper.  They are both rails-to-trails biking trails and don’t take a ton of cardio effort or biking skills to complete.  The scenery may have been a little nicer along the Virginia Creeper; with mountain views and lots of bridges and trestles. However, the Greenbrier trail lacks the dense crowds that you find on the Virginia Creeper.  You’ll have lots of solitude on this trail, but there are also fewer amenities along the way (other than occasional restrooms at campsites).  Christine and I really enjoy the solitude more than anything, so it was great to get away for a nice, quiet, long bike ride.

We started our day with a car shuttle up to the northern terminus of the trail near Cass, WV.  We arranged the shuttle through Appalachian Sport.  We were the only people signed up for the shuttle, so we were able to arrange our own time.  It was nice to talk to our driver (wish we caught his name) about his impressions of the trail.  He was actually the one that gave us the news that JMU beat Virginia Tech in football.  We had been completely “off the grid” for a few days without any cellphone service, TV, or internet. We actually thought he was joking the first time he told us that JMU won.

Low Water Levels on the Greenbrier River
Water levels were very low on the Greenbrier River.  Below:  The trail follows the river for almost all of its 78 miles; Adam bikes along the crushed stone trail; A view of the lovely river.

The Greenbrier River Trail follows the river. Biking Along the Trail Greenbrier River Scenery

He frequently runs on the trail and told us about his goal to organize a Greenbrier River Challenge t0 raise funds with sponsorships for people to run the entire length of the trail.  A friend of mine from work is one of the few known people to run the entire trail in a single effort (I think he and a couple friends did all 78 miles in a little over 16 hours).  Our shuttle driver also told us that many people find the area between Cass and Marlinton to be the prettiest, but he thinks the entire trail is nice (with the exception of the more populated area between Marlinton and Seebert).

After being dropped off in the parking lot at the Northern Terminus of Slabtown (.5 miles from the town of Cass, WV), we got our gear together and headed down the trail.  Mile markers are posted along the way to help you plan your distance along the trail.  There are also slabs with the letter “W” along the trail, which were used by railroad engineers to know when to blow the whistle when they were approaching road crossings.  The first notable stop along the way is about 9.4 miles in when you reach the Clover Lick Depot.  This depot was built in the early 1900s and was recently renovated.  At mile 14.6, you will reach the Sharp’s tunnel and bridge.  The tunnel is 511 feet long and the bridge immediately after the tunnel is 229 feet long.  If you’re interested in parking your bike for a brief rest, right before the entrance to the tunnel there is a path to the left that leads down to the riverside. There is also a steep, slippery path up to the top of the tunnel for the more adventurous.  At mile 23.9, you will reach the water tank on the outskirts of Marlinton.  Shortly after you pass the water tank , you will reach the Marlinton Depot at mile 24.3.  The depot burned to the ground in 2008 and there are plans to have it rebuilt.  You can then bike a short distance back to where you left your vehicle.

Sharps Tunnel
The Sharps Tunnel is dark and deep!  Below:  Adam stands atop the tunnel entry;  By mid-day, big puffy clouds breezed into the sky.

Adam on top the Tunnel Entry Pretty Clouds Over the Greenbrier River

If you are interested in doing any geoaching along the bike trail, you can find a few along the way:

We definitely enjoyed our ride on the trail and I hope to come back at some point to try out some other sections of this trail.

Christine Says…

We had a great bike ride along the Greenbrier River Trail (GRT)!  I already can’t wait to go back and bike the remaining 53 miles.  Rails-to-trails riding is so pleasant and leisurely.  I love not having to worry about cars running me off the road.

If you’re going to bike a segment of the GRT, definitely look into arranging a shuttle. Typically, you leave your car at the end point, and the shuttle ferries you and your bikes to your start point. This allows you to bike a long section without having to retrace the trail to get back to your car.  You can also take your time exploring because you don’t have a set time to meet your ride at the end of your trip.  Shuttle companies are also a great source for trail tips – where to camp, where to eat, places to stop for water, etc.  We used Appalachian Sport, but there are several other shuttle companies in the area.

A View of Sharps Bridge
A View of Sharps Bridge.  Can you spot Christine on the trestle?  Below: A primitive campsite along the trail; Adam drives the old wagon; A few early hints of fall were evident in the trees along the trail.

Campsite Along the Trail Adam Driving the Old Wagon Biking Along

We met our shuttle at 8:30, loaded up our bikes and headed off on our 45-minute van ride to Cass.  The morning was still cool with thick mist lifting off the river.  Fall is definitely in the air!  We passed through Cass Scenic Railroad State Park on our way to the northern end of the GRT. Cass is near Snowshoe Mountain.  The area offers so many options for outdoor fun – skiing, mountain biking, canoeing, scenic railroads, fishing, hiking, etc.

By 9:30, we were off and pedaling along the trail.  For several miles, we followed along the river – no sign of roads, people or houses.  It was wonderful!  The river was really low, but it was still gorgeous.  Every now and then, a deer would bound across the trail or go splashing across the river.  The fog burned off and opened up to crystalline clear blue skies – not a cloud in site.  Early splashes of fall color were already evident in the trees along the trail.

We passed a couple trailside campsites.  The GRT is also popular with equestrians, so campsites all included hitching posts. If I still had my horse, this would definitely be a dream ride!  Several of the campsites even had privies.

Occasionally, the trail passes by developed areas.  But “development” in this section of West Virginia usually means a few houses clustered along a quiet country road.  We passed a barn with equestrian services advertised on the building side.  They also had an old horse cart that Adam couldn’t resist.  We passed the Clover Lick Depot.  I think this area was probably a lot busier when the train was still running.  The depot building was really cute and had recently been restored.  Sadly, it’s not being used for anything.  I bet it would make a great trailside gift and snack shop, but I also bet it would be nearly impossible for a shop to stay in business along the GRT.  In the entire 25 miles we biked, I think we saw 6 people all day long.  With such low traffic, amenities will never spring up along this trail like they have along the Virginia Creeper.

One of my favorite things we passed along – or shall I say through – was the old Sharps Tunnel.  When we arrived at the tunnel opening, Adam scrambled up the hill to the top of the tunnel opening.  You can smell the inside of the mountain emanating from the tunnel.  It’s a hard smell to describe – the best I can describe is like a cool wind carrying the scent of tar, dampness and earth.  The tunnel is over 500 feet long and follows a curve.  This means that there is a section in the middle where there is absolutely no ambient light.  It is 100% completely pitch black and eerie as the grave.  For a few moments, I lost all sense of up, down, forward and backward.  It was like biking in space!  I shrieked with a mix of fear and giddiness until my bike hit light again.  It was really fun, but if you’re afraid of the dark or an uncertain biker, you might want to have a light on your bike or carry a headlamp in your bag.

There were a bunch of state park employees eating lunch on the other side of the tunnel.  I think they all heard me screaming in the tunnel, because they looked at me oddly.  Oh well…  I hope they were entertained.  As soon as you come out of the tunnel, you pass over the Sharps Bridge, which crosses the Greenbrier River on a tall trestle.

Baby Chipmunk
We spotted a couple of frightened baby chipmunks along the trail.  Below: Another view of Sharps Bridge; the Greenbrier River; The other baby chipmunk we spotted.  I hope they survived.

Another look at the trestle and Sharps Bridge Greenbrier River View The other chipmunk

Shortly after crossing the bridge, I saw a tiny animal dart across the trail – barely missing Adam’s bike wheels.  It was as small as a field mouse.  I braked when I saw the tiny creature still sitting along the trailside.  It turned out to be a tiny baby chipmunk.  It was too young to be away from the nest, and the mother chipmunk was nowhere in site.  We made sure the little guy was safely off the trail and headed on our way.  As Adam was walking back to his bike, he almost stepped on another baby chipmunk.  This one was sitting in the middle of the trail, trembling in fear.  We made sure the other chipmunk was safely off the trail and nestled under some leaves before we biked on.  I hope those little chipmunks somehow found some way to survive.  😦

Chipmunks and deer were not the only wildlife we saw along the way.  We also saw a couple different kinds of snakes.  One snake was the largest black snake I’ve ever seen!  He was lying half on and half off the trail, clearly in a state of torpor from the chilly weather.  At first, I thought it was a toy rubber snake that someone had tossed along the trail.  It didn’t move at all when I nudged it with a stick.  I pushed it again, and I noticed the body slowly constricting.  The stick I had was an old fallen tree branch – about eight feet long.  I pushed the snake again to get it off the trail, but this time the snake completely coiled up; raising its upper body off the ground and flicking its tongue at me.  He was still really slow and stiff, but definitely awake! Adam, who was sitting on his bike 50 feet away, wanted nothing to do with the snake at all.  Finally, I managed to push the snake completely off the trail into the grass.  Hopefully, he slithered away when the sunshine of the day warmed him up.  Later in the day, we saw another snake basking in the sun in the middle of the trail, but he moved out of the way really quickly.

Huge Black Snake
We saw this sleepy (but angry) black snake on the trail. Below:  Near Marlinton, we saw old farm buildings and fields; The old water tank;  The burned Marlinton depot; Adam checks out the inside of the train.

Old Farm Building Water Tank near Marlinton
Burned Marlinton Depot Adam Checks out the Train

The last few miles of the trail passed through more open terrain.  We saw fields and old abandoned farm buildings.  Shortly thereafter, we passed a huge water tank – the only one left standing along the trail.  Trains used to stop at this spot to fill up.  By the time you get to the water tank, the GRT switches from a crushed stone surface to paved.  The paved section is about five miles long.

In a few minutes, we were back in Marlinton at the old train depot.  The depot used to be the town visitor’s center, but as Adam mentioned, it burned down a few years ago.  We took a few minutes to climb aboard the old train car at the depot before heading back to our car.

After loading up, we had a delicious lunch at the Greenbrier Grille.  They had great sandwiches (I recommend the Steak & Mozzarella!) and a lovely deck overlooking the river.  We ate lunch to the sound of honking ducks in the river below.  The restaurant has a large menu of homemade desserts, but we were too full from the sandwiches.

The next day, we were on our way back to Virginia, but we’ll definitely be visiting Pocahontas County again!

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 24.3 miles
  • Elevation Change – Negligible.  Hardly any elevation change.
  • Difficulty – 2. While the biking is not difficult, the distance might be a little much for some people.  Hiking or biking it should be fairly easy.
  • Trail Conditions – 4.5 The trail is very well-maintained.
  • Views3.  The trail is scenic through most of the trail with views of the river most of the time.
  • Waterfalls/streams – 2. The path runs along Wilson Creek for part of the trip and the Greenbrier River for most of the trip.
  • Wildlife – 2.5 We saw deer a few times on the trail and in the river.  We also spotted some baby chipmunks, a blue heron, a couple snakes and some geese.
  • Ease to Navigate – 4.5. Just stay on the bike trail.  A few spots run parallel with other driveways/roads, but you shouldn’t have trouble if you stay on the trail.
  • Solitude – 3.  We were surprised with how few people were on the trail biking.  I think we only saw 6 people biking on the trail the entire day.

Directions to trailhead: The actual trailhead is located off Route 66/Back Mountain Road near Cass, WV.  There are clear signs to direct you to the trail.

View a Google Map of the Route

Thomas Reserve – Cowpasture – Cranberry Glades Loop (WV)

This nine-mile loop offers glimpses of area history, great views of the tundra and peeks at distant mountains.

Meadow on the Cowpasture Trail
The trail offered many beautiful meadow views.  Below: Adam checks out the sign at the entry to the Cranberry Glades boardwalk; The old Mill Point Federal Prison used to sit along the present-day Cowpasture Trail; The Thomas Reserve Trail is lined with ferns; A view of the Glades boardwalk.

Entry to the Cranberry Glades Boardwalk
Thomas Reserve Trail The Glades Boardwalk

Christine Says…

The morning did not start well.  We drove into Marlinton, WV before our hike to make some reservations for a bike shuttle.  Once we were in town, we learned that Verizon wireless was not available anywhere in the area (and I really needed to check in on a family emergency).  We couldn’t find anyone that sold pre-paid phone cards in all of Marlinton.  When we did find a phone card, we couldn’t find a pay phone that worked. Apparently, the only pay phone that works in all of Pocahontas County is at the hospital.  After filling up at a BP station, the “service engine” light came on in our car and the gas gauge stopped working.  (Can I blame BP for that?)  Finally, to top everything off, we couldn’t find the trailhead for this hike.  In the end, it all turned out OK, as it usually does.  We ended up hiking a couple extra miles, but on a beautiful, cool, blue-sky day… that’s not a bad thing!

Our original plan was to hike the 7.1 mile Cowpasture Loop which encircles the entire Cranberry Glades Botanical Area and crosses into the beautiful, wild Cranberry Wilderness.  But, the trailhead was not marked and the map we had did have enough detail to indicate the exact location.  We ended up parking at the Thomas Reserve trailhead, instead.  We knew this trail would intersect the Cowpasture Loop after about a mile or so.

This rock ledge along the Thomas Reserve Trail is probably a pretty waterfall when the stream isn’t dry. Below: The trailhead for the Thomas Reserve trail; Trails were adequately marked.

Thomas Reserve Trail Trail Sign

I’m really glad we went this way, because the Thomas Reserve Trail took us past some beautiful and interesting scenery.  There were ruins that looked like some kind of old pool or water treatment facility.  The concrete basin and pillars were still intact, along with several large pipes with wheels attached.  I did a quick Google search to try and figure out exactly what the ruins are, but I didn’t have much luck.  From that point, the trail passes through beautiful fern-carpeted forest and past a dry stream.  The stream has an interesting rock ledge/cave that I think probably makes a lovely, small waterfall when water is actually running.  Eventually, the path intersects an old road that is part of the Cowpasture Loop.

After a short walk along the old road, the trail opens up into a gorgeous open meadow with views of the mountains in the distance.  This is the site of the old Mill Point Federal Prison.  Even though the buildings were all torn down in the late 1950s and early 1960s, you can still see some leftover signs of the site – there are bits of road left, abandoned stairs to nowhere, an old well.   There is also a series of informational signs that include old photos and talk about life at the prison.  Apparently, it was a prison without walls or gates.  Prisoners were treated to weekly movies and could spend their afternoons hiking in the area.  I guess you could say it was very low security! We stayed at the prison site long enough to read the signs and enjoy the meadow view.

After the meadow, the trail climbed back into the forest, following rolling ups and downs for a couple miles.  We saw lots of bear scat and several deer leaping across the trail.  We crossed a small dry stream shortly before passing out into another wide open area.  The meadows along this trail were really overgrown.  The ragweed and other plants were shoulder-height and constantly batted me in the face as I walked the trail.  Even so, the meadow areas of this hike were spectacular!  This section in particular offered beautiful views of Kennison Mountain.

Beaver Dam on the Cranberry River
We got a nice view of a beaver dam on the Cranberry River. Below; The bridge over the Cranberry River.

Bridge over the Cranberry River

The trail dips down to the South Fork of the Cranberry River.  This crossing had a pretty arched bridge and a great look at an active beaver dam.  There were crabapple trees everywhere – so I was really wondering if we’d eventually see a bear.  We never did – just the deer and a very angry red squirrel.

From the river, the trail ascends to a ridge and follows a series of gentle ups and downs.  We passed several beaver ponds and got nice looks at the bogs and glades the area is known for.  One pond even has an elevated wooden platform to view the area.  Because of the dry months we’ve had lately, the ground was much dryer than it should be.  The ponds were so low, I wondered if the resident beavers were able to swim at all.  While we were passing one of the ponds, we heard a huge tree come crashing to the ground someplace nearby.  It must have been a monster tree – it sounded like gunshots as it splintered and fell to the ground with a huge KABOOM.

Just before coming out on FS Road 102, the trail passes over another pretty arched bridge.  The walk along 102 is completely level and pretty uneventful.  You’ll pass a gate and the board marking the entry to Cranberry Wilderness.  The area looks fantastic for backpacking – lots of loops and shelter options.  We’re already talking about making a three day trip sometime in the spring.

After crossing the chain gate, the walk is along the developed portion of 102.  Cars passed by and the walking was really boring.  When we got to the Cranberry Glades Boardwalk, we decided to add the .6 mile loop onto our larger loop.  The boardwalks pass through a beautiful open bog area.  If you visit the right time of year, you can even see carnivorous pitcher plants.

After the quick turn along the boardwalk, we walked the last mile along the paved road back to our car. By the time we got back, I was pretty tired and hungry and was looking forward to making homemade pizza for dinner back at our Watoga State Park cabin.  Although the day got off to an inauspicious start, it really turned out to be perfect.

Adam says…

Christine had suggested this hike to me when we were planning our trip to Watoga State Park and I’m so glad that she suggested it.  This hike is one of my favorites that we’ve done this year.  It has some interesting history and the open views of tundra are nothing short of beautiful.

Ruins on the Thomas Reserve Trail
We saw these mysterious ruins along the Thomas Reserve Trail.  Below: The Thomas Reserve trail begins; An old well at the prison ruins site.

Thomas Reserve trailsign Old well at the prison ruins

We had trouble finding the start of the hike, since the trailhead for the start of the Cowpasture Loop was not marked.  We saw a sign for the Thomas Reserve trail and I could tell from our map that it hooked up with the Cowpasture Loop.  The Thomas Reserve Trail starts bisecting a field, but quickly moves into woods.  At about .6 miles, we saw the pillars of the old “pool” that Christine mentioned off to the right of the trail.  The trail continues for another .4 miles through the woods until it comes to a sign.

Take a right here to get on to the Cowpasture Loop.  The trail is quite level at this point as you move through a field with great views of the tundra around you.  Here, and in some places throughout the entire loop, there may be tall plants that you have to push aside, but you shouldn’t need to bushwhack.  As you’re passing through the tundra area, you may notice several bluebird boxes.  The trail begins to turn towards the left and then opens up to more of a clearing.  You will see posts that give information about the Mill Point Federal Prison camp and life for the inmates.  You will then come to a sign around mile 1.5.  Take a left here to stay on the Cowpasture Loop.  This will loop back around the tundra, paralleling Charlies Creek, and then goes back into the woods.    You will start to reach some footbridges around the two mile mark that take you above some marshy areas.

A view of the Glades Boardwalk
The glades boardwalk is a pleasant .6 mile walk around the bog. Below: The walk along the forest road wasn’t that exciting; Once we got back to the paved portion of 102, there were some pretty scenes along the road.

Forest Service Road 102 The walk back to the car

After this point, you will begin to climb slightly up.  At the height of this gradual hill, you will begin to see views of Kennison Mountain.  At mile 3.5, the trail then takes a sharp left (marked by an arrow on a sign) and descends again.  This area was quite overgrown, but the trail was still clearly visible.  The trail tends to alternate at this point from going through areas of marshy glades to trails through the woods with slight ups and downs in elevation.  At mile 5.7, you will see a destroyed sign where there is a side path of about 100 yards to an observation deck.  This would be an excellent spot for birding.  At mile 6.4, the trail connects again to FS 102.  Take a left on the fire road until you reach the gate at mile 6.6.  At mile 7.3, you will reach the parking lot for the Cranberry Glades Boardwalk loop.  This loop is only about .5 miles and I would highly recommend it.  There are interpretive signs along the boardwalk and it does give some more wonderful views throughout the loop.  Once you complete the loop, just walk back up FS 102 to reach your car.

There are also a few geocaches along this loop:

Trail Notes

  • Distance –9 mile loop
  • Elevation Change – 200 feet
  • Difficulty 3. This is really an easy hike, but we’ll give it a 3 due to the longer length.
  • Trail Conditions 2.5. The trail was largely passable, but very overgrown.  Several bridges over streams were broken and rotted through.
  • Views –3. You get some nice views of the mountains and great views of the glades/tundra.
  • Waterfalls/streams 3. In times with normal to higher precipitation, this trail has great views of streams, ponds and the Cranberry River.
  • Wildlife 4.  We saw deer, signs of bears, active beaver dams, red squirrels and many kinds of birds.
  • Ease to Navigate 3.  Once you find the trailhead, the trail is relatively easy to follow.
  • Solitude 4.  Outside the popular boardwalk area, you probably won’t see a soul!

Directions to trailhead: From Mill Point, WV head west of WV 39/55.  After about 7 miles, you will find a sign for the Cranberry Glades area on your right (FS 102).  Head down this road for one mile until you reach the trailhead for the Thomas Reserve trailhead.

Falls of Hills Creek (WV)

The Falls of Hills Creek is a popular trail that (should) give you views of three plunging waterfalls in a short distance.  The trail is in need of some serious maintenance, as the lower – and most impressive – falls are completely inaccessible due to a collapsed boardwalk (as of fall 2010).

Bridge Over Hills Creek
While the waterfalls were practically non-existent due to very little rain for the past few months, the trail was still pretty. Below: We climbed many stairs and saw very little waterfall action; the Middle Falls were practically dry – the Upper Falls were completely dry and we didn’t even bother with photos; The path was scattered with fall leaves.

Many Stairs Middle Falls Path

Adam Says…

In planning our trip down to West Virginia, we had seen great pictures of the Falls of Hills Creek and thought it would be worth checking out.

The trail starts from the parking lot on a paved path and begins to descend.  The trail winds around while it descends.  At .3 miles, you come to your first overlook of the 25 foot Upper Falls.  You can’t really get great looks of the falls from the overlook, but we could tell there was not a lot of water flowing.  After this overlook, the trail continues on crushed gravel.  At .5 miles, you will come to an overlook that gives you nice views of the 45 foot Middle Falls from above.

Metal Steps
Many metal stairs lead to the lower viewing point for the middle falls. Below: Benches are available along the way if you need a rest; We saw a newt on the damp pathway; BUMMER!  The trail is closed off before we even get a view of the waterfall.

Bench Newt Bummer!

After you leave the platform, you will descend a metal stairwell that goes down several flights.  At the bottom of the stairwell, the trail continues on a boardwalk.  To the right is a short boardwalk path that gives you nice views of the Middle Falls from the bottom of the falls.  Go back up the boardwalk and take the path straight ahead that leads to the view to the Lower Falls.  Unfortunately, there has been some damage from last year’s winter storm on this last section of the trail, so the boardwalk was closed.  Even though the Lower Falls are supposed to be the most impressive with a 63 feet drop, we weren’t able to get to a place to see them.  Return the way that you came to complete the 1.8 mile out-and-back.  The way back includes a lot of stair climbing, so you will get a workout.

There are two geocaches located here:

The dry summer for the last month really hurt our ability to see these falls at the most impressive.  I’m guessing that the work on the Lower Falls will not be completed until the spring/summer of 2011 (at the earliest), so I would wait until this is done to visit this series.  The Lower Falls are considered the second highest cataract falls in West Virginia.

Christine Says…

I’m a little ambivalent about including this hike on our blog because I don’t feel like we saw what the hike really has to offer. It’s hard to be enthusiastic and share information about a waterfall hike when the waterfalls are mostly dry, and one is not even accessible.  But, the Falls of Hills Creek seem to be perennially popular, even in its diminished state.

We did this hike the afternoon we arrived in Pocohontas County.  It was a cloudy, dreary, drizzly day.  I figured if there were any water left in the falls, this weather would be ideal for taking long exposure shots of the water.  Even though the photos didn’t work out, the trail was still quite pretty.  I enjoyed the cool, damp day and walking though the lush green of the woods.  We got some good exercise in climbing the many stairs along the trail.

Signs of Fall
Signs of fall were all along the trail. Below:  Tiny wildflowers along the trail; The foreboding sign that made us carry 40 pounds of camera gear.

Wildflowers Threatening Sign

The one thing I found mildly disconcerting were the “thief alert” signs we found along the trail.  When we walked down, I had all my camera gear and laptop in the car (unusual for me!)  After I saw the sign, I took the route of paranoia and decided to carry everything with us.  Adam carried the big backpack with the laptop and I carried the cameras and the tripod.  It was kind of a shame, because we hardly used any of the gear we carried.

I would love to see the Falls of Hills Creek again sometime when the water is flowing and the lower falls are open.  Until then, I’ll reserve final judgment on this hike.

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 1.8 miles out and back
  • Elevation Change – 600 feet
  • Difficulty 2.  Just due to the stair-master quality of the hike, it’s not for everyone.
  • Trail Conditions 4.5. The trail is paved, then crushed gravel, and some boardwalk areas.
  • Views –0. Not really any views other than waterfalls.
  • Waterfalls/streams 3.5 There wasn’t any water in the falls, but normally this would be great for waterfalls.
  • Wildlife 0.  The trail is too populous to really attract wildlife.
  • Ease to Navigate 5.  Just straight down a paved path and back.
  • Solitude 1.  You should see people along this trail.

Directions to trailhead: From Mill Point, WV head west of WV 39/55.  After about 12 miles, you will find a sign for the Falls of Hills Creek scenic area on your left that leads to a parking lot.  The trail takes off from the left side of the parking lot.

Snowshoeing in Canaan Valley (WV)

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.

Canaan Valley provided a beautiful winter wonderland for a day of snowshoeing.

Christine Says…

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.

Adam takes a look over the frozen Blackwater River.

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 ice sparkled on the tree tops.

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.

Adam Says…

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.

Abe Run, Mill Run and Deer Run create a series of interconnected loop trails.

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.

Trail Notes

  • 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.

Seneca Rocks (WV)

The formation of Seneca Rocks is an exciting landmark for all to see. The trail is a pleasant three-mile hike along gentle uphill grades and switchbacks.  The summit has a viewing platform suitable for all hikers and the opportunity for more adventurous folks to scramble out onto the exposed rock face for a more dramatic view.

The trail starts off over an arched bridge.
The trail starts off over an arched bridge.

Adam Says…

When people first see the sheer rock face of Seneca, most probably assume they’re in for a really tough hike.  However, I was surprised to find that this hike is not as difficult at all.  This was my second time hiking up Seneca Rocks.

Seneca Rocks is probably most known among rock-climbers.  You may see several dots scaling the face from the parking lot. There are multiple paths up the sections of rocks, but it is not for amateurs. Seneca Rocks is made of Tuscarora quartzite.

The trail starts off from the parking lot opposite of the Sites Homestead.  You will see a sign marking the beginning of the trail, mentioning that it is 1.5 miles to the top along with 1000 feet of elevation gain.  You will quickly come to a bridge across the North Fork River.  The trail continues on the opposite side.  There are interpretive signs along the trail that will give you a lot of information about the trees and geology of the area.   You will slowly rise through the forests to meet a row of stairs which starts a steeper, uphill climb.  You will have several switchbacks along the trail, but they help take the pain away you would feel for a steeper hike.  Once you reach the top, there is an observation platform that allows for some gorgeous views to the west.

The view from the Seneca Rocks viewing platform.
The view from the Seneca Rocks viewing platform. Below: Adam at the warning sign; More views

sign seneca rocks_1

For those that are more adventurous, you will find a sign slightly above the observation point pictured above.  You can continue past this point, but it is not for the faint of heart or the feeble-footed.  This path will take you to actually hike the skinny area of the top of Seneca Rocks.  At some points of this climb at the very top, you will be standing on rock about the width of your body with several hundred feet of drop-off on both sides of you.  The views do allow you to see to the east and west from the top, but most people should stay at the observation point.  Fearful of heights, the first time I did not venture much further past the warning sign.  This time, I felt a little more confident and did explore things a little further.  Several people have died on this portion, so do not attempt anything that is uncomfortable.

If you are interested in geocaching, there are several to find around the Seneca Rocks area.  There are more than these listed, but these are the easiest to do while on this hike.  Here are the ones I found in the area:

I would highly recommend anyone interested in taking a trip to West Virginia to take some time to visit Seneca Rocks.  These formations are really an amazing site and the hike up is paid off by gorgeous views that will make you truly appreciate the breath-taking scenery of West Virginia.

Christine Says…

Seneca Rocks was the last stop of our whirlwind day in West Virginia.  We’ve hiked this trail a few times, and wanted to take the time to share it on our website.

The hike is understandably the most heavily trafficked trail in all of Monongahela National Forest.  Seneca Rocks has so much to see beyond its namesake attraction.  The visitors center, located at the base of the rocks,  is beautifully designed and is full of interesting exhibits, a theater and a small gift shop.  The original visitors center burned to the ground in 1992, but the new one is even nicer than the original.  The area also offers fishing, picnicking, nearby camping and even a restored homestead from the 1830’s.  The Sites Homestead has lovely gardens and a spectacular view of the rock “spine” on the mountain above.

The Sites Homestead
The Sites Homestead. Below: Horseback Riders; A peek between the rocks.

seneca rocks horses seneca rocks_3

Since Adam has already described the hike itself so thoroughly, I wanted to share one of my memories from a childhood visit to Seneca Rocks.   My family spent a lot of time camping and hiking in the area when I was a kid.  On one trip to Seneca Rocks, I kept telling my parents that the “rock was shaped different”.  My mom said that I probably didn’t remember what the rock looked like exactly.  But, I insisted that a big part of the rock face had fallen right off the mountain.  My parents just laughed at me.  But, it turned out I was RIGHT.   Two days before that visit, a large freestanding tower of rock (called the Gendarme) in the center notch of the rocks had toppled over and crumbled down the mountainside.  You can see the Gendarme in this old historical engraving.

The hike to the top of Seneca is really pretty easy.  You used to be able to take a guided horseback ride to the top, but Yokum’s Stables stopped operating in September of 2015.

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 3 miles out and back
  • Elevation Change –1000 feet
  • Difficulty – 2. The entire outbound hike is uphill along gradual grades and switchbacks.
  • Trail Conditions – 3.5 The trail is well-maintained.
  • Views –4. The view the platform is pretty to the west, but for a better view, climb beyond the platform onto the rocks for stunning east and west views.
  • Waterfalls/streams –3. The beginning of the hike takes you over an arched bridge and across a beautiful, wide section of the North Fork River.  Several smaller streams converge near the trailhead.
  • Wildlife – 1. We saw lots of chipmunks and a gigantic black snake.
  • Ease to Navigate – 5. There is only one trail.  It would be nearly impossible to get lost.
  • Solitude – 0. This is the most popular trail in all of Monongahela National Forest.  Everybody hikes this trail, so expect lots of company along the way.

Directions to trailhead:
Seneca Rocks sits right at the junction of Rt. 33 and Rt. 55 in West Virginia.  You can’t miss it.  The hike starts out across the parking lot from the historic Sites Homestead.

Short and Scenic West Virginia Walks

Last Saturday, we made a quick trip over the mountains into West Virginia.  The foliage in the Canaan Valley (Tucker County) area is always way ahead of the color change in Virginia.  We set out from home at 5:00 a.m. and made stops at Blackwater Falls State Park, Canaan Valley State Park, Douglas Falls and Dolly Sods Wilderness.  Our whirlwind trip got us thinking about how many short walks in that area have major scenic payoffs.

Let’s start off with a few beautiful spots in Blackwater Falls State Park.  All of the spots listed below are clearly marked on the park’s trail map. Pick up a copy at the lodge.

Lindy Point

The view from Lindy Point looks down into the Blackwater Canyon.
The view from Lindy Point looks down into the Blackwater Canyon.

The walk out to Lindy Point is no more than a third of a mile along a relatively level path.  The trail passes through dense rhododendron and can be quite muddy if there has been rain.  At the end of the trail, you’ll come out to a platform built onto the side of the rocky cliff.   The point offers a spectacular view of the Blackwater Canyon.   If you sit quietly, chances are good that you’ll hear the river rushing through the chasm below.  The view is made even more unique due to the enormous free-standing rock “chimneys” that surround the platform.  There are several places that you can crawl through the rhododendron to stand directly on the rocks for a better view.  Despite the spot’s beauty, Christine has not had great luck photographing this spot, but it’s all been a matter of timing.  We’ve just never been lucky enough to hit the point on a day with nice “photo skies.”   The photo included really doesn’t do the place justice.

Elakala Falls

There are several "falls of Elakala" along Shays Run.
There are several “falls of Elakala” along Shays Run.


This pretty waterfall is accessed by a short trail starting out from the park’s main lodge.  The falls are less than a quarter mile down the trail.   You’ll know you have reached the waterfall when you come to a wooden footbridge over Shays Run.  The falls cascade directly under your feet at this point.  The trail really doesn’t give you a good look at the waterfall, so take the time to follow the “unofficial” foot path down the ravine to the base of the falls.  Elakala is prettiest in times of heavy waterflow.  The stream leaving the base of the falls takes  a beautiful swirling path across the moss-greened rocks.  Don’t miss climbing a little farther down the ravine to see a couple other pretty waterfalls on Shays Run.  The stream actually cascades all the way down to the bottom of the Blackwater Canyon, but it’s not really safe to go much beyond the second or third cascade.  Last winter we were lucky enough to see Elakala falls completely frozen over.   The sound of the water running under the ice was magical that day.

Blackwater Falls

The main attraction in Blackwater Falls State Park
The main attraction in Blackwater Falls State Park

This 62 foot cascade is park’s namesake and #1 attraction.  You’ll have a couple options for accessing the waterfall.  The park road that heads toward the main lodge has a paved, wheelchair-accessible path to a viewing platform far above the waterfall.  The road that heads toward the picnic ground has a longer “staircase-path” that leads to several wooden viewing platforms.  This path puts you a lot closer to the waterfall and offers a much prettier view.   We’ve always liked visiting Blackwater Falls as soon as the sun comes up.  At dawn, the path is deserted and the falls are often shrouded in a thin veil of fog.  During more normal times, the area is extremely crowded with tourists.

And now a couple favorites outside the park.

Douglas Falls – Thomas, WV

The colors of Douglas Falls are amazing!
The colors of Douglas Falls are amazing!

Blackwater Falls might be the area’s best-known waterfall, but we think Douglas Falls is the most beautiful.   The rocks are brilliant red and the water is vivid green, making for a wonderfully photogenic color contrast.  The color of the rocks is sadly unnatural, created by acid drainage from the mines and coke ovens in the area.  It’s amazing that pollution could create something so pretty.  The ride out to the falls is extremely rugged and potholed.  You should plan on walking a mile or two if you don’t have a 4WD vehicle.   The footpath down to the falls is very short, but very steep. Once you get down to the base of the falls, there is a path that follows the stream for a couple hundred yards.  The whole area is worth exploring, but take extreme caution on the slippery rocks.  The rocks around the stream are coated with slick, clear algae.  We always move “crab-style” along the rocks to keep from falling.

Bear Rocks – Dolly Sods Wilderness

The landscape of Dolly Sods reminds us of Maine.
The landscape of Dolly Sods reminds us of Maine.

bear rocks

Another place to visit in the area is Bear Rocks in the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area.  The overlook is surrounded by a vast plain of huckleberry and blueberry bushes that turn blaze red in the autumn.  It’s a great place to spot migrating hawks.  The rocky cliff is endlessly fun to scramble around on and provides beautiful views of the valley below.  The plains framing the cliff are patterned with pathways through the berry bushes and punctuated with monolithic white rocks that have been sculpted by time and the elements.  Whenever we visit Dolly Sods, we feel like we’re someplace far north of the Mid-Atlantic region.  It feels more like Maine or Canada. There are several routes into Dolly Sods.  We recommend the route from WV32 onto Laneville Road as the most passable and scenic.  You might even see a black bear along the road if you’re lucky.

Camp 70 Road – West Virginia

Update: As of January 2018, camping is no longer allowed along the Camp 70 Road in Little Canaan Wildlife Management Area.  More information.  

The Camp 70 Road is a fantastic short bike ride along the Blackwater River.

The Camp 70 Road on a day with prettier weather.
The Camp 70 Road on a day with prettier weather.

Adam Says…

This is a great ride on a multi-purpose road.  We had heard about this road being a good biking road from a local bike shop employee.  You are likely to see some people hiking or biking on this road.  Despite a lot of potholes, the road does run very smoothly if you keep your eyes open.  The road goes along the Blackwater River and eventually ends right at the river.  If you go to the very end, you will see a small blue-blazed trail.  Continue this along the river for about .1 mile and you will come up to a swinging bridge.  This bridge does look a little sketchy, but I convinced myself that the water wasn’t that deep if it all fell apart.  I thought at one point there was one nail holding the entire thing together.  There are a couple of geocaches along this trail While I was reviewing the geocache log for Blackwater Swinging Bridge Cache, I discovered some friends I met through geocaching found it the day before.

Here is a list of the geocaches on the trail:

The Swinging Bridge is a short walk after the road ends
The Swinging Bridge is a short walk after the road ends

Christine Says…

So, we didn’t have great weather… this is still such a pretty, short bike ride – definitely a must-do when visiting the Canaan Valley area.   There are so many gorgeous views of the Blackwater River along the way.  The road is lined with popular fishing spots.  There is even a deck built at one point to allow wheelchair access to fishing. The road surface has many potholes, but it’s easily handled by any mountain or hybrid bike.  The ride out might be ever-so-slightly uphill, because the ride back is super-fast and makes for a fun race.  🙂

The Camp 70 Road follows the Blackwater River
The Camp 70 Road follows the Blackwater River

Trail Notes

  • Distance – About 7 miles
  • Elevation Change – insignificant
  • Difficulty – 1.5
  • Trail Conditions – 3.5 Despite some potholes and larger gravel, this one is in good shape.
  • Views – 1. No views unless you count the river views
  • Waterfalls/streams -3.5. Nice views of the Blackwater River
  • Wildlife – 1.5. Mostly just deer in the area
  • Ease to Navigate – 4. The road is easy to navigate, but I dropped it down a point in case you were trying to find the swinging bridge.  The trail is not the best marked out there, but just follow the river.
  • Solitude – 1. This road is extremely popular with bikers, campers, and fishers.

Directions to trailhead: The road starts behind the Shop and Save in Davis, WV.  There is plenty of parking right along the road.