Highlights of the Potomac Highlands
The following are excerpts from www.wvtourism.com's West Virginia Travel Guide pertaining to our Potomac Highlands. Every destination, activity and business mentioned here is a short drive from our luxury cabin rentals in Canaan Valley. If you're planning a trip to the West Virginia mountains, here's a great primer for you!
Take a Hike
Dolly Sods, Monongahela National Forest
A hike through the meadows and stunted trees of the 17,000 acre Dolly Sods Wilderness Area leads to some of the most remote and stunning views in the Mountain State. with nearly 50 miles of trails, hikers often take two or three days to see everything. The 12-mile Dolly Sods North hike takes you through high mountain meadows and streams and up to the open views of the Rocky Ridge Trail. Or, for a multi-day adventure, the 21-mile hike to the craggy protrusion of Lion's Head gives you a panoramic view of rolling hills and wilderness in all directions.
We Are All Made Of Stars
Green Bank - The Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory is the largest, most capable fully steerable single dish radio telescope in the world - and it's nestled in the quiet, verdant hills of Pocahontas County in Green Bank. The dish's radio collecting area is more than two acres in size and can pick up the faintest radio waves from across the universe.
Things like pulsars, dense neutron stars and other extreme states of matter are just a few of the center's favorite research subjects. Scientists at the center are adding to our knowledge about the structure and formation of the universe every day, and more than 60,000 visitors flock to this technological wonder every year.
Good Eats in Potomac Highlands
Northfork Mountain Inn
This is a landscape of awe-inspiring monoliths, twisting whitewater rivers, miles of protected forests, outdoor recreation of every kind, and quaint mountain towns bursting with charm and - you guessed it - delicious food.
If a secluded getaway with home-cooked meals is what you're after, Northfork Mountain Inn should be your destination. This bed and breakfast/restaurant is beautiful inside and out. The spectacular views are best experienced from the wide second-story porch.
Dinners are by reservation only, but the experience is worth the extra planning. Depending on the season and what's freshest and most local, you might find soups made with tender spring ramps, the chef's special Southwestern pork green chili, wild-caught salmon with Thai-chili sauce, pork roast with shiitake mushroom and Marsala sauce, or something completely new.
El Gran Sabor
In Elkins lush trees line quiet streets, white fog drapes valleys and riverbanks, downtown businesses dress their window boxes and displays for every season, and historic passenger trains chug through the restored depot every day. It's small-town America at its finest.
But step into one unassuming little restaurant on Kerens Avenue, El Gran Sabor, and get ready to be transported into the heart of tropical Venezuela. Even the smell will stop you in your tracks - spices, fresh herbs, and sweet corn.
If you're unfamiliar with Venezuelan fare, educate yourself with light flatbread areapas stuffed with savory meats and cheeses or crispy empanadas bursting with choice fillings. OR go for the most popular item on the menu, the chapas, fluffy sweet pancakes made with ground corn folded over a generous helping of melted cheese and meat and served with Latin rice, black beans and soup or salad.
Feeling adventurous? Try the crispy fried plantains, called tostones, or opt for creamy sweet flan, a dessert made of milk, eggs, and sugar often topped with a caramel sauce. This family-owned restaurant serves up not only creative cuisine but also coffee and free live music on Wednesdays and Fridays and local beer on tap.
Mountain State Brewing company is easy to find in Thomas. Guests need only look for a massive grain silo to find this brewhouse, founded in 2005 by friends Brian Arnett and Willie Lehman. Inside the large wooden pub is a cozy getaway overflowing with food, brews and friendly faces. Mountain State serves its beer in jars, and in the cold months, a custom stone fireplace keeps patrons warm.
Davis is home to two innovative craft breweries. Blackwater Brewing Company started out its life as a Brewhaus, which re-launched with a new name, atmosphere, and beer list in 2012. Owners Lincoln and Amanda Wilkins produce German, Belgian, and English-style "session beers" - brews with relatively low alcohol content, which allows imbibers to drink more. Nearby, Stumptown Ales specializes in India pale ales with strong "hop-centric" flavors that have enthusiastic fans among craft brew devotees.
Tip Top, located on East Avenue in Thomas, is a creature of both the day and night. Formerly known as HypnoCoffee in Davis, TipTop isn't pegged down to just a few types of menu items. Espresso drinks, wine, cocktails, smoothies, and more are found here. And another taste of Thomas and the surrounding area can be found in the spot's artwork, available for viewing or purchase.
NROCKS offers an extreme mountain-climbing adventure, no experience necessary.
If you've got an iron will, there's an iron way-tucked within 145 acres in Pendleton County. You can test that mettle at NROCKS Outdoors Adventures in Circleville, at its one-of-a-kind Via Ferrata.
A via what? A Via Ferrata, Italian for "by way of iron," is a permanently installed system of steel rungs and cables that allows adventure seekers to climb mountains without mountain-climbing experience. It was originally designed to transport troops in Italy during World War I, but Via Ferratas have emerged as recreational undertaking for today's outdoor enthusiasts.
At NROCKS, its Via Ferrata offers a mile of fixed-anchor, professionally guided rock climbing over a three-and-a-half-hour adventure. The Via Ferrata is open year-round, weather permitting. It's not for the faint of heart, as climbers can experience an adrenaline-bursting vantage point from 200 feet above ground.
NROCKS is the first Via Ferrata designed and built by Americans and is one of the longest in the country. It makes sense-rock climbing has a rich history in this region of the state. Interestingy enough, in the early 1950s the 10th Mountain Division of the United States Army used Nelson Rocks and nearby Seneca Rocks and Champe Rocks to train mountain troops in assault climbing in preparation for action in Italy. One guidebook author estimates the Army left behind approximately 75,000 soft iron pitons, some of which can still be found on the rocks.
Modern Via Ferrata climbers each receive safety briefings, instruction, and equipment fitting beforehand. Climbers must be at least 13 years old and in good physical condition. There is much more to NROCKS than the Via Ferrata, however. Located just 50 minutes from the Canaan Valley area and 15 miles south of Seneca Rocks, NROCKS also offers a breathtaking canopy tour ride on a 1,000-foot zip line, in which you can cruise through the air at 25 miles per hour. Professionally trained NROCKS staff will ensure your safety and help guide you through the Via Ferrata and canopy tour.
There's also a 24' climbing wall, a slackline progression area and plenty of hiking trails for all ages. On-site lodging - including an inn and cabins - is available, too. NROCKS offers special rates and packages for groups.
Don't forget, you can add tickets for the Via Ferrata or the canopy tour when you book your cabin stay with us!
Canaan Valley, West Virginia
Traveling along US 219 to West Virginia Route 32 brings you through the Canaan Valley area, the highest valley east of the Mississippi, encompassing some of the most majestic scenery in the highlands, with pockets of art, music, and culture akin to something you might find in more bustling areas. Here, travel destinations outnumber traffic lights four to one, but with attractions like the tumbling headwaters of the Blackwater River and two ski resorts to explore, visitors will be hard-pressed to fit it all in.
The story of settlement in this upland valley begins with a local legend. Sometime in the mid-1700s, a hunter, tracking one of the area's large black bears, stumbled upon a break in the trees overlooking a vast tract of thick red spruce forest, shimmering wetlands, and grassy plains. So overcome with its wild beauty, the man involuntarily cried out, "Behold! The Land of Canaan!" And the name stuck.
Talk to any visitor from a northern climate, and they'll tell you parts of Tucker County feel more like a valley in Switzerland or a mountaintop in Canada than anywhere in West Virginia. At elevations reaching more than 4,200 feet, the wildlife of the region have become uniquely adapted to a cold, moist climate normally found much farther north. Species like the Cheat Mountain Salamander - found on only a few secluded ridge tops in West Virginia- and the West Virginia Northern Flying Squirrel - a prehistoric subspecies as old as the mastodon - make their home in this part of West Virginia.
Canaan Valley was designated as a National Natural Landmark in 1974 and a portion was later preserved as a national wildlife refuge. The Canaan Valley Wildlife Refute (fws.gov/canaanvalley) became the 500th refuge of its kind in 1994 with the purchase of 86 acres. Today, the refuge encompasses approximately 17,000 acres. One of two biologists at Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, wildlife biologist Marquette Crockett, talks about rare animals and plants with reverence. "We have so many rare species you won't find anywhere else in the state," she says. "This combination of high elevation and heavy rain is truly unique."
Home to one of West Virginia's most visited state parks, the Canaan Valley Resort and Conference Center was recently named among the "50 Great Places to Stay" in Washingtonian magazine. And with more than 40 trails for every level of skier or snowboarder and a summit elevation of 4,280 feet, Canaan Valley Resort is a prime winter destination.
If you have a knack for grace, try cross-country skiing or snowshoeing, or grab a pair of skates and take part in a 4,000-year-old art form- one of the most popular wintertime sports at Canaan Valley Resort. A covered, outdoor ice-skating rink overlooking the valley is the picture perfect place to master salchows, spins, and figure eights. Afterward, catch your breath at the outdoor fireplace and enjoy a cup of hot chocolate.
We took the drone out to fly around the ski slopes one winter afternoon. Check out what we captured!
Cross Country may not have the glamour of their downhill cousins, but cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are two of the best ways to experience the beauty of West Virginia. If you're looking for a truly unique cross-country experience, check out White Grass Ski Touring Center in the Cabin Mountain range of the High Alleghenies.
Less than five miles from Canaan Valley Resort, this locally owned and operated cross-country ski touring center offers acres of trails, ski rentals, classes, a backcountry ski specialty shop, and a down-home cafe serving all-natural lunches and dinners by reservation through the winter.
Take in the beauty of the Dolly Sods Wilderness as you trek across the backcountry. And don't forget Fido. Dogs are welcome in many areas at White Grass. Cross-country novices never fear-White Grass's ski school is fun and exciting. learn everything from skating to telemark skiing, or sign up for a guided high country tour complete with instructions and local lore.
Blackwater Falls State Park
Less than five miles from Davis, Blackwater Falls State Park is best known for its energetic waters that twist through an eight-mile gorge before plummeting 63 feet into the canyon below. The park also offers 20 miles of hiking trails, scenic overlooks, nature and recreation programs, and endless photo opportunities.
After taking in the sights, travelers can relax and refuel any time of year at Blackwater Lodge. Hungry adventurers will find excellent dining at the lodge's family restaurant and WiFi for those who can't bear to unplug.
Although the park's waterfall is one of the most photographed sites in the state, there are countless other natural wonders to explore. Elakala Falls, where the waters of Shay Run rush to the edge of Blackwater Canyon, tumbling down in a beautiful display, is just a quick walk along Elakala Trail from the lodge. If you're undaunted by heights, take the short trail to Lindy Point and prepare yourself for one of the most famous views in the state - a breath-stealing drop-off into Blackwater Canyon, where 45 acres of wild country stretch out in all directions. But don't miss Pendleton Point Overlook - showcasing the canyon's deepest and widest point, where the dramatic curves of the landscape spread out before you.
West Virginia is also known for its waterways that offer bountiful bass, trout, catfish, walleye, and muskellunge. In some areas you may also find pike, sturgeon, striped bass, and plenty of tasty panfish such as sunfish and yellow perch. From Blackwater Canyon, with its pristine waters and premier trout fishing, to the stocked upstream sections known as Dry Fork, Laurel Fork, Glady Fork and others, anglers will find no shortage of opportunities to land the big one.
Durbin & Greenbrier Railroad
Children's ears perk up the moment they hear the faint whistle of a train in the distance. They squeeze their parent's hands and watch excitedly as the rumbling steam locomotive appears from behind the bend, emerging from the mountains. Black smoke pours from the smokestack as the train approaches the station. Time seems to slow down as the conductor smiles and waves to waiting passengers and the brakes screech to a full stop. When the coast is clear, the friendly conductor welcomes visitors onboard to be part of the adventure.
In the early 20th century luxury passenger steam trains pulled into Elkins on a daily basis. Today, thanks to John Smith, trains once again frequent town. "I just didn't want to see them pull up the tracks," says Smith, who retrieved washed-out tracks from the river after West Virginia's 1985 flood. "But before we could bring a train into Elkins, we had to build a bridge. That wasn't an easy undertaking, but we got the funding."
Smith is the president of the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad, a rail company comprised of several steam-driven and diesel powered Mountain Rail excursions that keeps West Virginia's locomotive heritage alive. "In our first year, 1997, without any type of publicity, 5,000 people showed up to ride our train," he recalls. "Even with the economy, we haven't seen it slow down."
This railroad company keeps West Virginia's railroad history alive by offering countless special train excursions to visitors year after year."Trains are usually exciting for everyone. On a nice day we go along riders and see the scenery. it's a very interesting trip," he says. "A lot of the special event trains, such as the Father's Day train and The Great Train Race, sell out."
Trains like the New Tygart Flyer, Cass Scenic Railroad, Cheat Mountain Salamander, Durbin Rocket, Mountain Explorer Dinner Train, Castaway Caboose, and the Polar Express offer customers the finest service and on-of-a -kind experiences. "You're going to ride a train, see the scenery, and get a meal at the same time," Smith says. "It's a time for everyone to relax, unwind, and enjoy riding a train."
New Tygart Flyer
This four-hour train ride transports guests across 46 miles of awe-inspiring mountain scenery into a 1,500 foot canyon covered with dense forest. The train crosses the bridge of the Shavers Fork of the Cheat River, where visitors marvel at the beauty of the 17-foot-high, 150-foot-wide waterfall. This roundtrip journey also includes lunch. The 1922-ewra Pullman Parlor Car is one of the most popular seats on the train for those who want a perfect view of the West Virginia wilderness. Guests can also choose from a section of wines when riding in the Parlor Car.
Mountain Explorer Dinner Train
The New Tygart Flyer was such a success Smith decided to add a new train to the mix in 2008. The beautifully appointed Mountain Explorer Dinner Train provides a more refined four-course dining experience for passengers as they enjoy watching evening descend on the peaks an canyons of the Monongahela National Forest and Cheat River. "Before airplanes, dining service on a train was top-shelf, and that's what we are trying to re-create. All of our trains, you can go 25 miles an hour and drink wine without spilling it." Smith says the dinner train hosts murder mysteries every other week. guests are invited to eat a four-course meal and watch as the play unfolds around them. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the full dinner service complete with smooth jazz.
The Polar Express
Talk about magical. Tickets to ride The Polar Express, offered around the holiday season, sell quickly. In fact, Smith says The Polar Express is the Durbin& Greenbrier Valley Railroad's most popular train. This nighttime train ride, based on the book of the same name by Chris Van Allsburg, transports families on a memoragble3 journey to the North Pole. Santa and his helpers greet children with warm smiles and give silver bells to passengers who believe. During the journey dancing chefs will serve hot chocolate to visitor in souvenir cocoa mugs and red the classic story.
Built in 1910 for the Moore-Keppel Lumber Company in Randolph County, this 55-ton locomotive is on of the rarest trains in the world - it is one of three surviving Climax geared logging trains. This train uses two steam cylinders under the center of the boiler to transfer power to the front and rear of the train. A two-hour steam train ride on the Durbin Rocket covers more than 10 miles of dense forest terrain in the Monongahela National Forest. Smith recommends this ride to young families for its beautiful view and intimate experience with the crew. Visitors can ride in historic vintage coaches and cabooses and watch the black smoke rise to the sky as the steam engine chugs along. Along the way the train will drop guests opting to spend the night in the Castaway Caboose along the Greenbrier River before going on to chug along through the mountains.
Smith says the Castaway Caboose is a West Virginia favorite of the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad. "You do have to reserve it in a year in advance," he says, "It's very peaceful down there in the national forest. People love it." Visitors can choose from one of two refurbished original Wabash railroad cabooses and spend a night under the stars in the quiet wilderness along the Greenbrier River. The Durbin Rocket, attached with the Castaway Cabooses, picks up tat the train depot. The train runs backward, caboose first, to the secluded destination by the Greenbrier River and drops visitors off to sleep in the caboose deep in the forest. Each caboose holds up to six adults and includes amenities like refrigerators, linens and towels, and full restrooms with hot showers. The caboose even has electricity, courtesy of solar panels.
Cheat Mountain Salamander
Named after the legendary Cheat Mountain salamander, this locomotive offers three- and nine-hour rides through the beautiful Cheat Mountain. Visitors go through a long "S" curve tunnel underneath the mountain to the High Falls of Cheat where they can stretch their legs and admire the mountain's natural beauty. Lunch is included with the ticket fare.
Cass Scenic Railroad
In 2014 Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad assumed the operations of the historic Cass Scenic Railroad. According to DGVR group packaging specialist, Matt Scott, this new connection opens an array of opportunity for group sales and consumer packaging that will ultimately increase overnight stays in the regional area "With the ability to connect rail lines, we can now offer a brand new product to the group tour market," Scott explains. "tour operators are always looking for something new and different, and we have it. We're calling it the Wild Heart of West Virginia Adventure Package."
The package concept offers a combined ride on two trains - the Cass Scenic Railroad and the Cheat Mountain Salamander - with overnight options in Elkins or Cass. Both groups and individual visitors have the opportunity to ride the steam-driven early 1900s Shays to Old Spruce, change over to the 1940s vintage diesel-powered Cheat Mountain Salamander, be served lunch onboard, ride into Elkins to enjoy a theater show, then return by the same route to Cass.
On the other side of the coin, passengers can board the Elkins or Cheat Bridge, ride to Old Spruce, board the Cass Scenic Railroad, ride to Bald Knob and back down to Cass to stay in the historic company houses at the park, or, as a group, stay at Snowshoe Mountain Resort.
"The options to this package are as diverse as the trains and attractions within those two counties," Scott adds. "It can be a mix and match of choices, custom-tailored to the needs of the traveler."