About this Itinerary
Before attempting to bike the Blackwater Canyon Trail, consider that when this was first a rail line back in the late 1800s the route was so steep that extra locomotives were kept on hand just to help push trains up what was known as the Black Fork Grade. The present day trail is only 10 miles long, and provides a beautiful ride with stunning mountain scenery, but this is no easy feat for those attempting to bike the uphill route.
The Blackwater Canyon Trail runs through Blackwater Canyon from the town of Thomas in the north to Hendricks in the south, descending more than 1,200 feet. Bikers who opt for a one-way trip in this direction will enjoy a spectacular downhill ride with both natural and historical points of interest along the way, and very little peddling necessary. Our itinerary, however, tackles the route round-trip, starting in Hendricks so that riders can savor the downhill on the return. Along the way the trail is mostly shaded, providing some respite from summer sun, and waterfalls offer relief from the exertion of uphill biking.
Located in the heart of the Canaan Valley in the Allegheny Mountains, stay at the Canaan Valley Resort. This four-season resort is located in the highest mountain valley east of the Rocky Mountains. Perched on a plateau overlooking the valley, guests will enjoy unparalleled views of the surrounding peaks. Choose from three different types of accommodations, lodge rooms, cabin and cottage rentals, or camping. Onsite amenities include 150 miles of hiking and biking trails, scenic chairlift rides, indoor and outdoor pools, a climbing wall, mini golf, tennis courts, and more. Mountain bike rentals are available at the resort at the Recreation Center. Guests who are staying in lodge accommodations receive two complimentary hours (this does not include the campground). Mountain biking is a very popular activity here so we strongly advise making a reservation well in advance of your trip.
Enjoy a hearty breakfast at the Hickory Dining Room at the resort before setting out for the day. The restaurant features a wide variety of breakfast favorites including French toast, eggs, and pancakes at the buffet. Be sure to bring enough water for the first half of your ride, as there will be no opportunities to refill until you reach the end of the trail in Thomas (drinks and food are available there). Drive to Hendricks, which is located about 40 minutes from the Canaan Valley Resort. To reach the trailhead, follow WV-32S and take a right onto Black Hollow Road. Turn right on to WV-72N. In town, take a left on to 2nd Street and park in the lot at the trailhead for the Allegheny Highlands Trail.
From the parking lot, follow the Allegheny Highlands Trail across 2nd Street and pass through the metal gates that mark the end of the route. This trail travels for nearly 25 miles from Hendricks to the outskirts of the town of Elkins. The trail passes through several small towns but is mostly in stunning rural countryside and, while it is not as steep as the Blackwater Canyon Trail, it does have a gradual grade.
To reach the Blackwater Canyon Trail trailhead, continue across Main Street and follow the gravel road directly ahead. There will be no signs indicating as such, but this is the beginning of the trail. Off in the distance you will see Canaan Mountain.
The Blackwater Canyon Trail follows what was once the rail line of the West Virginia Central and Pittsburgh Railway. Built in 1888, the railway climbed Backbone Mountain. As you bike uphill on the dirt and gravel trail, look for remnants of the corridor’s railroad past in the form of rare cut-stone archways. Cut stone was used for culverts and bridge abutments when the railroad was first built, while cement was used in later construction. You can get some idea of the age of these structures by looking closely at the materials used (and some actually have dates carved in them). You will also see coke ovens alongside the trail. These ovens were used to convert coal into coal coke and creosote oil. Be careful if you decide to investigate these relics a little closer as they provide the perfect habit for snakes.
Perhaps some of the more inviting diversions you will find along the trail are several waterfalls. Especially as you reach the upper end of the trail, the allure of the refreshing waters of the Douglas Falls may prove irresistible on a hot summer day. Enjoy a quick splash in the cool waters before completing the final two miles of the route.
Once you arrive in Thomas there are a couple of options for lunch. Located just off the trail along East Avenue, find The Purple Fiddle Coffeehouse. This inviting space hosts more than 300 live music performances a year, and is worth returning to at night to hear the best of the local live music scene. During the day, the cafe also serves a selection of homemade sandwiches, soups, desserts, and more than 50 micro-brewed beers. They are also well known for the homemade ice cream they sell for a local creamery. Slightly farther along East Avenue find Tip Top. This spot is primarily a coffeehouse that serves a small selection of food, but they are also well-known for their Friday burger nights (sourced from a local farm, the burgers are worth the drive back if you are in the area on a Friday night). After a hearty lunch, enjoy the downhill trip along the Blackwater Canyon Trail. Stop to enjoy the waterfalls and just take in the stunning mountain scenery.
If you are in the area on a Friday night, we highly recommend driving fifteen miles to Thomas to indulge in burger night at the Tip Top and catch some live music at The Purple Fiddle, but there are also dining options closer to the resort. Located just north from Canaan Valley Resort on WV-32, find the Deerfield Pub and Restaurant. This casual dining spot features kabobs, ribs, and steaks and has live music several times a week. Enjoy a lively atmosphere, music, and good food. In the town of Davis, just slightly further north on WV-32, find the Sawmill Restaurant, which serves simple dishes such as sandwiches, soups, and salads in a casual and comfortable environment. At the entrance to Blackwater Falls State Park, find the Blackwater Brewing Company. This brewery focuses on high-quality, small-batch beers with a specialty in European session ales and lagers and features pub fare on their menu but with unusual surprises that vary by the day, including Thai and Cajun influenced dishes. Davis is an interesting little town with a variety of artisan shops and additional restaurant options. Spend some time wandering Main Street and exploring what the town has to offer.
This region of West Virginia has endless opportunities for enjoying the outdoors, and Canaan Valley provides the perfect base. Without even leaving the resort, you have access to miles of hiking and mountain biking trails. Other highlights of the region aren’t too far away including West Virginia’s highest peak, Spruce Knob. Hike to top of this 4,863 foot mountain and then climb the observation tower at the top for a 360 degree view of the area. Tour the mystical Seneca Caverns on a guided exploration of this underground world that was a ceremonial place for Native Americans. Explore the enchanting Dolly Sods Wilderness Area, which offers a spectacular landscape of bogs and heaths that is more commonly associated with southern Canada. Within the more than 17,000 acres of Dolly Sods,visitors can take long meandering hikes or enjoy rock scrambling close to the parking lot. Near the resort, also find Blackwater Falls. One of the most beautiful waterfalls in the state, hike one of the many trails to reach the dramatic 60 foot falls and watch as they cascade down over sandstone rocks. Numerous lookout points provide ideal angles to catch the perfect image of the stunning waters.
West Virginia has some of the best rafting in the country, and no visit is complete without spending some time on the water. Explore the local rivers with Blackwater Outdoor Adventures. Located in nearby Parsons (not far from the Blackwater Canyon trailhead in Hendricks), this outfitter rents tubes, but also offers a variety of organized adventures including whitewater rafting, canoeing, paddleboarding, as well as overnight camping excursions. They feature trips that cater to all ages and abilities and offer half, full, or multi-day river excursions.
Experience the stunning Canaan Valley by horseback on a guided tour with Mountain Trail Rides. Located close to the resort, guests can choose from an excursion that fits their interest and ability including long rides that stop for a picnic lunch or a short jaunt through the meadow for those new to riding. Whichever you choose this is the perfect opportunity to immerse yourself in the beauty of the Canaan Valley State Park from a slightly different vantage point. Reservations are highly recommended.