Blackwater Falls State Park
Davis, West Virginia
Boy have I put off this trip for far too long. Melizza and I have planned quick getaways to West Virginia for the last few years but, for one reason or another, have always ended up cancelling. This time, however, we finally made the six hour trek to visit our wild and wonderful neighbor to the east. The experience was well worth the effort.
The kids had a day off from school on Friday and I had a birthday to celebrate. Our three day weekend was shaping up nicely. Our destination was Blackwater Falls State Park in northeastern West Virginia. The only problem is that the state parks do not take reservations after Labor Day and the Leaf Peepers Festival was taking place in the nearby towns of Davis and Thomas. We hustled out of town on Thursday night for a quick overnight at Wal-Mart in Clarksburg, West Virginia.
I woke up at the crack of down and rallied the troops for a quick and early departure. The last 70 miles took about two hours because of the mountain road but it was well worth the effort. We snagged the last electric site and a just few minutes after we arrived several more people were driving up. Our camp site was wooded and private while most sites were a bit out in the open. Site number 1 was abandoned for about five minutes before we arrived. Happy birthday to me! The weather was perfect and sunny and reached almost 70 degrees before the cool night arrived almost demanding a cozy campfire with the family. The campground crowd was a nice mix of younger outdoor enthusiasts and older couples.
The Blackwater Falls campground is decent but the park and the surrounding area is excellent. They have about sixty sites. The electric loop (no water hookups) is circular with a large clearing in the middle and trees lining the exterior sites. The dry camping loop is hilly with a little more privacy. There is a small lake less than half a mile away and the namesake Blackwater Falls are close as well. The really remarkable feature of the park beyond the obvious waterfall is the eight mile gorge carved by the Blackwater River. There are several trails along the rim of the canyon. The fall colors really start to shine in late September.
In the valley below Blackwater Falls State Park are two sleepy West Virginia towns. Davis is the larger of the two. By larger, it has a few more shops and a couple more restaurants. I visited the Blackwater Bikes Mountain Bike Outfitters for some mountain bike trail advice. I learned about the many and varied places you could hit the trails. This is a choice area for mountain biking and the scene here is in its infancy. I would recommend this shop for good mountain biking intel.
Thomas is the hipper of the two towns primarily due to a little restaurant/bar/music venue called the Purple Fiddle. This is where you can find an interesting mix of West Virginians, hipsters, and campers converging for beer and great live music. Rumor has it that Norah Jones may be stopping by next weekend. Her traveling band is booked and she may stop by. The place holds about 100 people at most. It is smoke free and kid friendly. We watched a band called Big Leg Emma while enjoying a local IPA served in a jar. The Avett Brothers used to frequent this eclectic gem. There are also the requisite coffee shops and antique stores. This place looks like it is on the verge of evolving into a cool little town. It is not quite there but on its way.
Ten miles south down the road from Blackwater Falls State Park is Canaan Valley State Park (rhymes with insane). This is a more developed resort park and is a winter ski destination. We checked out the campground. It was equally small but does have full hookups. We are trying to decide if we can brave the West Virginia roads with the Airstream in tow for a winter dry camping ski trip. They had almost 200 inches of snow last year in the valley. On this autumn Saturday, the trees light up the mountainside. Canaan Valley opens up the ski lifts for summer and fall explorers. They also have a clay pigeon shooting range. I would have loved to try it out but my boys are not ready for that. Ethan might shoot my toe off.
|The view from the campground|
We ventured a bit south of Canaan Valley to head up the gravel National Forest Roads leading to the Dolly Sods Wilderness. What started out as a drive in the country quickly turned into an adventure. We drove for miles up the dusty roads to the top of this remote wilderness and were rewarded with beautiful mountaintop vistas and an otherworldly environment. The blueberry bushes that grow on these balds turn a fiery red in the fall and have been dubbed Fields of Fire. The plant life and upland bogs found up here are very rare in this part of the country and are more commonly found in northern Canada. These mountain tops used to be covered with large Spruce and Hemlock trees and a large swath of humus (no relation to the Whole Foods variety). This environment is a result of clear cutting in the 1800's and what is left is unique and beautiful. Many great photographers come up for the sunrises and sunsets. I am clearly not one of them. This is a popular place for tent campers who want to camp on top of the world. They have a developed campground and dispersed camping. If you find yourself in this area, do not miss Dolly Sods.
There is so much more to explore moving south but that will have to wait for another trip. From atop the Dolly Sods wilderness, you can peer into the Shenandoah Valley to the east. Just south of this area is the more famous Seneca Rocks area. There is also the historic town of Cass and many great rivers for fly fishing. Also, the New River Gorge Bridge and the world famous whitewater rafting on the New and Gauley Rivers are what puts West Virginia on the map for outdoor enthusiast.
We headed back to Blackwater Falls for dinner, a quick jaunt at the Purple Fiddle and the 25th Anniversary Dark Skies star party within the state park. The party was held in a clearing on the shores of Lake Pendleton with 360 degree views of the night sky. You could see the Milky Way from horizon to horizon. Meteorites were flashing across the night sky among the twinkling stars. We are able to view globular clusters of stars, comets and the Andromeda Galaxy through the various telescopes set up in the grass. It was a fitting end to a memorable Saturday.
On Sunday, I was able to hit the mountain biking trails adjacent to Blackwater Falls State Park. The mountain biking scene is evolving here and the Dobbins House Trails were full of rocks and roots. These trails are not for amateurs without dual suspension bikes but I loved every minute of my ride. Maggie ran alongside me and we didn't see a soul. The trail follows the rim of the canyon overlooking the Blackwater River. There are easier trails that the kids rode with me but this was all about Maggie and I. When I return to this area, I will be drinking an IPA at the Purple Fiddle and explaining to a newbie that Dobbins House is a highly technical trail. He will surely be impressed with my knowledge.
|This is 41|
Sadly, we made our way back home on Sunday to prepare for the reality of a big move to our new home, school activities and work. Now I am armed with great memories and a new destination to dream about. I will see you soon West Virginia. You really are wild and wonderful.