Blackwater Canyon Trail

West Virginia

30 Reviews

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Blackwater Canyon Trail Facts

States: West Virginia
Counties: Tucker
Length: 10.7 miles
Trail end points: Main St/WV 72 at 3rd St (Hendricks) and US 48 & US 219/Seneca Trail (Thomas)
Trail surfaces: Dirt, Gravel
Trail category: Rail-Trail
ID: 6017246

Blackwater Canyon Trail Description

The Blackwater Canyon Trail follows one of the most challenging and picturesque segments of the former West Virginia Central & Pittsburgh Railway. On its 10.7-mile run deep through the Monongahela National Forest in eastern West Virginia, the rough dirt trail passes waterfalls and relics of the railroad and coal industries.

The trail has a steeper than normal grade; in the 1880s, the railroad builders who laid track across the route through the Allegheny Mountains couldn’t avoid the forested canyon up the Blackwater River and its North Fork. The uphill grade between Hendricks and Thomas, which climbs 1,200 feet, required trains hauling coal to put on extra locomotives.

Today’s visitors can arrange for a shuttle to Thomas to take a one-way downhill ride or choose to steadily climb from Hendricks and coast downhill on the return. The trail surface is rough, so hiking shoes are recommended for hikers, and wide tires are recommended for cyclists.

Located near the top of the grade in the north, Thomas was a bustling center for the coal mines that sprang up nearby and shipped their product via the railroad. Today, many brick buildings from that era house boutiques and antiques stores.

Technically, the trail begins in Thomas, 0.3 mile north of the dam on the North Fork of the Blackwater River, which is near the intersection of US 48 and US 219. Visitors can park in the lot at East Avenue/WV 32, located about 0.3 mile south, and take a short walkway to the trail, or they can use a small lot about a mile south on Douglas Road.

The trail is marred by potholes and ruts from the Douglas Road lot to Douglas Falls, about 1.2 miles downstream. Remains of beehive coke ovens that purified coal are visible along the trail just south of Thomas. More than 600 coke ovens operated in this area, known as Coketon. Interpretive signs posted by Friends of Blackwater mark the sites of old train depots, locomotive roundhouses, and machine shops along the route.

The roaring river at the base of the canyon provides a steady soundtrack to the journey, as do the waterfalls that are occasionally visible along the way. One of the first is Albert Falls, about a mile past the coke ovens. In another half mile, after crossing a trestle over Long Run, you can hear Douglas Falls cascading 35 feet into a pool below. A path leads to an overlook. Plans are in the works to build a pedestrian suspension bridge across North Fork here to connect with a trail heading east to Blackwater Falls State Park near Davis.

The trail becomes narrower as you head south along the main stem of the Blackwater River, a destination for experienced kayakers. The junction with Limerock Trail appears about 5.6 miles past Douglas Falls. The overgrown hiking trail heads uphill for 4 miles to a Forest Service road on the canyon rim.

Several endangered species, including the West Virginia flying squirrel, the Indiana bat, and the Cheat Mountain salamander, make their home in the canyon. The habitat surrounding the trail is vital to the survival of these species, so it is important to stay on the trail.

The trail widens again as you head another 2.2 miles to the trailhead in Hendricks. Crossing WV 72 in town, you’ll meet the Allegheny Highlands Trail, a crushed rock and asphalt rail-trail that heads southwest for 26 miles to Elkins.

Parking and Trail Access

In Thomas, head south on State Route 32 (Spruce Street). Turn right onto Douglas Road, which crosses the trail. Turn left off Douglas Road onto the trail (you can drive on this portion) to reach the trailhead, approximately 1 mile down the road. The trailhead, where there is space for parking, is marked by a Forest Service gate. Additional parking is at 172 East Ave/US 48/WV 32 between the north and south intersections of Spruce St/US 48/WV 32. 

In Hendricks, take State Route 72 east through town and turn right on Second Street. The trailhead is on the right. Look for the gazebo and parking at the trailhead.

Blackwater Canyon Trail Reviews

Start from Hendricks - not too technical

It’s not difficult climb on a decent mountain bike or gravel bike but take two water bottle equivalents and be prepared for single track and rough surface. Not a technical ride but some narrow paths through vegetation in summer. Fun to dodge the wet potholes on the upper access road. Full suspension helps on the way down to ease the constant vibrations. But a sweet downhill. Anchor anything that could vibrate off. We lost part to a tire pump that we needed to fix a flat but unbelievably a hiking couple spotted this little missing piece of black plastic and gave it to us. They then rescued another set of bikers caught in a sudden downpour. This is more a reflection on the good folk of locals than the trail! Love that Mountaineer spirit! RIDE THIS TRAIL! Enjoyable for all levels with decent experience. Meaning - don’t just pop on it with an e-bike.

Start from Hendricks - not too technical

It’s not difficult climb on a decent mountain bike or gravel bike but take two water bottle equivalents and be prepared for single track and rough surface. Not a technical ride but some narrow paths through vegetation in summer. Fun to dodge the wet potholes on the upper access road. Full suspension helps on the way down to ease the constant vibrations. But a sweet downhill. Anchor anything that could vibrate off. We lost part to a tire pump that we needed to fix a flat but unbelievably a hiking couple spotted this little missing piece of black plastic and gave it to us. They then rescued another set of bikers caught in a sudden downpour. This is more a reflection on the good folk of locals than the trail! Love that Mountaineer spirit! RIDE THIS TRAIL! Enjoyable for all levels with decent experience. Meaning - don’t just pop on it with an e-bike.

Worth the 10 mile climb

Started in Hendricks - The climb is not bad at all, just long. Make sure you have good gravel tires or MTB and climb is very well worth the rewarding return trip back down with plenty of beautiful scenery. There are two large trees down about the halfway point but plenty of room to dismount and go around. Remember to take lots of water.

This trail is very sweet for ebikers. Awesome hill with awesome scenery. Lots of waterfalls n rock formations. Perfect trail for a hot day due to the many waterfalls and a full canopy all the way.

This trail is very sweet for ebikers. Awesome hill with awesome scenery. Lots of waterfalls n rock formations. Perfect trail for a hot day due to the many waterfalls and a full canopy all the way.


Great Hike

I started a hike at Hendricks and traveled north. The trail opens into a great hiking trail after a mile or so of road. There are great waterfalls and vistas along the way. The trip from Douglas to Thomas was my least favorite, not great trail and views, perfectly fine for bikers, but slow going on foot. Then finished with a bite at the Farm Up Table before heading back down to Hendricks.

Great ride

10/02/2021 Took new ebike from Parsons to Thomas and back today. Trail in working order. Rough gravel. First time and was I amazed at the scenery, the massive trees, water falls, big views. One thing no one has mentioned is the constant roar of the river ask you ascend and decend the mountain. Always with you. I really look forward to riding it again some day.

Just one thing

Great trail, as described with more words by others.

Just one thing: When you head down from Thomas and you get to the sewage plant, make sure you hook a right at the end of the fence that surrounds the plant. It's easy to miss the actual entry into the trail. If you miss the entrance, you ride through some river-bottom neighborhoods and get peoples dogs excited.

It's definitely mountainbike territory once you get past the forest service gate. Pretty coarse gravel and the occasional branches across the path. Also, a few small washouts that are well marked.

And while it's a 'rail trail', the grade is a bit steeper than you will find on many other rail trails. During the coal hauling days, they would add 6 locomotives to the train just to get the empty hopper cars up the hill. Nothing wrong with it, just something you need to anticipate for the way back up.

Upper trail through Thomas

We started our ride at the Douglass road crossing where there is a sizeable parking area and headed north. The first section is in fairly decent shape with a crushed gravel base. There is a washout fairly soon after starting but easily rideable with mountain bikes. Several historic markers along the way. Soon you reach a nicely decked bridge over the North Fork of the Blackwater River and pass a sewage treatment plant. From here on the trail is a shared use gravel road. It is in decent shape into Thomas. If you continue north the gravel becomes coarser and many large puddles appear. Fortunately the puddles have solid bottoms so you can ride right through if so inclined. The trail ends at Rt 219 where you can backtrack. There are a few access points into Thomas where you can find food and drink. We stopped at the TipTop and were not disappointed.

Best trail ever ridden

Rode from Parsons to Thomas and then back. Took me about four hours, over three to reach Thomas and less than one to ride back. It is sustained uphill coming from Parsons, but never steep. I didn't rush and stopped constantly to take pictures. I bought a low-end mountain bike and drove 100-some miles just to do this trail and both were well worth it. I've ridden many much-lavished trails and none beats this one for its views. Deep valley to peer into, a loud rushing river, a dozen or more waterfalls with two spectacular ones. I feel that I needed the dual-suspension bike because the surface was so rough and bumpy. Not hard at all with my mountain bike but I wouldn't want to do it with a street bike.

Beautiful Trail

We parked by the river on Douglas Road and rode to Hendricks. The ride is beautiful with many cool features to see. Douglas Falls was a bit chilly on 9/12 but we could not resist taking a brief swim.

Ride back up from Hendricks is a bit of an uphill push, but still a nice ride. If you have younger riders you might want to consider being dropped off in Thomas and picked up in Hendricks. Or perhaps starting in Hendricks and knocking off the uphill ride to Thomas and then saving the sweet downhill ride for the way back.

Great Trail!

A diamond in the rough....don’t miss this gem!!!

One word describes this ride - WOW!!!

Beautiful scenery, and rode about 6 miles without turning a pedal.

First, I have to start with a disclaimer. website clearly states “this section is quite steep and is not maintained for recreational use”.

I rode this on a hybrid with 700x38 tires and had no problems. Sure, wider tires would have been nicer, but maybe the suspension fork and seatpost saved me?

Trail is singletrack hard packed cinders with pea sized gravel. It will shake everything on your bike and give your arms a great massage. Trail never felt soft or mushy. Had one small washout about a foot wide and maybe 6” deep. Easy to walk across, and they had it marked with reflector posts so we knew something was there.

Started our ride behind the post office in Thomas. Don’t let the puddles scare you away. It’s not all like this. Trail starts as a 10 ft wide gravel driveway with potholes that goes to the sewage treatment plant. We missed the right turn across the bridge after the plant, so we ended up on Douglas Rd. Rode the paved road down the hill and across the river. Slight left turn onto the gravel road with the Douglas Falls sign. More potholes and have to watch for cars coming at you on the one lane road. Be careful crossing the bridge. I walked it. Went through a small parking area at the falls and finally got to the yellow gate. That’s where the fun starts. Beautiful Douglas Falls on the left. Partially obscured by trees. Next 6 miles was all down hill with some gorgeous views. Passed 3 waterfalls coming down the canyonside and under or over the trail and into the river. Great view of the canyon from the spot with the railing. I don’t think I turned a pedal until we got to the yellow gate north of Hendricks. What a ride!!! Had about 2 miles on a gravel road to the beautiful trailhead in Hendricks. Our driver had picked up sandwiches in Parsons, so we sat in the pavilion and enjoyed lunch.

Part of me wishes it was fixed up so more folks could enjoy it, but part of me says leave it wild and wonderful. Be sure to check out this gem if you are in the area....Bikin-Mike - 09/01/20

All to myself downhill from Thomas to Hendricks

On 27Nov2019 - weather unseasonably warm high 50s with heavy overcast damp & light mist, rain forecast. I was hesitant - 62 & riding solo - I brought the wrong bike (with All Condition tires 700x28mm - not a mountain bike). I was diligent about keeping my eyes on the trail and both hands on the bars. A wider tire would have been much better but the ride was still wonderful. I strongly recommend dismounting & walking the railroad bridge N of Douglas Falls. AT&T cell fair.

Safety measures for the railroad trestle bridge

My son and I attempted to ride the trail from Thomas to Hendricks on Dec. 2,2018. While trying to avoid the deep water filled pot holes in the road I approached the railroad bridge located above Douglas Falls, out of position to travel on the narrow planks covering the ties. I proceeded down the center of the bridge across the railroad ties until my front tire met with a damaged tie about two thirds of the way across. The bike stopped, I flew over the handlebars down through the side of the bridge and hit head first into the steel beam above the stone bridge abutment. I suffered a broken neck, hand and torn rotator cuff, finally landing in the creek below.
My point in writing this is not to ruin anyone's experience on this trail. I have ridden it up and down before and found it to be a wonderful experience, which is why I wanted my son to experience it with me on this trip. The Park Service needs to completely cover the crossties with planking and add guard rails to prevent anyone from falling through.

Labor Day

We rode this trail just before Labor Day. Parked at Hedricks and rode up, had a beer or two (and excellent crossaints (however you spell them)) at the Purple Fiddle in Thomas, and drifted all the way back down to our cars. It was great ride, and the trail was well maintained--unlike our previous experience on this trail. We will most likely do this again--and again.

Great vistas

This is one of the great trails for breathtaking scenery. Started in Parsons WV and rode to Thomas WV. The ride from Parsons to Hendricks is paved once in Hendricks the trail ascends to Thomas. About two miles past Hendrick the trail get's a little rough and is not maintained but the struggle is worth the views. Once you get to Douglas Falls the ride into Thomas is fairly easy. Thomas is a great mountain town with all amenities. This trail would be outstanding if maintained but it is definitely one of the best trails in the country.

Not your standard Rail Trail....

Rode this Trail one way downhill from Thomas to Hendricks using a Shuttle First week of August. You can park right on the Street in Thomas & there is a lot in Hendricks at the Town Park where the Blackwater Canyon Trail meets the Allegheny Highlands Trail. This trail looked nice as well, first part is paved but I didn't ride it a a thunderstorm was moving in.

First few miles of The Blackwater Canton were very much like a Standard Rail Trail, than the single track started. Not really too challenging, trail is wide at first, but then gets pretty narrow in spots. Trail isn't too rough but it is single track mountain biking, but you just can't call it anything else. I wouldn't take anything but a Mountain Bike down this trail based on it's current conditions.

There are some great views, but they would be better in the fall & even after the leaves drop. Very lightly traveled, I only saw 5-6 others on the trail & no other bikes so it is pretty secluded....was a great ride!

Be advised the middle 5.5 miles of this trail are not maintained by the NPS & it shows. Actually saw one guy w/a Gas Weed Eater doing his own trail maintenance in the National Forest! There is a section in the middle of this trail which isn't much wider than your bike tire w/A LOT of Stinging Nettles growing very close to the will hit them so they would be an issue in the Spring/Early Summer! Fortunately they were about 3 weeks past the stinging stage when I was there. Folks at Blackwater Bikes in Davis can help you w/anything you need in this area including local info, maps, repairs, etc....great local bike shop!

It's own sense of beauty.

Either direction you start is a winner. The ride, yes a tad bumpy with a dash of mud but we'll worth the beauty that abounds the trail. Thomas,WV is worth the visit alone.

Really fun, dramatic

Travelled N to S (downhill) on loaded touring bike in September. For a single track the path is in pretty good shape, though there were some rocks, occasional muddy spots despite the dry weather, and several trees down requiring little detours. I accepted these as contributing to the wildness of the place. Excessive speed would be dangerous, and would also cause one to miss the occasional dramatic views. The views would be better after leaf fall, as there is abundant small to medium tree growth. I hope this trail doesn't get much more developed as that would detract from its wildness and increase the risk of serious accidents.
There is potential to extend the trail above Thomas, and I hope that can be done. There the present gravel road in the ROW is not good for biking, but wide enough that a part of it could be cordoned off and cinderized for a better surface.

Needs help in clearing trail and improving

Been to this trail the past 3 years. It has
a great waterfall that you can not see because
of tree growth and no view clearing.

This trail could be one of the best in the country but it need tons of local work and
work from the State of WVA.

It's only gotten worse over the past 3 years.

Some work was done at the beginning but it's a 10 mile trail and only work at the top 2 miles
has happened. This needs State Money bad.

More than you expect

First things first, this is not your typical rail to trail. There is a significant but steady incline or decline depending on your entry point. Second the trail is rugged yet gorgeous.
To be clear, if you are not a strong rider, you should either start in Fredrick and ride as far as you can then turn around or ride from Thomas and have a friend or a shuttle meet you in Fredrick.
There are only two points I would park. Pull into downtown Thomas (it's a really cool artsy community). We parked right on the street unloaded, dropped over the small drop to the rail bed and started riding.
As mentioned, you may choose to start in Fredrick...if so, there is a really nice park right off of Third and Main. Just follow the signs to stream access and bike path. Park in the park if you want to take this trail make a right and cross will be on a gravel road for the first mile or so then it switches to a single track and it's all up hill from there...
As mentioned, the trail is rugged and there are several spots where there is not much between you and some very dangerous drops. But understand the danger, hard work and effort will bring huge rewards. On the day we went the water was running heavy and there was an absolute gem of a waterfall not far from Thomas. The most incredible thing about that waterfall is how huge and powerful it was yet it is clearly rarely seen by anyone.
Suggestion a helmet use a solid mountain bike with a good seat and enjoy this won't regret it...well unless you start in Thomas and forget yourself and ride to the end without a shuttle. That would suck but other than that, enjoy.

Wet ride

Rode the trail in early November after a great deal of rain had fallen. The trail which turns into single track after the trail heads was leaf covered and wet. Since I'd never ridden it before I spent most of the downhill trip to Hendricks covering the brakes. I was riding a hardtail with 2" knobbie tires at 50psi so I felt a lot of 'chatter'from the gravel on the downhill portion of the ride. The payoff for riding in the soggy conditions was enjoying the beauty of three small waterfalls along the ride and the constant roar of the river in the canyon as a result of all the precip. You pay for the 'free' ride down on the way back up. The grade is never too steep but there are rarely any false flats to rest or spin your legs. As the saying goes 'slow and steady win the race'. Would definitely recommend it for anyone visiting the area.

Blackwater Canyon Trail

I rode this trail with two friends in late September 2014. We began at the Thomas end of the trail. 36 degrees at the start of the ride! This trail is more on the primitive end of the rail trail scale, but don't let that dissuade you! With a little work comes great reward! The views and roaring of the river far below the trail are incredible. We coasted and braked almost the entire length of the trail. The trail itself is a little rough and we definitely felt it in our hands and forearms from gripping the handlebars tightly. A few drop-offs immediately left of the trail were dangerous and probably would kill you, so keep your eyes on the trail while moving!!! I gave this trail 4 stars only because some may not like the vibration from the rougher trail. I loved it, and would definitely ride it again!!!

Great Trail

After reading online comments, I was expecting this trail to be filled with obstacles. Not the case at all.

The trail is clearly not maintained like most rail-trails. But, all sections are easily passable by foot or bike. I was on a cyclocross bike (700x32mm tires) with a BOB trailer. I had no flats or mechanical issues.

The weather was perfect yet I only passed 6 people total (out and back). It did not seem like a well traveled trail.

I started on the north end near Thomas. I somehow got lost trying to find the trailhead and ended up parking in a lot at the intersection of Douglas Road and the trail. Once I passed the fire gate, the trail narrowed a bit. I coasted most of this trail. It slopes downhill enough where you only pedal a few times per minute.

The scenery is excellent. There are many waterfalls and river views. You can stop at most of them and enjoy them upclose. Others are down a steep slope or you are looking at the river down in the canyon. This trail mostly is up high.

Once you reach Parsons, there are food options.

The reverse trip is all uphill. Save some energy because you will be pedalling the whole way.

Overall its a great trail!

great for the kids, start in town

Our 6 and 8 year Olds loved this trail. It was easy riding with a very consistent grade and only a couple of minor obstacles. We couldn't believe we only saw one other person - but we did get underway early.
The trailhead instructions were unclear, just as easy to park by the river in Thomas and ride the extra 1 1/2 miles from there - and your car will be safer too.
Check out Tip Top cafe we loved it before and after the ride :)

Blackwater Canyon Trail Clear

The Blackwater Canyon Trail is open. During the summer and fall of 2013, volunteers worked to clear the trail of the fallen trees.

Lost trail

Myself and some others tried to ride the trail and its not passable any longer... We started from Hendricks and after the gate trees where blocking the trail. We walked around them and we were met with more and more and it got the point that we were getting cut up and having a hard time working our bikes through the tangle of trees. Needless to say we turned back and abandoned, our day of the Canyon ride....... Very SAD! I loved riding it last year a few times but now I'm afraid without a huge effort we are looking at a trail that is gone.
If you love that trail and have a day to spend cutting it out then lets arrange it and make it happen.....

Blackwater Canyon Trail

This trail has a lot of potential, but the surface is very poor and this makes the riding unpleasant. There are many better choices nearby in West Virginia, western Maryland, and southwestern Pennsylvania.

Back for more

"I was camping in WV and could not leave till I rode this trail again. It is not for everyone, but if you love to ride in WV this is one trail you have to try, both ways. I did pulling my trailer and I am 52. I WILL BE BACK FOR MORE !"

"Great Ride, Sense of Wilderness"

"I ""discovered"" this trail by accident when I came to the end of the newest section of the Allegheny Highlands Rail Trail at Hendricks in May 2004 (I had no maps with me and had no idea where I was even headed until I returned to Davis that night!).

This was an easy uphill due to the rail grade. As I ascended, I felt as though I had entered a great wilderness. I wasn't sure what would appear around the next bend. And, darn, where was my fishing gear!?!

It was delightful. Mildly technical in a few spots, it's a trail advanced novices and seasoned riders alike can enjoy. By the way, I'm a 53 year old female.

This trail needs no improvements, just maintenance. I would not want to see it developed.

If you have not traveled Rt 72 between Parsons and Dry Fork, you've missed some wonderful WV scenery.


Loved it!

"I rode this trail from Thomas to Parsons on June 22, 2003. I loved it -- it's very remote and wild. The trail in this direction is almost all downhill. I rode the brakes a lot. Going uphill most of the way back was not that bad. I am 49 and made it."

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