Riding the Blackwater Canyon Rail TrailJuly 5, 2018
127 years ago Henry Gassaway Davis and his company, the West Virginia Central and Pittsburgh Railway, constructed a 12 mile rail line from Thomas, WV to Hendricks, WV. This was an incredible feat for that time period. Their efforts are currently enjoyed by hikers and bikers who can travel freely between Thomas and Hendricks, and beyond to Parsons then Elkins on the Allegheny Highlands Rail Trail. The rail trail specifically between the Douglas gated entry point and Hendricks is an under modified rail grade. Ideal for hiking and wide tired bikes, whether hybrid or mountain bike.
Riding from Hendricks to Parsons and on to Elkins is another story. The riding surface, signage, and trail heads are what would be expected from any seasoned rail trail user. When planning a ride through the Blackwater Canyon, a car shuttle set up is ideal, leaving one vehicle in Hendricks, then returning to Thomas to begin your adventure downhill. If a shuttle is not possible and you are second guessing the level of energy for a return trip up the canyon, simply park in Hendricks and head up river until your hearts content. FYI, hiking or biking upstream always lends itself to superior views of the river and scenery. A third option is to pay for shuttle service through Blackwater Bikes or Digger Adventures.
Trail access and parking is found less than a mile from Thomas. Drive down Douglas Rd and you can park where the Rail Falls street sign is, or drive down Rail Falls Rd and park anywhere along it. This is where your adventure begins. First sight of interest are the coke ovens of Coakton, excellent interpretive signs and a bike rack can be found at this historical site.
Waterfalls are abundant along the North Branch of the Blackwater, the most popular being Douglas Falls. Once beyond the gate and Douglas Falls, raging whitewater and near vertical walls of the river bank are hundreds of feet below as are the towering cliffs and trees above the opposing side of the Allegheny Highlands Trail.
Tub Run and Big Run are two spectacular creeks worth hiking up or taking a cool natural shower on a hot summer day. Massive stone archways and culverts, requiring unheard of engineering and a work force beyond modern day comprehension, span each creek. Train wrecks were not uncommon in these locations due to the tight bends in the track each creek created in the natural topography over millions of years.
The Backwater Canyon is a true gem and the Allegheny Highlands Trail is the ideal access to our wild and wonderful, West Virginia.