On a cold January morning with a layer of fresh powder on the ground we decided to hit the Canaan Loop in Davis, WV.
For the past 7 years my friends and I have been making an annual “pilgrimage” to Canaan Valley, WV for a few days of R&R which mostly includes snowboarding and lots of drinking. While we’ve spent countless hours hiking the back country, we’d never given much thought to local fire roads and trails. After doing some quick research we found the Canaan Loop road which is located right outside of Davis, WV at Blackwater Falls State Park.
The Canaan Loop is a 23.1 mile fire road that for the most part is pretty tame and easily accomplished by any stock 4×4. One thing to keep in mind though is the weather conditions, add snow and ice and things can get tricky out there real quick.
Heading out for the trail:
By looking at this photo you wouldn’t believe it, but this was taken at noon right when we started heading towards the trail head. It stayed pretty dark and ominous for most of the day but we were lucky enough to get a little sunshine.
Airing down for the road ahead:
We found the trail head pretty easily and decided to air down because it had been snowing constantly throughout the week we were there. We were also breaking fresh trail and wanted to make sure we had maximum traction.
A few miles in we found a fork in the trail with a water crossing that we just couldn’t pass up. After checking the depth (it was only about 6 inches) we forded though only to be greeted with a closed gate right over the bank. Regardless we got our water crossing fix in for the trail ride so we were happy to have done it.
“It’s a Jeep Thing”:
As you can see it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Our friend Nate wanted to show us
how to be a dumb ass the superior off road capabilities of his Jeep Cherokee so he decided to drive into a ditch on the side of the road. I’m pretty confident that he quickly realized that he bit off more than he could chew because the ditch was substantially deeper than he anticipated. After making a futile valiant attempt to get unstuck he finally gave up and we were happy to pull him out. After his little show we finally understood the meaning of “it’s a Jeep thing.”
These rhododendron shrubs were the bane of our existence while running this trail. We could deal with the hidden mud pits and icy trails, but having to listen to your paint be scrapped off while going down the trail is pretty tortuous. It’s about as much fun as sliding down a snowy hill in your underwear, so if you like your paint this trail is not the one for you.
It started to get dark on us, but we were able to finish the trail before we lost the last slivers of daylight. The total time for us to fund the entire loop was a little over 4 hours, but this included stopping for photos and checking out icy sections of trail. I’m sure you could easily run this entire loop in 2-3 hours in good conditions.
Overall it was a fun trip and I can’t wait to get back and try out some of the awesome campsites. If you do decide to do it during the winter though make sure to be prepared for the slick conditions, and you’ll probably want a partner in another rig cause it’s a long way out on foot.
Kevin J says
I just took this trail on 12/26/16 and I won’t be making the full loop again in my truck, just little too rough anymore.
We stayed at Canaan and I always tell my fiance about the cool camping spot on the Blackwater side of the loop, so we came in from the Canaan end. First portion of loop is typical national forest road. When you get to the signs for Red Run, you’re starting to enter the ridge trail that leads over to Blackwater. Trails turns to mostly sand/rock with some muddy soil strung about. Last year when I was on this trail, the rhododendrons overhanging the trail on Canaan ‘side’ would’ve ripped the paint from most car, this year it seems like someone has cut these back.
The first creek crossing is fairly steep and had just rained, so pretty slick for us. I crawled down into creek and up other side in 4L and didn’t have any trouble, just a light foot. This is where trail starts to really suck. Air down your tires to help deal with all the huge rocks and holes you will be bouncing through.
There’s a point on Blackwater side that looks like a small clearing that has a great view of the canyon and river below. It’s my favorite place to camp there. There’s is one more creek crossing after this and we found that this has changed a lot since last year. Immediately out of the creek, there is about a 1 foot vertical stone climb you’ll have to get up. I’m guessing this is where the guy commenting earlier lost the front end off of the Ford Edge.
I have a stock 96 GMC Sierra Ext Cab with 265/75/16 AT tires. I had no problems other than bouncing the old lady off the roof a few times. When it’s drier out in the summer it’s not as bad. I wouldn’t try to bring any mall crawler SUV back there. That being said, there were 4 truckloads of hunters out there who had f-150s with bald tires and an s-10 with about same size tires as mine.
Thanks for the feedback, conditions on the Canaan Loop seem to vary wildly from season to season. I recently hit the road a few months back and found it to be pretty rough, I also saw photos from 2 weeks ago where the trails were just sloppy and the creek crossings were almost flooded. Glad you made it through and didn’t decide to drive a Ford Edge down the trail. Keep on hitting the trails and always feel free to drop us a line!
Brian Koehn says
Holy Shit!! I am traumatized by the Canaan Loop Road. I had NO IDEA what I was getting into. Yes, I’m an idiot. I am driving a Ford Edge (rental car) and decided to take the “scenic route” from Canaan Ski slopes to Davis. The first ten miles were deceptively smooth. By the time I got to the rough stuff, I was too committed and had no idea how bad it was going to get. I came down to the first creek and there was no backing out. I got the three passengers to walk up. My brother-in-law fell on the ice, but he was ok. Then I took it with a little speed. I made it, but blew out the front passenger tire and jacked up the plastic skirt under my grill. We made it out with a spare tire, but I f***ing wish I had read this first. PS: We did it in 90 minutes. Finished 90 minutes ago.
DAMN! Hope you bought the insurance!
Great info guys. I am doing some research to see if my humble 4-door sedan can make it up Canaan Loop Road for some early August car camping. I was reading about it here, and they seem to advice high clearance for the road. Do you remember what it was like getting from Davis up to this intersection.
“Some of the best high-country car camping sites I’ve found anywhere in the country are up where Forest Road 13 (Canaan Loop Road) intersects the eight hiking trails and multiple peaks of Canaan Mountain,”
quoted from: http://www.backpacker.com/trips/west-virginia/easy-epics-17-drive-up-campsites-a-backpacker-will-love/13/#bp=0/img9
Thanks in advance!
I wouldn’t recommend trying to drive the entire Canaan Loop in a sedan. There are a few sections of the road that require a high clearance vehicle, and there is one quasi technical section that you’ll want to also have 4WD. We recently had one of our readers drive the whole road in his F150, and he found the trail to be very tight, and also damaged both of his running boards.
If you do want to camp on the loop, I would get on the road via Blackwater Falls State Park and then drive in from there. The first 1-2 miles is easily driven in a sedan, and there are multiple camp sites on that section of the road. I wouldn’t try to go any further than that, but as always, YMMV. If you have any other questions, please let us know.
Brad, if you have any concern about pin striping I would stay off this trail. There were portions where the rhododendron was so thick a man could barely walk though. Needless to say the truck left looking like it was washed by a brillo pad.
If you’re going to break out the Montero though go out there and have some fun, it’s a stock friendly trail and it’ll definitely keep you entertained.
Brad P central Ohio says
Great report. How was the brush alone the road. I’m sort of retiring my 200,000 mile montero and wife doesn’t want any pin striping on her new Xterra yet.