After our longer-than-planned stay in Circleville, Ohio, we made the few hours’ drive northeast to Tucker County, West Virginia. We didn’t have much knowledge of the area, and didn’t even expect to be there!
See, during our sojourn in Circleville, we received an email from our contact at the Visit Southern West Virginia office. Unbeknownst to us, there was massive flooding and a natural disaster – where, unfortunately, over 20 people lost their lives – in the area around Fayetteville, WV. We were supposed to be spending a week there, and we all decided it’d be a good idea for us not to put ourselves in the middle of rescue and cleanup efforts.
We didn’t think it was wise for our happy-go-lucky selves to insert that into hundreds of people trying to deal with a very serious situation. Sadly, we had to adjust our plans and skip the wonderful Fayetteville area this time around. Our Airbnb host was kind enough to split the difference with us and donate the money we paid to the victims of the flooding.
Lisa, our wonderful coordinator at visitwv.com, connected us with a local tourist board upstate, and they both helped us find a place to stay and a different area to explore. So, that’s how we ended up in Tucker County, WV.
First, though, we had to leave Circleville. Almost immediately heading off for West Virginia, the landscape changed into mountains. We would not see flat land again until we got to Tennessee a couple weeks later.
West Virginia is, after all, the Mountain State. Most people outside of the northeast don’t really think of the state as a destination; and boy, are they sorely mistaken. This mountainous landscape is full of gorgeous natural sites and wonderful people with an interesting array of personalities.
I’d driven through West Virginia multiple times throughout the course of my life, but had spent exactly zero time stopped here. It was about time we got with the program.
We ended up based just outside the town of Davis and its twin town of Thomas, and while their combined population is about 1,200 people, the community is growing with all sorts of wonderful success stories currently occurring or on the horizon. All you need to do is look at the population numbers and then look at the fact that they already have three breweries. (!!!!!)
Sure, this area has its issues, and West Virginia has its issues as a whole. But, what state doesn’t? (I can’t count the number of people I saw hating on a travel and living message board before our trip, so I felt like addressing that real quick.) While I don’t think I could live here just because of the fact that it’s so remote, I could definitely spend way more than a week here. Or, maybe I’ll want to live here some day. Who knows?!
We’ll get into where we stayed and where we ate in another post. First, though, let’s look at what we did outside of stuffing our faces with deliciousness.
The area is a natural wonderland, mostly made up of the Canaan Valley area, which is a National Natural Landmark. This region is made up of the Allegheny Mountains, part of the massive Appalachian Mountain chain that runs down the eastern side of the U.S. It is loaded with rugged terrain, protected wetlands, unique flora and fauna, wildlife preserves, and plenty of state parks. Monongahela National Forest is here, and just outside Tucker County, more of that forest includes other very interesting National Recreation Areas and protected reserves. It seems endless, really.
Blackwater Falls State Park
There are quite few trails to hike or walk here, camping areas, and recreation areas. The focal point, though, are the Blackwater Falls themselves, which cascade over 60 feet (18 meters) down the Blackwater River. There’s more than one overlook, and the scenic beauty here is really worth standing around and ogling for quite some time.
In addition to the falls, we checked out Lindy Point, which was about a 20-minute easy trail walk from our car to the overlook. Here, you can hang out on the rocks above the canyon, in awe of its gorgeous looks.
Just south of Davis is the Canaan Valley area itself, which includes Canaan Valley Resort State Park, which includes a ski area, the second largest inland wetlands in the United States, and more, more, more green goodness.
We drove around here quite a bit, but the highlight was heading over to the ski area to take the lift up to the top of the mountain.
This vantage point provided sweeping views of the area, a fun and scenic ride to the top, and a downhill hike as we elected to explore a bit instead of taking the lift for the return trip.
Dolly Sods Wilderness
Up in the mountains of the Monongahela National Forest is a protected wilderness area called Dolly Sods. It’s very remote and not the easiest to get to – lots of dirt roads from one direction, or winding paved roads from another – but it’s totally worth it.
This peculiar area is home to flora that’s usually only found in Canada. Yet, here we were in West Virginia, surrounded by windswept trees, wind-carved boulders, bogs, and flowery meadows.
It really does feel like you’ve entered into a completely different biosphere after driving up here.
Part of the Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, this craggy rock formation is about 900 feet (274 meters) above the creek that runs at its base. Believe it or not, it’s the only “true peak” – one that is inaccessible outside of rock climbing – on the East Coast. How about that?! It’s south of Dolly Sods, in nearby Pendleton County.
We parked at the visitor’s center and walked around a bit, before following a random path that eventually led us up towards an overlook. I say that because we never made it. Ha! The hike was, naturally, all uphill, and after doing that for a while, we decided that the overlooks we had on the way up were good enough. We’ve never fashioned ourselves as hikers, so there’s no shame in our game.
Barely larger than its neighbor Thomas, this 650-strong community is full of all sorts of fun-loving folks. It’s a mountain biking epicenter, and much of the town engages in that in one way or another. I’d say it’s on the come-up, but most people don’t stay here permanently due to the hard winters and remote location of the town. To me, that’s what keeps it so small despite the fact that it’s only a few hours west of Washington, D.C., and Baltimore.
It’s got its share of antique shops and locally-owned restaurants, but it’s still developing itself from within and I think it’s going to take some time before it really bustles like I think it should. I don’t want it to be crowded, but it doesn’t have things I want or think a small town should have. Namely, a coffee shop.
But, it’s still a great town and I can see why some locals never leave, some non-locals come and never leave, and that it will most definitely be a destination sooner than later. We loved the attitude of the people we met here, the conversations, and the relaxation.
Thomas is about a hundred people smaller than Davis, and is taking a different tack to its development. Even though it’s smaller, it seems to have already been infected by a deep desire to do something good and alive.
It has the standard antique shops, but is also home to the best music venue in the area – The Purple Fiddle – and a host of brand new and interesting art galleries.
While there are some that focus on art most of us don’t dig, there are a couple others that are owned by young and inspirational artists.Places that definitely instill pride among the town’s denizens, natives and transplants alike.
As previously mentioned, there are already three breweries here. And, they’re all different!
Mountain State Brewing in Thomas is currently expanding and there was construction when we were there. These guys can their brews, which can be found all over the region, and presumably, all over the state. The tap room is cozy and they do offer a variety of snacks that don’t take a major kitchen to prepare. We actually didn’t fully appreciate the beer here (sorry, guys!). Maybe it just wasn’t for us, or maybe it was their major focus on expansion. Who knows? Perhaps next time will be different for us.
Next up is Blackwater Brewing Company, which was unfortunately closed during the days we wanted to go. If you can get in there when the tap room is open, they serve food and a wide variety of different beer styles. We can’t comment on them since we didn’t have them, but you should check it out anyway.
Lastly, we have Stumptown Ales. This place was…Just. So. Good. This is what we think of when we think of craft beer. Everything we tried was amazing, the staff was super-friendly and willing to answer all sorts of questions, and the atmosphere was really alive.
It’s really a micro-brewery, with a very nice bar and the brewery in back. It’s owned by a couple as their passion and hopefully, soon, their full-time jobs. Cindy (who we had the good fortune of meeting) and her husband want to keep it small, with no bottling or canning and just good, fresh brews made in the center of Davis as a home to the community.
They make the best beer we had in West Virginia, hands down. And we had a lot of beer in West Virginia.
And there you have it! We spent nearly a week here, driving around a lot of winding mountain roads, climbing up and down and around even more of them on feet, looking at spectacular nature, and having great conversations with even better people.
If you’re looking to get away – for a few days or a few months – we can only highly recommend you come here. It’s on the come-up, it’s full of local pride, and it deserves your attention. We look forward to going back sooner than later!
A special thanks to Jessica and Brian at the Tucker County Convention & Visitors Bureau, Pam and Jenni at Black Bear Resort, and Lisa at Visit Southern West Virginia (maybe next time!). Many thanks as well to all the fine folks who shared stories, opinions, philosophy, and beers with us during our time here. We love you all and we’ll see you next go ’round!
Read more of our American road trip posts right here, and check out our post about where we stayed and ate in West Virginia.
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Have you ever been to this area? If so, what’d you think? If not, what say ye? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!