Visiting Canaan Valley in West Virginia: Blackwater Falls, Small Towns, Dolly Sods, & More!

We’re sharing where to stay plus the best things to do in Canaan Valley in West Virginia, such as Blackwater Falls, the small towns of Davis and Thomas, the Dolly Sods, and more!

This past fall we visited West Virginia for the first time and one of our first stops was the Canaan Valley to explore Blackwater Falls State Park and the Dolly Sods. And talk about a great way to kick off our trip! We spent a day exploring the different waterfalls, hiking to an amazing overlook, checking out the towns in the area, and more (watch our experience)!

Dolly Sods | Bear Rocks Preserve

Similar to the rest of West Virginia, this area took us by surprise! The waterfalls took us back to our time living in the Pacific Northwest, the historic towns were full of charm (and some AMAZING coffee!), and the views were breathtaking! We truly believe West Virginia is a hidden gem in the United States and Canaan Valley is no exception.

In this guide we’re sharing all of the best things to do in Canaan Valley, plus when to visit, where to stay, and more. We hope this helps you plan an amazing adventure in West Virginia!

PS: Want to go on a West Virginia Road Trip? Check out our 7 Day West Virginia Road Trip Itinerary!

Leave No Trace Principles

Before embarking on your adventure, please review the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you leave every place better than you found it, so that others can enjoy these beautiful places for many years to come!

  1. Plan ahead & prepare. Make sure you research and prepare for every adventure so that you know the rules, stay safe, and to minimize resource damage.
  2. Travel & camp on durable surfaces. Stay on the trail and only camp in designated areas, as well as the required length away from water sources.
  3. Dispose of waste properly. Whatever you pack in, pack it out! Make sure to carry out your trash, as well as any trash you find. If you have a dog, please do not leave poop bags on the trail. For human waste, use a trowel to dig a hole far from water sources or use a wag bag (sometimes required).
  4. Leave what you find. Do not take any items from the trail with you, including rocks, plants, or artifacts.
  5. Minimize campfire impacts. Know the rules of where you can and cannot have campfires and if allowed, use designated fire rings. Use local firewood to prevent bringing any pests or diseases to the area you’re visiting and make sure to fully extinguish your fire.
  6. Respect wildlife. Keep your distance from wildlife, control your pets on the trail, and never ever feed them! Make sure to keep your food stored properly as well (we like this bear canister).
  7. Be considerate of other visitors. Be respectful to others on the trail. Hikers going uphill have the right of way on hikes and it’s always courteous to let those quicker than you pass. Avoid playing music out loud, talking loudly, and having your pets bother others.

Note: this guide contains affiliate links, which means that if you use the links provided and make a purchase, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. We will only ever recommend products we truly love, actually use during our adventures, and think you can benefit from too!

About Canaan Valley in West Virginia

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Canaan Valley, which is pronounced “kuh-nayne,” is located in Northeastern West Virginia in Tucker County. The valley is nestled among the Allegheny Mountains and is 13 miles long and between 3-5 miles wide, with an average elevation of 3,200 feet.

The valley is home to a couple cool small towns, such as Davis and Thomas, and more than half of the area is National Forest, Federal Wilderness, Fish and Wildlife Refuge, and State Park lands, which means that there is tons of nature to explore! 

In the Canaan Valley you can find the popular Blackwater Falls State Park, Canaan Valley State Park, the Dolly Sods, and more! And the best part? The majority of the activities and attractions are accessible year-round, which means you can always find adventure in the Canaan Valley!

When to visit the Canaan Valley

Blackwater Falls State Park | Canaan Valley in West Virginia

As we mentioned above, the Canaan Valley is accessible year-round and it’s fun to visit year-round too!

During the winter, the temperatures drop to between the teens and 30’s, but with fun winter activities like snowshoeing, cross country skiing, and sledding (the sled run at Blackwater Falls State Park is open from mid-December to mid-March!), the weather only creates more activities! You also have the chance to see frozen waterfalls, which are incredible!

In the spring, the temperature starts to warm up a bit, with highs reaching the 40s-60s. This is a slower time of the year to visit the area, so if you don’t like crowds, you’re in luck! The waterfalls will also be especially raging this time of the year due to the snow melting and you may see some pretty wildflowers!

During the summer, Canaan Valley has pretty mild temperatures compared to some parts of the United States, with lows in the 50s and highs in the upper-70s, making it perfect for hiking and exploring! However, the waterfall flow may be a bit lighter, so we suggest looking on AllTrails or Instagram for recent photos to see what the falls will look like, just so you’re prepared.

We visited in the fall, specifically the last weekend of September, and not only was the weather incredible, but the fall colors were starting to pop out a bit too! While we were a couple weeks early for peak foliage, it was still gorgeous to see a mix of greens, yellows, reds, and oranges in the trees. If you are lucky to visit during the peak foliage, there may be some more crowds trying to snap the perfect fall photo, but you can still find lots of solitude in West Virginia!

How much time do you need in Canaan Valley?

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We did the top sights at Blackwater Falls State Park, as well as explored Thomas and the Dolly Sods in one day, but it was a jam packed day!

If you want to explore everything on this guide, especially at a more leisurely pace, we suggest having 2-3 days in Canaan Valley!

Getting to Canaan Valley in West Virginia

Getting to Canaan Valley

West Virginia is only home to one major airport, Yeager Airport in Charleston, WV (the state capitol). American Airlines, Delta, United, and Spirit fly in and out of this airport, with non-stop service from Charlotte, DC, Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Orlando, Myrtle Beach, and Fort Lauderdale.

However, this airport is about 3 hours from Canaan Valley (we are using Davis to determine all distances). A closer option in West Virginia is the Morgantown Municipal Airport in northern West Virginia, which has non-stop flights to Baltimore and Pittsburgh, and is only 1.5 hours from Davis.

A few other farther options, but ones with possibly more flight options, are the Pittsburgh International Airport (PA), Dulles International Airport (VA), and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DC), which are all just under 3 hours from Davis.

Live nearby and want to drive to Canaan Valley? Here is how long the drive is from some nearby major cities:

  • Pittsburgh, PA: 2 hours 45 minutes, 145 miles
  • Washington, DC: 3 hours 15 minutes, 167 miles
  • Baltimore, MD: 3.5 hours, 200 miles
  • Richmond, VA: 3 hours 45 minutes, 223 miles
  • Columbus, OH: 4.5 hours, 252 miles
  • Cleveland, OH: 4 hours 45 minutes, 271 miles
  • Philadelphia, PA: 5 hours, 306 miles
  • Lexington, KY: 5 hours 45 minutes, 347 miles
  • Cincinnati, OH: 6 hours, 333 miles

Getting around Canaan Valley

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As we mentioned above, getting to the Canaan Valley will require driving from any of the airport options, so you will need to rent a car if you’re flying in so you can properly explore. 

Even though you will have to drive a bit to get to all of the activities in the Canaan Valley, the country roads in West Virginia are beautiful! There isn’t a song about it for nothin’!

Continuing your adventures in West Virginia after visiting Canaan Valley? (We vote yes!) Check out our West Virginia road trip itinerary for more ideas of stops to make!

Where to Stay in Canaan Valley

From lodges to campgrounds to Airbnbs, there are quite a few options when it comes to where to stay in Canaan Valley. Here is a list of some of the best places to check out for your visit!

Cabins

Canaan Valley Cabins

Want the comforts of a home, but tucked into nature? The cabins at Blackwater Falls, as well as the neighboring Canaan Valley Resort, offer a mix of cabin types and amenities to choose from!

Blackwater Falls State Park Cabins

Blackwater Falls State Park is home to 39 fully-furnished cabins, ranging from classic cabins to vacation cabins, 10 of which are pet friendly. The 26 classic cabins have various room arrangements and all have water, electricity, a TV, WiFi, kitchens, linen service, and private bathrooms with showers.

The 13 vacation cabins have 4 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, making them great for larger groups. These are a bit higher end and nicer than the classic cabins and come with a full kitchen and dishwasher, washer and dryer, a gas fireplace, and a porch.

Canaan Valley Resort State Park Cabins

Canaan Valley Resort State Park offers cabins and cottages, ranging from 2 to 4 bedrooms. All of these cabins or cottages include furnished kitchens, wood burning fireplaces, TV, internet, and even a BBQ grill and fire pit! However, there is no air conditioning in the cabins or cottages, but you will also have access to the other amenities at the resort. 

Traveling with your dog? Pets are allowed in 11 of the cabins and cottages for a fee depending on what size room you book.

Lodges

Photo Credit: WV State Parks

Canaan Valley is home to two lodges, which will give you lots of amenities, while still having a rustic, nature-y vibe.

Blackwater Falls State Park Lodge

Note: Blackwater Falls State Park Lodge is closed between 11/01/2020 to 6/29/2021 for renovations.

The Blackwater Falls State Park Lodge is located in the state park, on the southern rim of Blackwater Canyon.

The lodge was built in the 1950s, before its sister lodge at Canaan Valley Resort State Park, but has kept the mid-century architecture that blends in well with the surroundings. There are 54 rooms, which have great views of the forest and canyon and offer the standard amenities you can expect in a hotel.

There is a restaurant on site, fitness center, tennis courts, a game room, and more! While we were not guests at the lodge, we walked inside of the lodge and checked out the views of the canyon from the large back patio!

Canaan Valley Resort Lodge

Canaan Valley Resort Lodge is a much larger and luxurious lodge than Blackwater Falls, with 160 rooms and even nicer amenities, including granite countertops and more room options. 

Along with the lush accommodations at the resort, it is also close to some of the top golfing and skiing in the region. The resort is also home to an outdoor pool, which sounds like a nice, relaxing activity after a day full of hiking and adventuring.

Campgrounds

Looking to spend as much time as possible in nature? There are many campgrounds to choose from!

Blackwater Falls State Park Campgrounds

The campground at Blackwater Falls State Park is open from late April to October 31, weather permitting. There are a total of 65 total tent and trailer sites and 30 of the sites include electric hookups.

Normally starting November 1st, the non-electric sites (31-65), as well as the shower house, close, while sites 1-30 stay open. However, the campground is 100% closed for the 2020-2021 winter season.

You can make reservations online or over the phone. Keep in mind that when booking for Friday and Saturday nights, you must book at least two consecutive nights.

Canaan Valley Resort Campground

The Canaan Valley Resort Campground has 34 campsites with electric and water hookups, as well as 3 primitive tent sites. All sites have a fire ring and a picnic table, and the campground has shower and laundry facilities, which are open year-round. There is also WiFi, although it may not be strong.

Restrite Campground

The Restrite Campground is located close to the entrance of the park, in Davis, WV.  This campground has full electric and water hookups for RVs and trailers and they also have tent camping sites. Almost all of the most recent Google reviews say the campground is very well maintained and the bathrooms are nice and very clean.

They don’t seem to have a website, but you can reach them at (304) 259-5569 for reservations and more information.

Five River Campground

The Five River Campground is about a half an hour drive from Blackwater Falls State Park. They have 160 RV and tent sites with full hookups and dump stations. Amenities include hot showers, restrooms, and a laundromat. While the campground is open year-round, the bath house is only open from April until the end of October.

Horseshoe Recreation Area

Another camping option close to the state park is Horseshoe Recreation Area. This campground is open from mid-May until mid-September and has both RV and tent sites available for $22/night. It’s also located in a valley along the Horseshoe Run River, where you will find great fishing and wildlife viewing opportunities!

Airbnbs

Airbnb in Canaan Valley in West Virginia

Want something a little more homey and closer to restaurants? Both Davis and Thomas, two cute towns in Canaan Valley, have a handful of Airbnb options to choose from!

Davis

Doc’s Guesthouse – Hospital for the Soul!: This 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom studio is a perfect spot for a couple. The space includes a private entrance and is a short walk from shops, breweries, and restaurants in the cute town of Davis.
Blackwater View #1: A 2 bedroom 1 bath apartment located in Davis underneath Blackwater Bikes shop. You are just steps from the Blackwater River and the shops and eateries of Davis, as well as have access to the deck above you for beautiful views!
2 Bedroom Townhouse: This 2 bedroom, 2.5 bath townhouse sleeps 6. It has all new furniture and a nice kitchen and is located close to all the hiking, skiing, and other outdoor action in the area. 

Thomas

Tiny Home in Thomas #1: A beautiful brand new 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom tiny home near the Purple Fiddle in Thomas. Don’t let the tiny home notion scare you away, this place has everything you’ll need, including a gas fireplace, BBQ, deck, and washer/dryer!
Tiny Home in Thomas #2: This tiny home is identical to the one above and next door! 
The Annex: A studio apartment in a 100 year old building right in the middle of Front Street! This Airbnb comes with a full kitchen, original clawfoot tub, record player, and records!
Suite Downtime: A 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom apartment above Front Street with interesting plaster and wood plank walls and the tub is sitting on railroad ties…SO cool!
Thomas Company House 1: A 1 bed 1 bath tiny home with lofted bed, full kitchen, full bathroom, and a sweet back patio that includes a fire pit.

Hotels

Billy Motel Canaan Valley in West Virginia

The Billy Motel (Davis): This motel looks SO cool!
Bright Morning Inn (Davis)
Cooper House Bed & Cocktail (Thomas)

The Best Things to do in Canaan Valley

There is no shortage of fun things to do in Canaan Valley! From waterfalls, to overlooks, winter activities, short and long hikes, and more, there is truly something for everyone! Here are our top suggestions of things to do in Canaan Valley!

Want even more ideas of things to do in West Virginia? Check out our 7 Day West Virginia Road Trip Itinerary!

Blackwater Falls State Park

Located in the Allegheny Mountains in West Virginia, Blackwater Falls State Park is the state’s most visited park and home to waterfalls, mountain views, and more! The park is named after the popular 57 foot tall Blackwater Falls, which gets its name from the amber colored water, which is due to tannic acid from fallen hemlocks and red spruce needles.

The park is open year-round and is home to 20 miles of hiking trails, some of the most photographed views in the state, and the longest sled run on the East Coast!

And unlike many state parks we have visited across the United States, Blackwater Falls State Park is free to enter…score! And the park is also dog friendly (as long as they are on a leash), making it a great outing for you and your furry best friend!

Lindy Point

Want to see some gorgeous views of the Blackwater Canyon? Stop by Lindy Point! This flat, 0.8 mile trail takes you through the woods before popping out at an overlook on the edge of the canyon.

The overlook is a good sized wooden deck, with views in both directions of the mountains, canyon, and rock outcroppings, including a 35 ft rock tower, which makes the view extra unique. You can go around the viewing platform to stand on some of the large rocks, but please be careful!

The parking lot is very small for this spot, with room for maybe 4-5 cars, so we highly suggest arriving early! We did this hike at sunrise and it was so magical to see the sun start to light up the top of the mountains. And we didn’t see another soul! 

If the spots are full when you get there, you can also park in the ski area about a mile up the road, which will make the experience about 2.8 miles round trip. You’ll also notice from the trailhead that you could drive to the trailhead from the west as well (vs. driving through Blackwater Falls State Park), but this road is very rough and requires 4×4.

Blackwater Falls

The namesake of the park is Blackwater Falls, which is a 57 ft waterfall that depending on when you visit, may be one giant, wide waterfall or a few different streams of falls.

The waterfall gets its name from the amber colored water, which is due to tannic acid from fallen hemlocks and red spruce needles. While the falls themselves were very clear looking for us, you can see the tint in the river that the falls land in.

You have a couple different ways to access the falls. The most common way is to park at the trading post, which has a lot of parking spots, and take a 0.4 mile trail down a bunch of wooden steps to two different viewpoints of the falls.

One of the viewpoints takes you right next to the falls, while the other is a bit higher up, but gives you a more head on view of the falls. Both are beautiful and we highly recommend stopping at both to see these gorgeous falls!

If you cannot go down stairs easily, they have a gentle trail you can take, which starts in a different area and takes you to an overlook without any stairs required. The view will not be as close up as the main overlooks, but you’ll still be able to experience part of Blackwater Falls!

Elakala Falls

Another waterfall gem at Blackwater Falls State Park is Elakala Falls, which is a quick hike from the Blackwater Falls Lodge and is super beautiful!

After parking at the lodge, you’ll look for a trail that is to the left of lodge and follow it for a few minutes before reaching a bridge, which goes over the falls. Look over on the right side to get your first sneak peek!

Continue on the trail, which will go down some steep dirt and rocky sections, to the base of the falls. From here, you’ll have a cool view of the bridge, with Elakala Falls running underneath and depending on the water flow, you may be able to walk right up to the falls!

You can continue your hiking journey from Elakala Falls by hiking the Yellow Birch Trail, but we struggled to find where to continue on this trail, so we just headed back to the car afterwards.

Pendleton Point Overlook

One of the best things about Blackwater Falls State Park is how accessible it is! Not only are the hikes above all short and relatively easy, but there are also scenic overlooks around the park, which make it easy to see the views without much effort.

While there are a handful of unnamed overlooks around the park (check out this map to see them all!), one of the most popular is the Pendleton Point Overlook.

Similar to Lindy Point, this overlook has a viewing deck that you can safely check out the view from, which is just a short walk from the parking area. However, there is a rock slab you could stand on to get more unobstructed photos, but do this as your own risk.

The view from this spot is similar to Lindy Point, with views of the canyon and the river below. But since it’s a slightly different perspective, it’s totally worth visiting both!

Visiting in the winter? Go sledding!

As we mentioned above, Blackwater Falls State Park is home to the longest sled run on the East Coast!

If you’re visiting between mid-December and mid-March on a Thursday-Sunday, definitely add sledding to your list of things to do at Blackwater Falls State Park! For $22 on Thursdays and $26 Fridays-Sundays, you can have tons of sledding fun for 2 hours!

You’ll ride up the magic carpet, which is also the longest on the East Coast and looks fun in itself, before flying down the hill!

Douglas Falls

Getting to Douglas Falls is an adventure in itself. You can follow the Google Maps directions to get there, but part of the route is on a dirt road (it’s safe for cars) that is actually part of the Blackwater Canyon Trail.

As you drive down the road, keep an eye out on the left for old coke ovens from the mines that were in the area. A coke oven is what they used to turn coal into coke, which is used as fuel to melt iron ore. 

You will see placards with more information about them and we recommend checking those out! From what we heard, the reddish orange color of the rocks at the river are due to the runoff from these ovens.

As you continue down the dirt road, you’ll eventually get to a very narrow bridge, which was a bit scary to drive across in our big van. But once you’ve crossed this bridge, you’ve made it to the parking area for Douglas Falls.

After parking, you’ll continue down the road on foot for a few minutes and go through a tree tunnel of sorts before reaching a gate. You will go around the gate towards the left to get to the path to get down to the falls. As soon as you get to this path, it gets steep, slick, and rocky, but they do have a rope to help you get down if needed. We don’t know the exact mileage, but the entire experience was pretty quick. 

As soon as you get down this steep stretch, you’ll be face to face with Douglas Falls! The falls are a gorgeous light blue color, almost like the glacial lakes we have seen in Montana and Canada. 

You can continue walking downstream for a variety of different shots of the falls. There is a path that takes you along the ledge of the river below and you can also climb down to the river, but again, it can be slick, so be careful. Kathryn may have fallen once…oops! 

This was our favorite waterfall in the area due to the water color and off the beaten path nature of the falls. It was so beautiful!

Hike to Table Rock

Want a relatively short hike with epic mountain views? Hike to Table Rock! This 2.3 mile (round trip) hike has similar views to Lindy Point, but without a ton of people.

To get to this hike you have two options. You can either come from the east from US 32, which will be a much smoother drive, or you can come from Blackwater Falls State Park, by continuing west past the Lindy Point parking lot, but this road is very rough and requires 4×4. We’d highly recommend going the route from US 32, as it’ll be much easier for any car to drive.

The hike to Table Rock is pretty flat, although it can get very muddy. But we hear the mud is worth it for the views at the end!

Bike a Rail Trail

Photo Credit: http://wvrailtrails.org/

Rail trails are Adam’s newest bucket list addition! A rail trail is a former railway corridor that has been converted into a biking trail. These former railways are perfect candidates to be repurposed into a trail because they are usually flat or gently graded. They also often connect different towns or points of interest. 

There are several of these trails in the area (and 66 in the state!) and you can read more about them here!

Allegheny Highlands Rail Trail
The 24.2 mile Allegheny Highlands Rail Trail was the original route of the West Virginia Central and Pittsburgh Railway. This trail will wind you through mountainous, beautiful West Virginia countryside including small towns and farmland.

The trail is not only used by bikes, but also by pedestrians and horseback riders and in the winter, cross country skiers. 

Blackwater Canyon Trail
The Blackwater Canyon Trail is 10.5 miles and is best to take this trail mostly downhill from Thomas to Hendricks.

This trail originally hauled coal and timber through the canyon and today it takes bikers along the curves of the Blackwater River through Blackwater State Park. This trail gives riders solitude, mountains on both sides, forests, and waterfalls. 

Olson Tower

Located on Backbone Mountain, lies Olson Tower, which is actually the first fire tower in West Virginia. We wish we would have checked this out during our trip!

The history behind the Olson Tower is that it was built in 1922 then used until 1963, when it was rebuilt with the current tower and renamed Olson Tower. It is one of five remaining fire towers in the Monongahela National Forest.

You can drive to the base of the tower, which is gravel and can be rough, but is accessible in most vehicles. But to see the views you’ll need to climb the 133 steps to the top! While you cannot go into the actual tower, you are able to climb to right under it and have amazing views of the town of Parsons, Blackwater Canyon, and Canaan Mountain.

Visit the small towns

We loved the small towns in the Canaan Valley! They had a lot of charm, great shops and restaurants, and interesting history! While the Canaan Valley is home to Parsons, Davis, and Thomas, we only visited Davis and Thomas, so we’re just including suggestions for those below.

Davis

This once industrial town has shifted to an outdoor lover’s hangout! After the railroad arrived and Davis was founded, it boomed as a timber and coal town and was later dubbed “stump town.” It is now a haven for mountain bikers, hikers, fishermen, and craft beer enthusiasts. 

A couple fun facts about Davis is that at 3,100 ft, it’s the highest incorporated town in West Virginia and it is located within a day’s drive of ⅔ of the nation’s population!

Places to Eat
Sirianni’s
Milo’s Cafe and Restaurant (Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays)
Big Belly Deli (Closed Mondays and Tuesdays)
The Ice Cream Shop

Coffee
Trailhead Coffee

Breweries
Stumptown Ales (Closed Sundays, Mondays, and Wednesdays)

Thomas

The town of Thomas is another historic industrial town that is now a fun place for artists and people who love the outdoors. At the height of the coal mines, there was a mile and a half stretch between Davis and the nearby town of Douglas that had over 1,000 coke ovens blazing!

Like Davis, immigrants came to the towns for work. According to informational signs along Front Street, the buildings in Thomas were not paid for by the industrial companies in the area, but instead were paid for by the residents of European descent, so they resemble European style architecture with balconies and overhanging porches that you will see in Europe.

Today you will find antique shops, sculpture and painting galleries, and a few restaurants and cafes, with lots of restored living space above the businesses on Front Street. 

We had a fun time in Thomas and its Front Street, especially the galleries and TipTop coffee, where we tried their seasonal pumpkin cold brew drink and it was tip top delicious and definitely the best pumpkin coffee drink we have ever had!

Places To Eat
TipTop Coffee
Purple Fiddle (Closed Mondays-Wednesdays): this hot spot has hosted thousands of live music bands over the years.
Picnic (Closed Mondays-Thursdays)

Breweries
Mountain State Brewing Co (Closed Mondays-Wednesdays)

Shopping
We LOVED Bloom! This store had really cool screen print posters and other art! But there are tons of other cool shops as well. We highly recommend walking around and checking them all out!

Dolly Sods Wilderness

A must visit spot in the Canaan Valley is the Dolly Sods Wilderness. This area is named after a German homesteading family, the Dahles, and a local term for an open mountain top meadow called “sods.” This wilderness and scenic area sits atop the highest plateau east of the Mississippi and here you’ll find a unique landscape with flagged trees, wind-carved boulders, heath barrens, and grassy meadows.

This very popular and very scenic area is notable for a variety of reasons. First, the weather and landscape on top resembles northern Canada and second, the Sods, as they are referred to locally, are located along the Eastern Continental Divide.

Depending on what side the rain falls, one side drains to rivers and tributaries that flow to the Mississippi eventually to the Gulf of Mexico and on the other, the water flows to the Potomac River then to Chesapeake Bay.

We loved the endless mountain views, mixed with meadows with colorful red plants and green grass. There are also cool rock formations that pop out of the mountains as well, which just makes the scenery very interesting, beautiful, and unlike anywhere we have been.

When to visit the Dolly Sods Wilderness

The Dolly Sods Wilderness is SUPER popular! If you watched our vlog, you may remember that after somehow managing to squeeze the van into the only parallel spot left, we got trapped by two cars who had parked in a way that our van could not get through, so we had to wait for one of the cars to leave so we could get out.

While there is a parking lot, it’s pretty small and during our visit, which was in the fall, close to peak foliage, cars lined the roads as far as the eye could see, making it a very narrow passageway to drive through. We saw many cars that had to back up a while in order to let cars coming the other direction squeeze through. Absolute madness!

So the moral of our story is: arrive early to the Dolly Sods! Especially if you’re visiting during the summer or during fall foliage.

The Dolly Sods is open year-round, but in the winter you can only access the Dolly Sods from Forest Service Road 80 or the Red Creek trailhead. During the other months, you can also access the Dolly Sods from 75, which if you’re coming from the north, like we did, the road is very steep, narrow, and bumpy. But if our van made it, any car can!

Things to do in the Dolly Sods Wilderness

Figuring out what to do in the Dolly Sods was a bit tough. Although there are 47 miles of trails (see a map of the trails here!), it seemed like most of the trails were super long and meant for overnight backpacking trips, which would’ve been amazing! But with only a few hours to spend in the area, we struggled to find many short options. But here are a couple suggestions of things to do if you don’t have a ton of time!

Bear Rocks Preserve
Bear Rocks Preserve is probably the most popular area to visit in the Dolly Sods. And for good reason! This is the area we visited and even without leaving the parking area, the views are amazing! Since our van was trapped, we didn’t have the chance to explore for too long, as we wanted to make sure we could get out as soon as a car moved, but what we loved about this area is that you could kind of choose your own adventure.

You can either just sit and picnic on the rocks and take in the view, climb around the rocks in the immediate area near the parking lot, or use this as a starting point for longer trails. 

From Bear Rocks you can hike to quite a few different trails. We’d suggest looking at this map to see what offshoots you want to go on. 

Red Creek Trail to Lion’s Head
At 6.7 miles round trip, the Red Creek Trail to Lion’s Head trail is a great day hike option that leads you to one of the best views in the Dolly Sods, Lion’s Head rocks! Along this trail you’ll see rivers, forests, and mountain views.

BackpackingIf you have more time, we’d highly suggest backpacking Bear Rocks to Lions Head! This 19.6 mile trail, with 2,083 feet of elevation gain, looks amazing and is at the top of our list for next time! You can see more backpacking routes on AllTrails as well!

Go skiing, snowboarding, tubing, & more!

Canaan Valley Skiing

Canaan Valley gets about 180 inches of snowfall a year (WOAH!) making it a winter sports paradise! While Blackwater Falls State Park is home to sledding, the Canaan Valley Resort offers skiing, snowboarding, tubing, ice skating, cross country skiing, and snowshoeing. So no matter your snow activity of choice, either spot has options for you!

If you want to cross country ski, another great spot to check out in the Canaan Valley is White Grass, which has 37 miles of trails to enjoy. And after you’re done skiing, you can grab a bite at the White Grass Cafe, which is open from December to March and serves up hearty soups and other tasty post-ski fuel.

Timberline Mountain is also a brand new ski resort with multiple trails for all skill levels! There is a hotel on site and restaurant, so you never have to leave the property!

Ready to explore the Canaan Valley in West Virginia??

Pin this guide with the best things to do in Canaan Valley to help plan your trip!

about us

Hi y’all! We’re Adam, Kathryn, and Kona, an adventurous married couple (+ pup!) living on the road in our self-converted sprinter van! You can often find us driving all around the US and Canada, scoping out the best coffee shops, eating tacos and ice cream (we’re a 5+ taco and 2+ scoop household), and enjoying nature.

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