In the early Aughts, J and I (and Bugsy’s two dear departed predecessors) spent a lot of time in the Potomac Highlands of eastern West Virginia, hiking and biking in spectacular spots like Dolly Sods Wilderness, Seneca Rocks, and Spruce Knob – Seneca Creek Backcountry. We love the area and highly recommend any of those places, but we didn’t visit them on this trip. When planning a few days of November hiking (and eating and drinking) in West Virginia, we decided to explore a lesser-known (to us) part of the Monongahela National Forest and base ourselves near the outdoorsy town of Davis.
We stayed at the lovely wooded campground at Canaan Valley Resort State Park, with water, power, and sewer hookups–although they shut the water at the campsites off for the season the morning we left, so you’ll want to check on water status if you’re heading there in the spring or late next fall. The campground is close to great hiking (including some trails in the State Park itself) and ten miles from the conveniences of Davis. You may have noticed “resort” in the name of the park (which is strange, right?)–near the campground is a golf course and a lodge with a cafe, restaurant, and bar (and free wifi!), and on the other side of the highway is a ski area with 47 slopes and trails.
In the interest of hiking new trails and minimizing travel time from the campground, we did two hikes about ten miles away in Canaan Mountain Backcountry and one in our backyard in Canaan Valley Resort State Park. Canaan Mountain Backcountry is more lightly traveled than nearby Dolly Sods, and like Dolly Sods, it feels quite wild and remote.
Table Rock, in Canaan Mountain Backcountry, is a pretty and flat rhododendron-banked 2.4 mi (total) out and back, with sweeping views from the namesake rock at the end overlooking the Dry Fork Gorge and Cheat River Valley.
Also in Canaan Mountain Backcountry, we made a 11-mile loop of Pointy Knob Trail to RR Grade Trail to Plantation Trail to Fire Trail #6 (cobbled together from this map). Despite having some slow boggy spots and no big vistas, we loved it for its gorgeous greenery, varied terrain, and solitude.
In Canaan Valley Resort State Park we hiked the pretty much vertical Bald Knob Trail just to the top (about 3 miles round trip), for nice views of Canaan Valley and the adjacent ski runs.
Blackwater Falls State Park is just north of Davis, with hiking trails and a big waterfall. We left the park for our last day and when it was dreary and rainy, all we could bear was a quick jaunt down to the falls viewing platform. Thanks to the weather, though, we had the waterfall all to ourselves!
Walking, shopping, relaxing
The tiny town of Thomas is two miles north of Davis. It has a quaint two-block downtown strip of historic buildings housing antique shops, art galleries, cafes, a small grocery, and a music venue. While on the interesting, well-signed (but without any internet presence at all, apparently) walking tour of the historic area, we puttered around a couple shops, admired artwork at Creature, and had coffee and wifi at TipTop.
Later we considered having a beer at the Front Street Grocers bar (yes, a bar at a grocery store), but it was dead in there, so after checking out the local meat display and admiring that they sell pastured chicken, processed on site, from Charm Farm in Beverly, WV (I am a supporter of local, ethical eating), we left town.
Note that during this shoulder season between the prime hiking/biking/river activity months and ski season, the hours of many Davis and Thomas touristy businesses are reduced. Most places seemed to be open Thursday through Sunday, at least.
Hellbender Burritos is such a good spot, we at half of our four dinners there. The atmosphere is laid back, the burrito menu is creative, the food is tasty, and they carry interesting regional beers.
We had top-notch pizza and more regional beer at Sirianni’s in Davis. It’s a long-time Davis institution, and it seemed like everyone in town was there the night we were, giving it a buzzy, fun ambiance.
Little Davis and Thomas have three breweries between them! Sadly, the one we were most excited about visiting, Stumptown Ales in Davis, was closed for the week for equipment upgrades, and as they don’t sell their beer outside the taproom (yet–that’s what the equipment upgrades are for), we couldn’t taste it this trip.
Mountain State Brewing Co. is a small, cozy taproom in Thomas. We liked the fireplace and sawhorse bar stools, but the beer was not for us. My blonde ale seemed flat. We saw their beers sold in several places around the valley, so clearly they are doing well; perhaps we caught them on a bad day.
Blackwater Brewing Co. just started serving food last week, and the menu looked intriguing. The feel of the place is more like a restaurant than a bar or taproom, so we only stayed for one beer–but my Saison was great! We’ll go back and try the food on our next trip to Canaan Valley.
Finally, we went up to the lodge in our state park neighborhood for a farewell cocktail at the Laurel Lounge, and enjoyed our drinks with a pretty view of the golf course and free wifi. Bugsy was zonked from the day’s hiking and was happy to stay home in bed.
We had a great stay in Canaan Valley and will definitely return. To wrap up, here’s a picture of Bugsy supervising the campground departure preparations, and a couple from our lunch stop in Harrisonburg on the way home. Who posed better, Bugsy or the Airstream?