Canaan Valley, W.Va., lies just three hours east of Washington, D.C. But its lively, snow-dusted towns seem like Colorado ski burghs bumped 1,500 miles eastward.
The towns of Davis and Thomas, lying in the highest mountain valley of the east, rustle up tasty vittles, craft brews, art and entertainment that belies the burghs’ tiny size of about 600 souls each. Music venues, art galleries, cafes, and brick-oven pizzerias stand just a hop, skip and jump down the street from bed-and-breakfasts or motels. Parking — no worries.
Plus, Canaan Valley Resort and Blackwater Falls both make the season merry by throwing holiday dinners and New Year’s Eve parties with all the fixings.
This area averages 160 inches of the white stuff each winter, so finding outdoor things to do is not a problem. In addition to Canaan Valley Resort State Park’s ski and snowboard slopes and its snow tubing park — with the longest lanes in the East — the resort’s outdoor ice skating rink has its bonfires lit and roaring to warm day and night skaters.
Both the valley’s state parks — Canaan Valley and Blackwater Falls — rent cross country skis and snowshoes for a day’s romp in the fields and forests. White Grass Ski Touring Center offers guided snowshoe tours led by naturalists and local historians. The center was named best cross country ski resort in North American by “USA Today” not long ago, due in part to its nearly 20 miles of groomed trails. With access to 18 more miles of curvy trails as well as the Dolly Sods Wilderness, this Nordic wonderland beckons to telemark masters and novice skinny skiers alike.
Eager to enjoy the outdoors without the effort? Grab a sled and hit the hill at Blackwater Falls Sled Park; gravity will do the work. At a quarter mile long, this is one of the lengthiest sled runs you’ll find east of the Mississippi and one of a very few in the Mid-Atlantic region. Feel the rush as you zoom down this slope for what feels temporarily like forever. A conveyor carpet transports riders back up to the hilltop. Lights twinkle away the darkness, allowing sledders many post-dusk runs.
Insider Tip: Bump up your energy with a s’mores kit from the nearby ski center. There’s always a crackling fire, and you can switch out your standard chocolate bar for a Mounds or Kitkat, if you wish.
If you hit a spell when the snow isn’t cooperating enough to make x-c skiing or snowshoeing fun, consider fat tire snow biking. Fat tire bikes are off-road bicycles with oversized tires and rims. They go in snow; they bounce over surfaces over where a normal bike would sink. Not only do fat tire bikes get you outside, they give you a workout. On a fat bike, you can burn up to 1,200 calories an hour having fun. Blackwater Bikes in Davis has a fleet of these bikes to rent by the hour or the day.
Lodging in Canaan ranges from cabins with hot tubs and fireplaces, to bed-and-breakfasts, to Billy Motel’s “retro room and a cocktail” and dirt-cheap rooms over Thomas’s Purple Fiddle music venue and café. Canaan Valley Resort State Park offers 160 woodsy-elegant guest rooms, a restaurant, spa and pool. Perched upon a plateau with sweeping vistas of the surrounding mountains, the resort has a variety of accommodations. Ten miles away, Blackwater Falls State Park also offers a lodge and restaurant with sweeping views of its iconic waterfalls.
For good eats, consider TipTop’s brunches, Hellbender Burrito’s yummy takes on Mexican food, and Sirianni’s Café for inventive pizzas. Blackwater Brewing Company practices the art of making artisanal, European-style beer to accompany its wood-fired flatbreads, and Stumptown Ales produces some fine hoppy beers, including an ale brewed with cocoa nibs and coffee.
Winter makes a great time to visit this lovely, open valley where deer wander past lodge windows and the sun sets cranberry red over fields of snow.