A recent trip to West Virginia led me to wonder, what is the best state park in the Mountain State?
Although several parks came up in my internet searches, Blackwater Falls State Park is mentioned in nearly every list.
Located in Davis, W.Va., near the southwest point of the Maryland panhandle, Blackwater Falls is noted as one of the most-photographed parks in the state.
The name Blackwater comes from the tannins of fallen spruce and hemlock needles that leach into the water to tint it the color of tea. Featured attractions of the park are the 57-foot Blackwater Falls and more than 15 miles of hiking and biking trails.
A series of stairs and boardwalks with viewing platforms descend from the canyon rim to provide a close-up experience with the falls. The falls can also be seen from above from an overlook on the aptly named Gentle Trail.
Rock outcroppings at Lindy Point, Pendleton Point and Pase Point provide panoramic vistas where hikers pause to gaze at the outstretched Blackwater Canyon. The experience is enhanced by the soundtrack provided by the river roaring 400 feet below.
Visitors who venture off the asphalt are rewarded by lush green carpets of ferns on the forest floor. Thickets of mountain laurel and rhododendron are accented by white and pink flowers. Spruce, hemlock and mixed hardwoods provide a canopy overhead with the peeling light-colored bark of yellow birch providing an accent throughout the forest.
Although none of the trails within the park is very long — trails are listed from .25 to 1.5 miles — hikers can easily put together longer hikes by connecting two or three of the named trails. Several trails also connect to an extensive hiking and biking trail network worth exploring in the Monongahela National Forest.
State park trail maps are sufficient for hiking in the park, but those wanting to explore outside the park should pick up the Canaan Valley Area Trail Map featuring the Heart of the Highlands Trail system at the state park lodge and the Davis Visitor Center.
A 54-room lodge with restaurant offering breakfast, lunch and dinner is located on the south rim of the canyon.
The River Road Trail connects the park with the town of Davis by 1.6 miles of abandoned railroad grade. Davis and the neighboring town of Thomas each offer a handful of locally-owned restaurants and brewpubs. Artists’ studios and gift shops line the main streets. Visitors should be aware that many of the shops and restaurants are closed on Monday and Tuesday.
Traditional cabins are available on the south side of the canyon while more modern, duplex-style cabins are located on the north side. There are 65 sites in the park’s campground, 30 with electric hookups. The park offers kayak rentals for a paddle on the reservoir. A nature center is open during summer months.
Lodge employees tell me that fall is the busiest time of year for the park. The park also offers a sled run, cross-country skiing and snow shoeing for winter-sports enthusiast. Downhill skiing is also available at nearby Canaan Valley Resort, another member of the W.Va. State Park system.