Length of stay: 1 day
Visited: November 2021
West Virginia is located within the Appalachian Mountain range and is often referred to as the Mountain State due to its abundance of hills and mountains. As such, West Virginia is known for a wide range of outdoor recreational activities, including skiing, rock climbing, and hiking.
We spent the night in a motel close to the West Virginia border and planned to drive south towards North Carolina. Along the way, we had a couple of hikes planned to soak in the views of the mountains and to break up the drive. We left our motel bright and early at 8a.m and the first stop on our itinerary was at Blackwater State Park.
But along the drive we passed a sign for Our Lady of Pines, which indicated that it was the smallest church in 48 states. Since it was located just off the main road, we decided to stop and check it out. The church was very adorable and since the door wasn’t locked, we popped inside to take a quick look around.
We then continued our drive to Blackwater Falls State Park, which has over 20 miles of hiking trails. The park is named after its 57-foot waterfall which appears a dark reddish brown, much like the colour of tea. This is caused by the tannic acid of fallen hemlock and red spruce needles.
We first hiked along the Blackwater Falls Boardwalk Trail (0.25 miles / 0.4km, rated difficult). The trail starts at the Trading Post parking area and leads to a series of viewpoints of the falls. The trail follows along a wide boardwalk and consists of more than 200 steps. The boardwalk follows the natural contours of the slope down to the waterfall. It was a bit icy closer to the falls due to the colder weather, so we had to watch our step. There were a few interpretive panels along the way that provide more information about how the waterfall was discovered and how the boardwalk was created.
We then hiked along the Lindy Point Trail (0.3 miles / 0.5km, rated moderate) which is located just past the sled run parking area. There’s a small parking lot that can accommodate a small handful of cars. The path winds through the forest and leads to an overlook that sits 3,000 feet above Blackwater Canyon. The trail was a bit muddy, but the colder temperature meant that the ground was partially frozen. There’s a viewing platform at the overlook. After soaking in the views, we turned around and walked back the way we came.
We then drove to the Seneca Caverns, which was a scenic drive through the mountains. We had to pass through a quarry, which seemed a bit sketchy, but we saw a sign for the caverns so we figured that this was the right way. And it was, but it turns out that the Seneca Caverns was closed for the season. What a bummer.
After eating a quick lunch, we hit the road again towards Spruce Knob, the tallest point in West Virginia. It was a steep drive up the mountain along a narrow road with lots of switchbacks. While there’s a few scenic viewpoints along the way, we drove straight to the top. From the parking lot it’s a short hike along the Whispering Spruce Trail (0.5mile / 0.8km loop) to get to the observation tower.
The views weren’t the greatest from the observation tower as they were largely blocked by towering spruces. However, continuing along the trail, there’s a few other scenic overlooks that provide unobstructed views into the valley below.
Afterwards we drove to Cranberry Glades Botanical Area, which is located in the Monongahela National Forest. The Glades consist of five small, boreal-type bogs that resemble an arctic tundra which are situated in the mountains at an elevation of 3,400 feet above sea level. It is one of West Virginia’s largest wetlands and is home to many rare plants and animals. There’s a short boardwalk that loops through part of the Glades. Along the way there were a few interpretive panels that provide more information about the area and the types of plants that are found here.
We hopped back in the car and drove to New River Gorge National Park. The park protects 53 miles of one of the oldest rivers in the world and is spread across a few different areas. By the time we arrived at the Canyon Rim Visitor Centre, it was late in the afternoon. We picked up a map and information guide of the park and then went to check out the overlook from behind the visitor centre.
We then set off to hike along the Canyon Rim Boardwalk Trail (0.1 miles / 0.16km roundtrip, rated easy with strenuous stairs) which leads to a couple of viewing platforms of the New River Gorge Bridge. The bridge was completed in 1977 and extends 3,030 feet (or 924 metres) over the New River Gorge. It was once the world’s longest single-span arch bridge and the world’s highest bridge carrying a regular roadway. It was built to cut down on travel times.
We then hopped back in the car and drove to the Grandview area, which features a few viewpoints above the river. It was a race against the clock as daylight was beginning to fade. By the time we arrived at the Main Overlook it was just after 5:15p.m and the sun had already set, but it wasn’t quite dark yet. We raced along part of the Canyon Rim Trail to the North Overlook. We reached the picnic area which contained two more overlooks before turning around as neither of us had any interest in getting lost in the dark. We then walked along the paved path through the amphitheatre and back to the main road and parking lot.
After reading the various storyboards around the visitor centre, we headed to our accommodations for the night. While we didn’t spend much time in West Virginia, it was nice to get a sense of the scenery and hit up some of the highlights along the drive.