Wild & Wonderful Staycations: Tucker County

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CANAAN VALLEY, W.Va. – If you’re looking for a New Year’s resolution for 2020, we hope that our new series will inspire you. We’re calling the series “Wild & Wonderful Staycations.” Periodically, WBOY staff will chronicle adventures big and small that they have in West Virginia and we invite you to do the same. As you read the article below, you’ll get an idea of what we’re looking for.

My family loves to travel and explore. West Virginia is great jumping off point, whether its hopping in the car for a fairly easy ride to the East Coast beach of your choice, or to great urban areas like Pittsburgh, D.C., Philadelphia, etc. You can also hop an inexpensive flight to Florida, Myrtle Beach, Dulles, Chicago, or BWI. We’ve racked up the land and air miles doing many of those things, but we’ve also always enjoyed a lot of what the Mountain State has to offer.

VIPP cards

We did, however, find ourselves going back to the same few places time and time again and decided we need to commit to broadening our horizons in our home state. We read an article about a family that was trying to visit all of West Virginia’s state parks over a summer and while we knew that was overly ambitious for us, it did lead us to the West Virginia State Parks Very Important Parks Person program(VIPP). When you sign up for the VIPP program, you are challenged to visit 15 parks and forests that are selected by the state and your choice of five more from the remaining 25 parks and forests. You complete the challenge at your own pace and when you do, you receive a reward. We’ve been slowly ticking parks off of our lists and have ended up at a few destinations we’d never been to before.

It’s the VIPP quest and my wife and son’s new ski equipment that lead us on our most recent adventure. The Saturday before Christmas, we got up early, loaded up our cold weather gear and headed off to one of our favorite parts of West Virginia: Tucker County.

We pulled into Canaan Valley Ski Resort a few minutes before it was set to open and found the parking lot mostly empty. My wife and seven-year-old son got geared up in their ski attire and we signed in for his lesson. At our request, the resort was kind enough to pair him with the same instructor he had last season, easing any trepidation he had about getting back on the slopes. With him occupied in his lesson, my wife had the opportunity to take a couple of runs on her own, knocking the rust off from last season, before taking on the responsibility of getting them both safely down the mountain. Toward the end of his lesson, my wife was able to tag along and get some tips on the best ways to get a kid on and off the lifts.

Hitting the slopes

The rest of my family was occupied on the slopes, but I don’t ski, preferring the stability of my own two feet. One of the many beauties of West Virginia is that if one activity isn’t your thing, there’s something else right around the corner. So not relegated to the sideline, I jumped back in the car and headed across Rt. 32 toward the lodge area of Canaan Valley State Park. After parking at the Balsam Swamp Overlook and taking a quick look at the trail map, I was quickly headed into the woods for a winter hike.

Headed into the woods
Railroad Grade Trail, Canaan Valley State Park

On the first trail, I followed the one set of footprints that had already been made in the light snow, which aided in avoiding the icier and muddier sections of the trail. It wasn’t long though, before I was the one making the first set of human prints in the snow as I turned onto a trail I’d never taken before. If solitude is what you’re looking for, the woods of West Virginia is where you need to head. After about an hour I ran into a woman hiking with two large dogs, the only human contact I had on my hike. I can’t tell you how many times that experience has repeated itself for me at state parks. As soon as you step away from the park’s best known attraction, like the ski slopes at Canaan, the falls at Blackwater, or the overlook at Coopers Rock, you seem to have the park to yourself.

My Charlie Brown Christmas Tree find

While the fitness benefits are one of the driving forces behind my hikes, I constantly remind myself to stop and enjoy my surroundings, taking pictures of the natural beauty or sometimes, just being quiet and listening. On this day, I was on the lookout for interesting ice formations, miniature waterfalls and different animal tracks in the snow. I stayed in the holiday spirit, keeping an eye out for the best example of a Charlie Brown Christmas Tree.

The landscape in the Canaan Valley is like few others in West Virginia. One minute you’re in a forest of scraggly, burled trees that will have you feeling like you’ve stepped into a scene from the Hobbitt or Christopher Robin’s Hundred Acre Wood. The next, you are looking out over a clearing or swamp, with mountains in the background.

After looping through the woods back to the car, I headed back across the road to catch my wife and son making their final run down the slopes. They were able to ski right up to the car, making getting all their gear loaded up, an easy task.

The stage at the Purple Fiddle

Having all worked up an appetite in the mountain air, we headed for the Purple Fiddle in Thomas. As luck would have it, the afternoon’s musical act was late in getting started and was still early in his set when we got there. As my wife and I ordered food and drinks at the counter, my son claimed a table just feet from the stage. I don’t know of very many other places where you can enjoy good food while being treated to an almost personal concert from a national recording artist performing just steps away.

This might all seem like enough fun for one day, but it would not have been complete for my son without a stop at Ranger Jane’s, which describes itself as a purveryor of “gifts and games for kids of all ages.” Ranger Jane herself is quick to greet you as you enter the early 1900s building. She’s just as quick to play a game with your child or show them how one of the classic and/or educational toys works. After a few games of “snipe hunt” with Ranger Jane, with a reproduction looking glass in hand, I was able to drag my son back to the car, as we literally drove off into a beautiful mountain sunset.

The day I described might not be your family’s idea of fun, but don’t let that stop you, there are plenty of other things to get out and do, in Tucker County alone. You can go tubing at Canaan, sledding at Blackwater Falls, try out cross country skiing or snowshoeing at White Grass or learn more about what makes the valley’s environment so unique at the National Wildlife Refuge. There’s also the amazing Mon National Forest, but that’s a whole article of its own. Be sure to top off whatever you do with a visit to one of the many fine places to eat in the area.

When you and your family head out for a “Wild & Wonderful Staycation” we’d love for you to share it with us. Send a write up along the lines of this one(it doesn’t have to be perfect, we’ll pretty it up for you) with some photos and videos to news@wboy.com and we’ll do our best to add it to our website.

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