This West Virginia destination turns into a winter wonderland in December.
You don’t have to go to the Rockies to find good skiing. Looking for wintertime fun in the white powder might be closer than you think. West Virginia’s slopes in the Canaan Valley offer a great opportunity to enjoy downhill skiing and other winter activities.
Tucked into the northeast corner of West Virginia, Canaan Valley [pronounced ka-NAIN] in Tucker County is about an 11-hour drive from Corinth, Miss., and about three hours from Charleston, W.V. As you drive, the world changes from bustling highway to lightly trafficked two lanes, from highly connected to barely connected. In terms of the word getaway, this part of West Virginia is a true escape.
WHERE TO STAY
Just south of Davis, Canaan Valley Resort State Park (AAA Three Diamonds) is an ideal headquarters for winter fun. Renovated in 2013, it has a distinct lodge feel, with vaulted ceilings and gathering nooks where the entire family can relax. Enjoy the views from rocking chairs on the back porch or take a seat in front of a stone fireplace. Comfortable rooms have views of the mountains and the sprawling 6,120-acre state park. Amenities include two restaurants, a lounge, a spa, an indoor swimming pool with hot tub and sauna, a game room, and an exercise room. The resort offers other scheduled special activities.
Canaan Valley Resort sits at a base elevation of approximately 3,200 feet, making it one of the highest base elevations east of the Rockies. The ski mountain is a tangle of 47 groomed slopes and trails, the longest of which is 1.25 miles. The area averages 180 inches of snow annually; most of the trails are covered with manmade snow.
Five ski lifts traverse the mountain, ranging from a beginner’s magic carpet near the ski school area, to chair lifts that take you to the summit 4,280 feet above sea level. On your way down the 850-foot drop, you can create your ski or snowboarding adventure by combining trails and levels of difficulty. Adventurous types can zip through a terrain park with multiple features and jumps.
On a quiet day, the slopes are peaceful, with hardly any wait at the lifts. Lifts to the summit give you many options of difficulty, from easy runs to black diamond glade trails. The groomed slopes provide peaceful sanctuary, and it’s easy to navigate through wooded trails and across the face of the mountain.
When it’s time to take a break, grab a filling lunch at Quenchers Pub or check out Bear Paw Food Court then head back to the ski lift for the afternoon.
Downhill skiing isn’t the only outdoor activity at Canaan Valley. Try the tubing hill featuring 1,200-foot tubing lanes and a warming area with a fireplace.
When the snow is good, cross-country skiers and snowshoers can make their way around 18 miles of cross-country and snowshoe trails.
It wouldn’t be winter without ice-skating, and the resort offers a large covered outdoor ice rink with views of the Allegheny Mountains.
For a double dose of sledding and cross-country skiing, head to Blackwater Falls State Park on the other side of Davis. It offers 10 miles of ski trails, and its quarter-mile long sledding hill is tucked into the forest. You may even get an up-close view of white-tailed deer roaming through the forest. Some may even be adventurous enough to hop over the magic carpet lift while you ride to the top of the run.
AROUND The area
Although the town of Davis has only about 600 residents, it has some interesting stores that make it worth an afternoon shopping excursion. West Virginia provides inspiration to many artisans, and there are several galleries in town that sell their wares. Check out the WVHighlands Artisans Group on Williams Avenue. The gallery, open Thursday–Monday, is full of locally made pottery, wooden serving ware, jewelry, and paintings. Featured artists have to volunteer at the shop, so it’s not unusual to be able to talk with them directly about their creations.
Although you don’t have to leave Canaan Valley Resort to find good restaurants, several dining spots along William Avenue offer other options.
Bright Morning Inn, a B&B and restaurant, serves up hearty Southern breakfasts including its signature biscuits and gravy. Another popular breakfast stop is The Breakfast Nook, where you can devour the Baconator, a bacon-stuffed waffle. The restaurant accepts only cash and is closed before lunchtime.
For lunch, snag a table at Hellbender Burritos. This vegetarian-friendly Mexican burrito shop is named after the salamander native to the eastern United States. Wrap your hands around a tasty specialty burrito or build your own.
If you’re craving barbecue, head to The Smokehouse, located in the lodge at Blackwater Falls State Park. It serves up platters of slow smoked ribs, brisket, pulled pork, chicken, and kielbasa. Can’t decide? Try the smokehouse sampler. The dinner menu also includes a variety of non-barbecue, stick-to-your-ribs entrees.
Where there are mountains, there are caves, and West Virginia has many stunning caverns. Smoke Hole Caverns, located about an hour’s drive from Canaan Valley, is one of the few that is open year-round. The site got its name because the Seneca Indians used to smoke game in the first room, and smoke would billow out the entry hole across the valley. Later on, settlers would use the caverns to make moonshine. An hour-long tour walks you through several of the cavern rooms awash in stalactites and other formations. Log cabins are onsite for overnight visits.
Another fascinating excursion well worth the drive is Green Bank Science Center, home of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT), the world’s largest fully steerable telescope. A 90-minute drive from Canaan Valley, visiting here means you’re truly disconnected from the world, as the center is in the heart of the U.S. government’s National Radio Quiet Zone, a 13,000-square-mile area that has little to no radio interference, which means that you’ll lose what little cell phone reception you may have had.
The GBT is 485 feet tall and weighs in at 16 million pounds. Its immense size helps scientists detect and measure radio waves in order to examine elements of space like pulsars, the conditions needed to form black holes, distant galaxies or perhaps even other life forms. The science center, open Thursday–Monday, offers a ticketed tour that includes a movie and a bus ride to the various historical radio telescopes in the park.
The winter playground of Canaan Valley can literally help you disconnect from the world, but when you have to go home, you’ll want to share its beauty with all of your friends and family.
Jill Jaracz is a contributor from Waltham, Mass.
November/December 2016 Issue
Although there are just 7,000 people in Tucker County, it’s home to three microbreweries that are within a five mile radius.
The oldest of these is Mountain State Brewing Company in Thomas. The seven-barrel brew house has tours through the brewery and a taproom where you can taste its ales.
Nearby in Davis is Blackwater Brewing Company. Owner/brewmaster Lincoln Wilkins pours up European session ales and usually has four to six beers on tap.
The newcomer is Stumptown Ales on William Avenue in downtown Davis. Open since August 2015, the microbrewery features hop-centric ales and small plates.
– Jill Jaracz
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