canaan valley, dolly sods, west virginia
State Parks West Virginia

Trip Report: Canaan Valley & Dolly Sods in West Virginia

April 3, 2019
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Canaan Valley Resort in Tucker County, West Virginia, is a gorgeous state park with meadows, valleys, and the second largest inland wetland in the U.S. These areas combine to create beautiful, constantly-changing scenery on your hikes. One minute you are in a tall evergreen forest with small pools to the left & right, and the next, you are on a rocky, sandy plain surrounded by low brush. 

The Dolly Sods Wilderness is just a few miles from the park in the nearby Monongahela National Forest and is the highest plateau east of the Mississippi River. At just over 17,o00 acres, it contains around 45 miles of hiking trails, including Breathed Mountain and Blackbird Knob. 


History & Location

Canaan Valley is the site of the first commercial ski resort in West Virginia, and also boasts being the 500th National Wildlife Refuge in the country. 

Dolly Sods area was home to an aggressive logging industry. So aggressive, in fact, that it created fire problems. The forest removal resulted in several feet of dry needles & leftover branches that were quick to spark into disastrous flames once the overhead cover of the trees was removed.

Once that problem was taken care of, the Monongahela National Forest was officially established in 1920. The Army later used the area for training for troops headed off to World War II. 

With the help of the Nature Conservancy, the Dolly Sods Wilderness became a nationally designated wildlife area in 1975. 

dolly sods wilderness landscape

Resort & Cabins

Last time we visited, we enjoyed a weekend in the campground with Axl Roads, but this time around, we opted for a pet-friendly cabin. 

Canaan Valley Resort has 160 rooms, with 23 cabins located nearby – along with options for golfing & skiing. There’s a lounge, restaurant, gift shops, spa, pool & tennis courts – plus a picnic pavilion & playground. 

We stayed in pet-friendly Cabin 2 during the shoulder season – after the ski season was over, but before spring had sprung completely.

canaan valley resort map

The cabin was pretty rustic, and similar to our other state park experiences, had ceased being redecorated since the late 1970s (not a problem, those were great times, I’m sure). The resort maintains the cabins, so linens, towels and dishes/utensils are provided. 

Everything worked well- including the ah-mazing bathroom heater- and Sling TV was included so we didn’t have to miss any March Madness. 

We did come across the spookiest note ever left by a cleaning crew: 


We fortunately did not meet said spider, but we met his cousin, giant moth. Not nearly as ominous! 

Shoulder season comes with its surprises, as you can see from this before & after of our cabin on Saturday morning leading into a 70 degree day vs. Sunday morning at a crisp 30 degrees. 

canaan valley cabin sunny
canaan valley cabin snow

PRO TIP for the Cabins

Bring your own coffee, creamer & sugar – they have a coffee maker in each cabin – or plan on a quick drive to delicious Trailhead Coffee Shop in nearby Davis. While you’re there, don’t miss the peanut butter walnut muffin. 

The coffee served in the resort is…not the best. 

Trails & Wildlife

Since we had hiked Canaan Valley State Park at the end of last summer, we opted to visit Dolly Sods this time. 

Great decision on our part! 

We accessed the Dolly Sods trailhead by making a left out of the resort’s main entrance onto Appalachian Highway. 

Next, we made a right onto Freeland Road, following it until it turned into a dirt road & ended at a small parking lot. We hiked a little over a quarter mile to get to the trailhead. 

To the Dolly Sods Trailhead, WV

I’m not sure the reason, but these trails had numbers AND names. 

We took Rocky Ridge Trail (TR 524) to Blackbird Knob Trail (TR 511) and created an approximate 7-mile sort-of loop by returning on Harman Trail (TR 525). 

Dolly Sods Trail Map

As you can see from the trail map, we barely brushed the surface of what the enormous Dolly Sods has to offer- but we had a reason!

Did you meet Hazel? As the newest member of the family, we weren’t sure how far our little 5-month old jackabee would be able to hike. 

Fortunately, she did fine on her longest hike to date & had energy to spare…

Hazel hikes Dolly Sods 1

Franklin & Hazel found the trails we explored to be very dog-friendly and slightly challenging because of the rocks & constantly changing, uneven terrain. They appreciated the little streams & few small pond/ puddles, too. Any chance to achieve maximum muddiness during a hike is ALWAYS appreciated by those two!

Here’s a few images of the changing terrain I mentioned. Keep in mind, these pics were all taken on the same hike! 

dolly sods dog hike 2
dolly sods dog hike 3
dolly sods trailhead dog hike

Because of the water along some of the trails, I kept expecting to see salamanders, but no go. 

However, towards the end of the hike, I thought I heard traffic – but then I remembered how far off the road we  were.

Then I thought it might be a gaggle of turkeys- so loud and barky, it seemed! 

It actually turned out to be hundreds of frogs, jumping & mating all along the watery sides of the trail near where we had parked! I don’t know how we missed them heading in, or if they waited until the sun was all the way out to get really active, but they were hopping up & down all over.

Upon closer inspection of the puddles, they were also apparently laying huge amounts of tadpole eggs!

mating frogs wv
dolly sods tadpoles
dolly sods tadpole groups

Fun fact: tadpoles take about 9 weeks to mature, so you still have some time to get to Dolly Sods & check them out!

After all of the field guides we accumulated last year, we may need to invest in a frog & toad one soon!


SIDE TRIP: Smallest Church in 48 States

About 10 miles outside of Canaan Valley, in Preston County, WV, you’ll find the Smallest Church in 48 States. 

This adorable little 12×24′ stop is a tiny Catholic Church called Our Lady of the Pines and sits cozily next door to the World’s Smallest Post Office. 

Both are great photo ops and had open doors on the Sunday morning we visited. 

The tiny church has tiny pews and a tiny altar, and the tiny Post Office has tiny PO boxes and a tiny desk area. 

Totally worth a tiny bit of time to visit & see for yourself!

smallest church in 48 states
smallest mailing office west virginia


Side Trip, Part Deux: The Fairfax Stone Historical Monument 

File this under, “We Stopped So You Don’t Have To”. 

The Fairfax Stone Historical Monument is tucked back about 2 1/2 miles from the main road with signs leading you straight to it. 

But don’t blink or you’ll miss it!

It is literally a stone- and not a very big one- 

that reads: 

The story about the stone and what it delineates is so convoluted, I won’t even try to summarize it here. For history buffs, you can read this long article about it. Suffice to say, it has marked off different boundaries for different people & different states at different times. 

Essentially, the stone marks the start of the Potomac River and was the dividing point of a land dispute involving this part of Virginia (now West Virginia) and Maryland. 

The start of the Potomac River is…well, real small. A trickle, really. 

fairfax stone, potomac river confluence

To top off the story, the Stone has been stolen or vandalized a bunch of times, so this most recent one is from 1957. 

A random 1910 stone near it is a temporary-replacement-turned-permanent-fixture from one of the times the “original” was stolen.

fairfax stone 1910 stone


The Last Word

The Canaan Valley State Park Resort & Dolly Sods Wilderness areas are filled with a variety of terrain you won’t see anywhere else in this part of the country, and you can do it for less money & with less crowd in early spring!

dolly sods, suns out, tongues out
All this hiking may leave you wanting this simple older RV mod. Just do it!
Or maybe you want a place to keep a list of all your favorite trails. Also easy to do!