Driving into Canaan (pronounced Kuh-NANE by West Virginians) Valley from any direction can be a breathtaking experience. Winding two-lane roads climb and then suddenly open onto a mountain plateau. The oval valley, which varies between two and four miles wide, stretches for about 14 miles. At the right time of day, and after a rainfall, the mist hanging from the mountaintops and rising from the creeks gives it an otherworldly feel.
At an elevation above 3,200 feet, the area is cooler than the rest of the state, the deciduous trees turn earlier, and the skiing-–downhill and cross country-–is spectacular. In the spring, summer, and fall, Canaan Valley attracts hikers, bikers, equestrians, and canoeists.
The Canaan Valley area encompasses three mountain towns: Davis, Thomas, and Parsons. Each town has restaurants, music venues and specialty stores that sell antiques, fine arts and crafts, local goods, and gifts. Places to sleep in Canaan Valley include an ever-expanding variety of bed and breakfasts, rental properties, and state park lodges and cabins.
In the winter, skiing is the reason to be in Canaan. Downhill skiing is available at Canaan Valley Resort (39 trails) and Timberline Four Season Resort (37 trails). Snow tubing also is offered at Canaan Valley Resort and Timberline. Cross country skiing is available at White Grass Touring Center and Cafe, Canaan Valley Resort, Timberline Four Season Resort and Blackwater Falls State Park. Canaan Valley Resort also offers airboarding and ice skating. Timberline has sledding and slopeside condominiums and homes. Snowshoeing is available at White Grass and Canaan Valley Resort.
There is plenty to do the rest of the year in the mountains and the valley.
Most of the land is owned by the state or federal government and open to the public. Among the most popular public areas is Blackwater Falls State Park, where the Blackwater River falls about 60 feet into the Blackwater Canyon. Overlooks provide easy access to the falls for those who have trouble walking and a more up-close view at the base of the falls for those who are not dissuaded by the sight of more than 200 steps. The park also offers hiking and biking trails, fishing, boating, canoeing, nature and recreation programs, and swimming.
The nearby Dolly Sods Wilderness and Scenic Area has some of the most beautiful vistas in West Virginia. The high mountain ridge is the very definition of windswept, with promontory rocks blown free of turf and trees bent from the constant strong breeze. Primitive camping and backcountry hiking are available among the heather and cranberries.
The northern part of Canaan Valley includes the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge features 31 year-round trails, fishing, and a visitor center. Hunting is allowed in season.
Monongahela National Forest comprises more than 919,000 acres in 10 West Virginia counties, including Tucker County, where Canaan Valley is situated. The forest has hiking and mountain biking trails, campsites, trout fishing, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, birding, horseback riding and allows hunting in season.
Within Monongahela National Forest, the 100,000-acre Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area is 24 miles from Canaan Valley and is a popular spot for hiking and rappelling. Cranberry Glades Botanical Area features the largest bogs in West Virginia, with 750 acres of land to explore. Cranberry Mountain Nature Center offers programs and exhibits, a nature store, a native plant garden, a nature trail and events for children.
Along the Highland Scenic Highway, the Falls of Hills Creek Scenic Area has three waterfalls in a narrow gorge. For more information on Canaan Valley, visit the Tucker County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau at http://canaanvalley.org.
Written by Jennifer Bundy
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