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Canaan Valley


Canaan Valley, located in the northeast section of Tucker County, is an oval-shaped valley 14 miles long and two to four miles wide. The elevation ranges from 3,200 to 4,300 feet, giving Canaan Valley a cold climate similar to places in Canada. Freezing temperatures can occur throughout the year.

Canaan Valley is noted for its wetlands, about 6,740 acres, or nine percent of all West Virginia wetlands. The Canaan wetlands are home to plants such as the rare glade spurge, and other plants adapted to chilly, wet areas. Other unique wetland habitats at Canaan include balsam fir and red spruce boreal forest, high-elevation bogs, and wetland shrub communities with such dominant bushes as pipestem. The wetlands are also home to many kinds of wildlife, including mammals such as beaver and mink, and waterfowl, including herons, ducks, and geese. More than 170 species of birds have been reported in the valley, including migratory and resident songbirds. The damp, cold conditions of the valley are inhospitable to many herptiles, but amphibians such as mountain dusky and northern red salamanders and pickerel frogs, and reptiles such as the snapping turtle and water snake, are present.

The cold climate combined with tundra-like wetlands makes Canaan Valley a biologically rich and diverse area with more than 520 plant species, some 25 of which are rare in West Virginia, and more than 285 mammal, bird, amphibian, reptile, and fish species.

The northern part of Canaan Valley includes the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, managed for the protection of wetland plant and animal communities, including suitable woodcock nesting sites. In the southern part of the valley, the state owns about 6,000 acres, where Canaan Valley State Park is located. A boardwalk near the nature center at the park offers visitors a chance to walk through wetland habitats, seeing yellow birch, red spruce trees, and mountain bog plants. This is one of West Virginia’s full-service resort state parks, a popular ski area that has helped to spawn the valley’s booming second-home industry.

Legend holds that an early fur trader compared the valley to the biblical promised land, giving the place its name. At some point it came to be pronounced ‘‘kuh-NANE,’’ with the accent on the second syllable, in preference to the usual pronunciation. Early accounts of the valley do not depict a land of milk and honey, describing travel as treacherous, and the land as festooned with rocks, cavities, and impenetrable rhododendron thickets. Logging began in the 1880s and continued until the 1920s, taking all the virgin timber, mostly red spruce. Logging and subsequent fires sapped the rich organic soil, to the detriment of latter agricultural attempts in the valley.

Canaan Valley, today a popular tourist area for hiking, biking, skiing, canoeing, riding, and nature study, is close to other scenic and recreational sites, including Blackwater Falls, the 10,000-acre Dolly Sods Wilderness area, Cathedral State Park, and the spectacular rock cliffs of Seneca Rocks.

Written by Norma Jean Kennedy-Venable


  1. Where People and Nature Meet: A History of West Virginia State Parks. Charleston: Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, 1988.

  2. Venable, Norma Jean. Canaan Valley. Morgantown: West Virginia University, 1989.