West Virginia’s Canaan Valley Explained

Perched high up in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia is one of the largest wetland areas of its type in the southern and central Appalachian region. Canaan Valley encompasses 39 square miles in a bowl shaped valley, surrounded by mountains rising 1,000 feet above the valley floor. This is the crossroads where unique flora is found in both Canada and the southern United States.

A Young History

Settlers first came to the region in the early to mid-1800s. They primarily farmed, trapped and hunted for survival in an environment nothing like what is seen today. Nor will we ever see again. By 1922, the entire valley and its mountain sides and tops were completely clear cut. Not one single tree that could be used to make a 2 x 4 remained in what is today Dolly Sods, Canaan Valley, Canaan Mountain Backcountry, Blackwater Falls State Park and the surrounding area. Once the land was denuded, wildfires ensued, burning feet of humus and organic material that neither rain nor snow could put out. The town of Davis even had a small canal like feature dug around it and filled with water from the Blackwater River so the town did not burn.

Between 1922 and the 50’s, regeneration of the forest would begin with establishing the Monongahela National Forest. However, 13,000 acres of the Canaan Valley Floor was purchased by a power company and sat idle until 1994. This would be the beginning of what is today the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Hunters, fishermen, bird watchers, and recreationalists all enjoy the preservation and wildlife management provided. A brand new refuge center with interpretive displays open to the public is almost finished and will be complete by late spring 2020.

Pictures courtesy of Sara Fletcher and the Thompson Family. The date of the left picture is about 1910.

New Direction

Canaan Valley is not only a wildlife refuge but a destination for travelers, recreationalists, and vacationers. Beginning in 1950, the Ski Club of Washington, D.C., began developing ski slopes on the Valley side of Bald Knob of Cabin Mountain. Today, three ski resorts dot Cabin Mountain, all within a three mile stretch. Canaan Valley Resort, Timberline Mountain, and White Grass have been the backbone of tourism for decades.

What started as hunting and fishing cabins, have morphed into vacation homes and rental destinations. For urbanites looking for a true getaway, Canaan Valley, West Virginia has become what some proclaim as the “best kept secret in the east”. From rustic cabins, to exquisite homes, and simple hotels, there is an accommodation for everyone.

A stay in Canaan Valley is not complete without a visit to Canaan Valley State Park. Outdoor fun like mountain biking, golf, hiking, or swimming in the outdoor heated pool are just some of the amenities to partake in. Skiing and snow tubing in the winter keep the thrills coming at this four season vacation destination. Staying in the recently updated lodge, renting one of their cozy cabins, or setting up an RV or tent at the campground are all options for overnight stays and week long vacations.

Life passes us by too fast. Don’t miss out on one of the greatest natural settings so few have yet to discover. Fortunately Canaan Valley and the surrounding areas are vibrant communities full of restaurants, art galleries, breweries, events, shopping, and so much more. Open yourself to a West Virginia getaway in the heart of Appalachia. Your mind and soul will thank you.