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Virginia's Canaan Valley
Thomas R. & Deborah A. Fletcher
“Truly unique” and “very true,” phrases heard many times on the
24-hour cable news shows, seem to have infected travel coverage in some circles.
Something is either true or it isn’t, it is never “very true.”
The same goes for unique, something either is or it isn’t, no
"very" needed. We’ll
spare you the superlatives and simply describe
West Virginia’s Canaan Valley. Sitting at an average elevation of
3200', this high, unexpected valley is found amid the state’s steepest
mountains in Tucker
County. Fifteen miles long and up to five
miles wide, ringed by mountains reaching heights towering far above 4,000’,
this is the highest valley of its size east of the
Though resident Bill Thomas complains about the “terrible” July heat,
most people find a high of 86 degrees to be quite nice, especially those
familiar with the stifling heat of the city—any city. This naturally beautiful place creates its own weather system; as the
valley air cools at night to saturation, a dense fog forms that doesn’t burn
away until mid-morning on most summer days. Sunrise
finds the valley filled with fog. The
dense fog takes on the fluid look of water, transforming the valley’s
appearance into that of a vast mountain lake.
This rare natural treasure high in Tucker County’s steep, forested
mountains features some nationally significant wetlands, recognized by the
setting aside of the US Fish & Wildlife Service’s 500th
National Wildlife Refuge, The Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge.
Portions of the valley were first set aside in 1974 as a National Natural
Landmark These landmarks form a diverse group of places that illustrate the
natural history of the US. On August 11, 1994 the US Fish
& Wildlife Service purchased the land that would become Canaan Valley
National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge
was established to preserve the ecological diversity of the valley. The high altitude, cool climate and moist soil combine to form an
ecosystem supporting a host of plant species more typically found much further
north. Drained by the Blackwater
contains 8,400 acres of wetlands, the largest freshwater wetlands area in the
Appalachians, and West Virginia’s most important wetland.
is home to more than 580 species of plants, many deposited here with the last
Ice Age. Trapped in the high, wide
valley, they missed their ride on the retreating glaciers back to Canada.
Nearly twenty percent of these
(109 of the 580 species) are listed as typically found in more northern
climates. Twenty-five species are
listed as rare in West Virginia (including Northeastern Lady Fern, Nannyberry, and Jacob’s Ladder). Wet meadows, alder thickets, and swamp forest make up much of the valley
floor and provide home to 290 species of fauna (birds, mammals, reptiles,
amphibians, and fishes), including the threatened Cheat Mountain Salamander and
the endangered Virginia Northern Flying Squirrel.—both listed on the
Endangered Species list. Development
of the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge emphasizes wildlife management,
environmental education, and wildlife recreation.
As tourism has taken hold in the valley; related retail, recreational,
and service jobs have largely replaced timbering and farming that once provided
the livelihoods of area residents.
Canaan Valley Resort & Conference
makes an excellent place to stay and explore the valley’s many recreational
opportunities. Managed by US Hotel &
Resort Management, the resort state park features a 250-room lodge, 34 campsites, 23
cabins, a full-service ski area, dining and conference center, an 18-hole
championship golf course, paintball arena, fitness center, indoor and outdoor
pools, 18 miles of trails for hiking or biking. The surrounding
features an additional 150 miles of marked trails.
Mountain bike and helmet rentals are available at the resort.
Cyclists can now hitch a ride to the top of the mountain via the
chairlift and bike cradle. Sight-seers
enjoy riding the chairlift for the scenic views of the mountains and valley. This AAA-Three Diamond property is a great place to stay and enjoy the
great outdoors in all four seasons.
The motel-style rooms are clean and comfortable—with in-room coffee
pots, a very important amenity and one of the first things we look for in our
in all, Canaan Valley Resort & Conference
is located in a natural paradise and represents one of the most reasonable
vacation bargains to be found in the US.
A hike to the top of Bald Knob puts everything in perspective.
the first morning trip up the chair-lift to the top of the mountain to begin our
hike. From the chairlift drop-off it
is approximately 1.5 miles to the peak
Bald Knob. The knob stands as a sentry
overlooking the vast valley, offering some of the best valley views.
We wanted to be early,
to catch the best morning light as the morning sun burned off the fog, and to
have some time alone at the peak We
expected a great view, but didn’t expect to find an abundance of ripe
blueberries. The bushes covering
Bald Knob were loaded and we made full use of this natural snack food loaded
with antioxidants. We could have easily filled a five-gallon bucket with the
For guests who want to stretch beyond the resort’s 6015 acres, West Virginia
has several other spectacular attractions within a short drive from the resort
Blackwater Falls State Park, Spruce Knob/Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, whitewater rafting on the
River, Dolly Sods, and Otter Creek Wildernesses.
If You Go:
Canaan Valley, Tucker County, West Virginia
morning in Canaan Valley. 3,190' high, the largest and highest
valley east of the Rocky Mountains
Shifting light over Canaan Valley, viewed from Bald Knob
in the view, Bald Knob
here if you would like to use this feature or one of these photos
Text and Photos
Copyright Thomas R. Fletcher / PROSE AND PHOTOS