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Hiking in West Virginia: Dolly Sods and Beyond!

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In the list of states long overlooked when it comes to hiking, biking and outdoor adventure, West Virginia ranks pretty high on the list. But for those who know, this little state that’s as much the north of the south as it is the south of the north is brimming with wide open spaces to explore. There are tons of wilderness areas, state parks, and forests to get lost in (please don’t get lost), so we recently headed to Tucker County, home to Blackwater Falls, Canaan Valley, and Dolly Sods, to see what makes the region so special. Here’s how to spend a long weekend to a week biking, chasing waterfalls, and hiking in West Virginia.

Hiking in West Virginia (Tucker County)

You can pick up hiking supplies, including clothing, stove fuel, gear, backpacking meals and more fun stuff (stickers, souvenirs, water bottles!) at the Davis Depot. Bonus: state parks are free in WV.

Red Creek in the Dolly Sods Wilderness in WV.
Red Creek in the Dolly Sods Wilderness in WV.

Dolly Sods

If there’s one area in West Virginia that’s blowing up nearly as much as the newest U.S. National Park, it’s the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area in the Monongahela National Forest. Renowned for its rhododendron forests, wildflowers in the spring, leaf peeping in the fall, forested walks and wide views, there are miles of trails to explore. Most visitors start from the more popular southeast entrances of the park, but there’s also access from the northwest side, which is where we hiked in from.

You can do day hikes or backpacking trips in the area and there are plenty of lovely places to camp, including along rivers and in pine groves. We hiked the Breathed Mountain and Red Creek Loop, but locals also praise Rocky Ridge, Bear Rocks, and Lion’s Head.

Backpacking on the Allegheny Trail in WV.
Backpacking on the Allegheny Trail in WV.

Allegheny Trail

The longest trail in West Virginia is the Allegheny Trail, a 311-mile thru-hike that stretches from Pennsylvania to Virginia and even connects to the Appalachian Trail at one point. Plan a thru-hike on the whole thing, section hike it, or simply plan a weekend out-and-back (or loop using some of the state parks like we did). There are easy starting access points in Canaan Valley and Blackwater Falls State Parks and there are even a handful of shelters along the way.

Black Water Falls in Black Water Falls State Park.
Black Water Falls in Black Water Falls State Park.

Blackwater Falls State Park

Looking for plenty of looping hikes and tons of waterfalls? You’ll find them here. Elekala Falls and Blackwater Falls are the heavy hitters and shouldn’t be missed. They both (indeed pretty much all the freshwater in the whole area) feature yellow-red water that’s been tinted by all the tannins in the water, a result of the massive amount of trees that fall into rivers and creeks. For an epic sunset, head to Lindy Point Trail and enjoy one of the most photographed overlooks in the state. Don’t forget to sign up for a West Virginia Waterfall Trail Passport before you go so you can check off a whole bunch in one park. Camping and a lodge are available on site.

A woman poses with a Mountain bike in Canaan Valley Resort State Park.
Mountain biking in Canaan Valley Resort State Park.

Canaan Valley Resort State Park

About 25 minutes down the road from Blackwater Falls is Canaan Valley Resort State Park (pronounced can-AIN, rhymes with pain). Here you’ll find even more forested trails, a campground, cabins and lodge, and less trafficked trails. And it’s not just a great spot for shady hikes, it’s popular among mountain bikers, too (but more on that below). There’s also golfing in the summer and skiing in the winter.

Cooper's Rock overlooking the Cheat River in Cooper's Rock State Forest.
Cooper’s Rock overlooking the Cheat River in Cooper’s Rock State Forest.

Cooper’s Rock State Forest

Also a state park, this one is about an hour away from Davis and Thomas, but worth a visit, especially if you plan to camp or you have to pass by on the way home (or to the Pittsburg airport). There are tons of trails, most of which are shorter than 4 miles, which means you can tackle one and be on your way or hit up a whole bunch over a leisurely afternoon. Cooper’s Rock via Raven Rock Trail is a popular overlook for views of the Cheat River and surrounding valleys (and big rock features), but you can’t go wrong with many of the mostly shaded hikes.

Mountain bikes parked in front of the Almost Heaven swing at Canaan Valley Resort State Park.
Our rental mountain bikes parked in front of the Almost Heaven swing at Canaan Valley Resort State Park.

Mountain Biking in West Virginia

For those of you who, like us, also like to tear up some single track, there’s also plenty of mountain biking in West Virginia. In Tucker County, the most popular places are right in Davis, Canaan Valley State Park, and Cooper’s Rock State Forest. You can bring your own bikes or rent hard tails or full suspensions from Blackwater Bikes, where the staff is also more than happy to offer trail recommendations based current conditions. You’ll also find all the bike tools, tech, and accessories you need at the shop and on Thursday during the summer the shop hosts weekly group rides on Thursdays.

Do be prepared to get muddy, though. Many trails in the area remain soft and wet year-round. It’s fine to ride on mud here (which isn’t the case everywhere), but know that you’re going to head back to your car quite a bit dirtier than when you left. The good news: some trailheads have bike wash stations so you can give your legs and your steed a scrub-down before you get back in your car.

The outside of Bloom art gallery on Thomas, WV's Main Street.
The outside of Bloom art gallery on Thomas, WV’s Main Street.

Other Things to Do in Tucker County, West Virginia

Of course, you probably won’t spend every waking minute hiking in West Virginia. You need to eat and relax, too. Here’s where to refuel and kick back.

Eat + Drink + Explore

There are a surprising amount of vegan options between the towns of Davis and Thomas. Don’t expect much beyond these small areas, but know that you won’t go hungry.

  • Wander around Davis and Thomas: In both Davis and Thomas you’ll find art galleries, local shops, eateries, and more. Take an hour or two and just meander up and down the streets to discover something new (we loved Bloom in Thomas and Sister Witches Crafting Company in Davis).
  • TipTop Coffee Shop: At this Thomas shop, you’ll find good coffee (really), a fun space, and not only bomb gluten-free vegan muffins (seriously), but also lots of specialty snacks and instant meals, many of which are vegan and/or gluten free. It’s a great place to start your day and grab some snacks for the trail.
  • Picnic Taco: The vegan options at this Thomas restaurant aren’t fancy, but for beans and rice, cabbage and sauce, it’s actually pretty good. Plus the space is fun and they have unique canned beverages available (alcoholic and non-alcoholic).
  • Elender’s: Also in Thomas, this is a casual-upscale dining establishment that serves world cuisine, including vegan options. Be prepared to get stuffed.
  • Hellbender Burrito: Located in Davis, this West Virginia-famous spot offers a wide variety of burritos, many of which can be made vegan. Filling and tasty.
  • Milo’s Cafe: The best combo of flavor and healthy options can be found here. Vegan poke bowls do not disappoint. There’s a full bar at this Davis restaurant, too.
  • Purple Fiddle: Like live music? While most shows have a cover charge, this is a local live music hotspot that also serves up alcoholic bevies.
  • Stumptown Ales: Not to be confused with the Portland, OR-based coffee roaster, this brewer in Davis is a chill spot to grab some tasty beer (or other locally-produced bevs). They specialize in hop-centric beers, but have something for everyone.
  • Find and snap photos on the Almost Heaven swings: These swings are scattered around the state and offer not only fun photo ops, but a ledge for your phone so you can take a winning self portrait!

Stay on a Farm at Laurel River Club BnB

Yup, a real-life BnB. No “air” involved. This one is located on a real working farm that offers hands-on experiences and education for guests, from an intro to forest farming to classes on how to make your own jam. It offers a peaceful, secluded, communal living experience right next to the Cheat River, plus breakfast. It’s off the beaten path about an hour from Davis, so prepare to truly feel like you’ve gotten away from it all as you enjoy bonfires by the water and lightning bugs across the lawn.

A couple sits on an Almost Heaven swing in Blackwater Falls State Park.
Sitting on an Almost Heaven swing in Blackwater Falls State Park.

Hiking in West Virginia: Bottom Line

There are plenty of trails and wilderness areas to keep you busy around Tucker County West Virginia. Go hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, heck, even white water rafting while you’re there. You’re sure to enjoy the Uber-green forested setting, rolling, tree-covered hills, and impressive natural water features. Just don’t forget your waterproof boots or hiking sandals, ’cause those trails can get muddy! Then get thee to West Virginia and wander on!