Around the US, West Virginia

Winter at Blackwater Falls

Blackwater Falls is one of the loveliest places in West Virginia and especially well-located in Tucker County near lots of other fantastic places to explore! While I’ve been there numerous times over the years, we decided to spend this past Christmas at a cabin in the state park, which was an excellent decision in my opinion…even with the unexpected power outage.

In order to gather for Christmas but still incorporate some social distancing, my mom and her siblings each rented cabins at Blackwater with my grandparents in their own cabin. We drove through snow on our way up to Blackwater, and by the time we got to the park, we were truly in a Winter Wonderland. Day one was mainly just unpacking and decorating the cabins. In the evening, we took battery-powered candles and caroled to all the cabins that were occupied by other visitors. This was one of my favorite parts of the trip as a whole because I love caroling, and it was so much fun to go walking through the snow and singing.

On the second day, we went to the sled run, which is one the highlights of Blackwater Falls in the winter. Though it’s not always open at Christmas, they had so much snow that they were able to open early this year. Everyone loved the sled run! It’s a quarter-mile downhill, and you can reach speeds of 30 mph, which is a wild, fun ride. But about halfway through our time, the power went out for the park and much of the surrounding area. This wasn’t much of a problem at the moment – we were already outside and cold, so that didn’t change. And we got a full refund on our sledding, which meant that all the sledding we did do was actually free! But since walking up to the top of the sled run was not fun (usually there’s a conveyor belt to the top of the hill), we went separate ways after that. I joined the group that hiked out to Table Rock, and while the pictures show that people at the cabins had fun too, I like my pick. Despite the difficulty of hiking through the snow and mud, the views were very much worth the effort! And, since there was so much fresh snow, we had plenty of water available while walking – you just had to grab a handful and bite in.

Our Blackwater Falls cabin

As it got cold and dark that afternoon (think 2 pm), we did our gift exchange, and I enjoyed the hot soup that my mom managed to cook by setting the pot close to the fire. It was a chaotic evening, but that was to be expected, and that’s a huge part of the fun anyway. When the gifts were done, it was still early in the evening but it was already very dark. My family drove into town and found a restaurant with power where we bought some hot food for dinner. I was subsequently grateful that I’d downloaded movies and charged my computer because that ended up being our entertainment before we settled down for a cold night. The park provided extra blankets and refunds to everyone who opted to stay despite the cold and lack of power, but it was still chilly.

Day 3 of the trip consisted mainly of exploring the park in the snow – mainly by car, though we did see the falls as well – and moving into a cabin with heat. Our general assessment was that it wasn’t too bad, and if we’d been planning to go somewhere without heat or electricity, we would have been fine, but as it was, the situation was uncomfortably cold. With more snow predicted for that evening, moving to the newer cabin was a good call, even if it didn’t have the same feel as the older, more rustic ones. Finally, on our last full day at Blackwater, we did some more fun activities like ice skating and skiing and also just driving around to see the snow on all the mountains. All in all, a great trip, in my opinion! Losing power was just part of the adventure, and that made it a trip I’ll never forget!

Want to see part of our trip in video form? Check out my aunt Kristi’s video here!

Ready to plan your own trip to Blackwater Falls and Tucker county? Read on!

Table Rock with a view of Blackwater Canyon

Planning Your Trip: All the Details

Probably the first thing to say here is that you – most likely – will not lose power due to a massive snowstorm while here. There are generators for the newer cabins and lodge, and as there are towns nearby, electrical problems are typically fixed quickly. While we were there, the amount of snow and location of the damaged power line made it difficult to fix. Additionally, Blackwater Falls offered refunded everyone whose cabins lost power, and helped out those who stayed by offering extra blankets. We also had an option to go to the lodge at Canaan Valley, and when we switched to a more expensive luxury cabin after the power stayed off, we were given a discount on the price. So basically, we had an adventure, but it shouldn’t put you off visiting Blackwater Falls or staying a few nights there. The Tucker County area is one of my favorite parts of West Virginia, and is a great place to visit any time of year!

Blackwater River

What to Do

The first thing on this list is, obviously, seeing the falls. There are two ways to do this. When driving into the park, you’ll reach a fork in the road. One way will take you to the rustic cabins and conference center, while the other will go to the trading post, luxury cabins, camping area, and – farther out – Pendleton Lake. If you start the drive to the rustic cabins, you will soon see a small parking area and a sign for the Gentle Trail. This is a short, flat, handicap-accessible trail that takes you out to an overlook of the falls (shown in the last picture of this post). Your other option is to drive to the Trading Post (where you can also buy souvenirs) and walk down a couple hundred stairs. There are overlooks periodically along this route, so you don’t have to walk all the way down, but it’s pretty cool to stand so close to the falls that the water splashes on you! Whichever route you pick, seeing the falls is an essential part of your trip!

There are also longer trails in Blackwater Falls, that can be done in summer or winter. In winter, you can do these trails on your own or rent skis or snowshoes if you want to try your skills with one of those. While there this winter, we did the Table Rock Trail, which had beautiful views of the Canaan Valley. This is not actually in Blackwater Falls State Park but is in the surrounding Monongahela National Forest. You’ll leave Route 32 for Canaan Loop Road, and you’ll need 4-wheel drive to reach the trailhead, especially in the snow. It’s very out of the way, and you can enjoy beautiful scenery on other trails as well, but I loved hiking out to Table Rock, even through the snow and mud.

Finally, there are a few seasonal activities, namely Pendleton Lake and the Sled Run. You can visit Pendleton Lake and Falls any time of year, but the lake is especially popular in the summer when you can swim in the lake or rent kayaks, canoes, or paddle-boats. In the winter, the Blackwater Falls Sled Run is a major attraction, and for a good reason. The sled run is a quarter-mile downhill, and you can reach speeds of about 30mph on your sled! It’s a lot of fun and was one of the main reasons we wanted to stay here at Christmas.

Blackwater Falls in summer after a good rain (about 3/4 of the way to the end of the trail)

When to Go

As I’ve said, Blackwater Falls is excellent any time of year, and there’s a lot to do in the area as well. Really, the only consideration when deciding when to visit is what you want to do. Swimming, for example is limited to summer (between Memorial Day and Labor Day), while the Sled Run is only in winter and opening day will depend on snowfall. Additionally, while boat rentals on Pendleton Lake are still an option in the fall, you can only do this on weekends due to the lower number of visitors. Peak seasons here are summer and winter, but Blackwater is beautiful any time of year. If you mainly want to hike and don’t care about swimming or sledding, fall would be a wonderful time to plan your visit. My family has done multiple trips to this area in the fall, and it’s always beautiful.

Snow-covered trees as far as the eye can see

What to Eat

Our plan, in staying at the cabins, was to cook our own food and not have to eat out. We mostly did this, but we did end up getting takeout during the power outage. While the Blackwater Falls lodge does have a restaurant (The Smokehouse), which would be most convenient for those staying the park, at the time that we were looking for food, they still didn’t have power. So we did an investigative search to find food in Davis, West Virginia, which basically meant driving around to see who had power. We ended up with the Sawmill Restaurant, which had a nice selection of good food that was, most importantly, warm. Sawmill advertises itself as a rustic eatery with home-cooking, and while it wasn’t especially memorable, the food was solid, and I would eat there again!

Davis has other restaurants as well that are worth checking out if you don’t feel like cooking. Since the whole town is basically on one street, it’s not hard to browse the selection and find one that appeals. Going back, I would like to try Hellbender Burritos and Siranni’s Cafe in particular.

If you don’t mind a slightly longer drive, you can head into the town of Thomas and check out a restaurant I loved on a previous trip: The Purple Fiddle. The offerings here are, like the Sawmill Restaurant, basically your standard American restaurant fare with a variety of options. The Purple Fiddle is a fun little place to eat, and they frequently have live music in the evenings.

Finally, I can also speak to the Hickory Dining Room at the Canaan Valley Resort, which has similar options as The Sawmill and The Purple Fiddle, but is a little fancier and has nice views overlooking the area.

Snowy driving

Where to Stay

The Blackwater Falls area is one of the big tourist destinations in West Virginia, so you have a few options. At the state park itself, you can camp, stay at a rustic or luxury cabin, or get a room at the lodge. Close by, you can stay at the Canaan Valley Resort, and you can also camp or stay in a cabin here, though generally Canaan is slightly more expensive than Blackwater.

The Blackwater Falls lodge and Canaan Valley Resort are both fairly standard hotels, though you can upgrade to nicer rooms, especially at Canaan Valley. Both places have a restaurant on-site, and you can stay in comfort near ski trails and other attractions in the area.

Both Blackwater and Canaan Valley have two levels of cabins. The classic cabins at Blackwater are smaller but still have running water and electricity (most of the time). However, there is no air conditioning in these cabins, and even with heat, it can be nice to have a fire during winter. The vacation cabins at Blackwater are bigger than the classic ones and come with temperature controls, a washer/dryer set, and a dishwasher. One disappointing part however is that there’s a gas fireplace instead of a wood-burning one. At Canaan, there is a distinction between cottages and cabins. None of these have air conditioning, but the cottages are larger, handicap-accessible, and come with satellite TV.

Finally, you have the option to camp at one of a few campgrounds at either Blackwater or Canaan. This is the most rustic option, of course, but you’ll still have access to showers as well as the park’s recreational activities. Backpacking and dispersed camping is also an option in the National Forest.

There are also a few places to stay nearby, for example at the Purple Fiddle in Thomas or the Alpine Lodge in Davis that adjoins the Sawmill Restaurant.

Yours truly, walking in a winter wonderland (and eating snow)

Nearby Extras

While at Blackwater, you’re close to a lot of West Virginia’s biggest attractions, so it can be worth visiting one or more of them. This is a condensed list of some of the closest options, but you can easily find more.

Davis and Thomas

These two West Virginia towns are fun little places to visit. There are lots of small businesses like some of the restaurants mentioned before as well as lots of little shops. These are the sort of small towns where you don’t expect much but will undoubtedly be charmed after a few days in the area. As a kid, I especially loved being in Thomas for the 4th of July and seeing the fireworks. You’ll probably stop in one or both of these towns if you go out to eat, but it’s worth taking some extra time and maybe checking out a few of the shops or art galleries or even staying to see some live music. You’ll also be able to rent or buy outdoor gear in either town if you need it.

Canaan Valley State Park

Because of how close it is to Blackwater Falls, it’s easy to add this to your visit. In winter, Canaan Valley is especially popular with skiers and snowboarders, many of whom may chose to stay at the park’s resort though you can just as easily visit from Blackwater. The area is absolutely beautiful any time of year, and you have lots of options for hiking and backpacking. In winter, the Canaan Valley Resort also has an outdoor ice skating rink, which, though small, was a lot of fun. Also in the area is the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Within the refuge there are nature programs as well as many trails to explore.

Dolly Sods Wilderness

Dolly Sods Wilderness is an amazing part of Wild, Wonderful West Virginia. While you can drive through the area and still see a lot of its beauty, there are also several 50 miles of trails for hiking or backpacking. Bear Rocks is the number one place to stop, and you’ll easily see the parking pull-off. Rather obviously, this is a rocky area, and you can walk out to the edge of the rocks to take pictures of the view or to pretend you’re falling. Just be careful not to actually fall as there are some massive drops. To read more about the area, check out this post.

Seneca Rocks State Park

Seneca Rocks is a beautiful spot to visit that’s popular with rock climbers (for obvious reasons). For those are hoping to learn about rock climbing, there are classes here to learn, but if that’s not to your taste, you can hike, bike, or ride horses. A loop trail near the visitor center will also take you to an overlook where you can get a good look at the rocks without doing anything too strenuous. Nearby, you’ll also be able to visit either Seneca or Smoke Hole Caverns where you can take a tour through some amazing caves. If you’re especially interested in activities near Seneca Rocks, you have the option to stay around here and do Blackwater Falls as a day-trip instead.

Green Bank Observatory

Though it’s about an hour and a half drive from Blackwater Falls, I love Green Bank, so I have to include it here. There are several radio telescopes on the site, and they’ve made or helped make several important astronomical discoveries in the decades since the first telescope was built on-site. Green Bank is in a National Radio Quiet Zone, which means you won’t have service in the area and if you take the bus tour out to the telescopes (which you should), you’ll have to leave your phone in your car or put it in a Faraday Cage to prevent it from interacting with the telescopes and confusing the data. If you want to take pictures of the telescopes, you’ll need to bring a disposable camera with you and develop the film later. Or just take pictures at the visitor center overlook where you can use your phone. The museum and bus tour are the main parts of your visit, and it’s a fun trip that I love doing again and again.

Harpers Ferry

While not close enough to be a day trip, when I visited with my family over Christmas, we tacked on an extra couple days to visit Harpers Ferry, WV which was the site of John Brown’s Raid in 1859 and currently houses the Appalachian Trail headquarters. I won’t go into a lot of detail here though since it’s too far for just a short stop. If you’d like more detailed information about visiting Harpers Ferry, check out my blog post here!

Last day photos on the Gentle Trail overlook

Final Notes

I loved visiting Blackwater Falls this Christmas, and I would absolutely recommend a visit either to this park alone or to the area as a whole. There’s a lot to do and see, and it’s a truly beautiful area. It’s a great place to vacation any time of year whether you have a few days or a full week. If you have the opportunity to go, it’s well worth the trip!


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