West Virginia is a wonderful place to enjoy the great outdoors. You can camp, or stay at a lodge or cabin. Over weekend we headed to Blackwater Falls State Park in the Allegheny Mountains about 3 to 3.5 hours from DC.
About the Park
If you want to camp at Blackwater Falls State Park, it is important to book early. Only 20 of their 65 camp sites are designated and available for seasonal reservations. Long holiday weekends book up fast. Reservations are accepted until mid-February. I suggest that you request a shady spot as some sites were in the middle of a field, with few trees for shade, and no privacy. Caanan Valley Resort also has a campground, a lodge and cabins nearby as an alternative.
We chose to camp, but another family we were with booked a room at the Blackwater Falls Lodge, which was only a 5 minute drive from the campground. The rooms at the lodge were about $100/night. Campsites were $23/night. Pets are allowed in the campground.
Our Experience at the Lodge
The lodge turned out to be a great hangout and meeting place for us. Campers at the park are allowed to use the amenities of the lodge like the indoor pool, gift shop, video arcade, and restaurant. At the front desk there was a display of brochures on things to do in the area and at the park. You can get WiFi there and enjoy the large comfortable chairs by the fireplace. I visited the pool area daily to take a hot shower. It was clean and private. The campground showers were nice, but I preferred bathing at the pool bathrooms.
This trip we opted most mornings to eat breakfast at the lodge. They have a large breakfast buffet which opens at 7 a.m. It is $5.99 for kids (5 to 12) and $9.99 for adults. Kids 4 and under eat free. It was worth it to us to have a warm, leisurely, hearty breakfast each day without any cleanup. We ate most of our other meals at our campsite, but did head to the town of Davis about 5 minutes away for dinner one night when it was raining. The kids really wanted pizza and I was told that Sirrianni’s had great Italian food. To our disappointment, this sit down restaurant accepted only cash, so we went across to the other restaurant Hellbenders Burritos, which had also come highly recommended. Their burritos were HUGE and delicious starting at $6, and big enough to share. They had fresh lemonade and draft root beer too.
We found that many of the places on our trip only took cash. It was cash only at the ice cream place on our trip down, at the petting zoo within the park, at the paddle boat house, and at some restaurants. So make sure you bring lots of cash if you have a large group. Next trip I would head to the town of Thomas about 7 minutes away to go to the Purple Fiddle. It has a reputation to have family friendly music, good ice cream and sandwiches.
If you need extra food supplies there is a Shop and Save grocery story just about 7 minutes away in the town of Davis. It is a full service grocery store where you can get fresh meats and produce.
I peered into the room my friend and her family were staying in at the Blackwater Falls Lodge. The rooms were clean and comfortable, but small. There were also cabins near the lodge that could be rented. The campground bathrooms were probably the cleanest ones I’ve been to at any park. Firewood could be purchased at the check-in desk. The sites were large, but not private, and some sites were out in a big open field which I wouldn’t have liked. Children were playing pickup games of football and riding bikes around the camping loop. There are bike rentals in the park for a modest fee.
There are tons of fun activities in the area such hiking, mountain biking, rafting, horseback riding and more. One of the most popular hikes in the area is to Blackwater Falls where the water plunges five stories into the gorge. The trail to the falls is right by the Trading Post, a store within the park that sells gift items and snacks. It is a short 15 minute hike to the falls. There are many steps (over 200), which are separated by several spacious landings with benches. There are several observation spots to see the falls, so you don’t need to go all the way down to enjoy the falls.
Another short hiking trail that I would recommend is Lindy Point, which was near the lodge and cabins. It has spectacular views of the valley and the gigantic rocks. I would advise having children stay close by the adults though and not let them run ahead. It is too easy for them to squeeze behind the rails to climb on rocks with steep drops. Don’t ask me how I know. One day, we traveled to Caanan Valley Resort which was about 20 minutes away and rode chair lifts to the top of the mountain for scenic views. We did see people traversing up and down the mountain, but we enjoyed our relaxing ride up and down.
Nature Center at the Blackwater Falls
Blackwater Falls also has a nature center with daily programs. We attended one of their ranger led programs. We learned all about snakes…which was a good thing as the kids found an Eastern Milksnake (non-poisonous). We did also see deer along the road several times. Also by the Nature Center, you can rent paddle boats for $3 per person. There is also a petting zoo in the park which has baby animals and a trough with water and rocks for mining for “precious” stones.
While several in our group wanted to go horseback riding at a stable near Canaan Valley Resort, we went white water rafting on the Cheat River instead. It was the highlight of the trip for three tween boys. They were talking about it for days. We used the nearest outfitter, Blackwater Outdoor Adventure (BOA), and were pleased. Their trips are scheduled for 4 hours, but about 2 hours of that time is travel to/from the launch site and put in/take out time. The trips start at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. There is another longer trip that starts at 10 a.m. which includes lunch. It took us about 50 minutes on the winding mountainous roads to get to the meeting spot of Blackwater Outdoor Adventure, even though their literature said it is about 35 minutes from Blackwater State Park. Plan plenty of time to get there. They take children as young as 6 years on the family friendly part of the river.
If you don’t want to raft, they have flat water tubing and canoeing as well. Once at BOA we took a bus about 45 minutes away, traveling through a historic civil war town. Our guide, nicknamed “Sea Horse” was expert at guiding us through rapids with names like “Meat Grinder.” The boys LOVED the spots where they could jump out of the boat or off the rocks into the cool water. BOA sells a CD with pictures of the group going down the rapids for $20. We got lots of great shots that we couldn’t have gotten any other way. The cost of the rafting trip was $52.95 for adults and $44.95 for Youth (6-13).
A trip to the Wild and Wonderful state of West Virginia is an adventure and I highly recommend a trip to the area.
- Stop at the ice cream stand and market on US-48 (not too far from I-88). It’s a good place to stop and stretch. There is a playground there too. The wind turbines on US-48 were a site to behold.
- Bring lots of cash as many places don’t accept credit cards or checks.
- Don’t rely on your GPS. It might not work. Cell phone service is spotty.
Photos by Danielle Werchowsky.