Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Mountain Biking the Canaan Loop Road and Beyond

I didn't ride my mountain bike at all in 2023. I wasn't overly impressed with the Adirondack mountain biking. I had mechanical issues with my bike that I wasn't motivated to get repaired. I stuck to rode cycling for the most part over the past several years during my time in the Adirondacks.

Moving to West Virginia a couple months ago, I was more inspired to return to mountain biking. When I started mountain biking in the early 90s, West Virginia often saw a lot of attention in mountain bike magazines of the time. I wanted to explore the areas I read about when I was a teenager.

Canaan Valley near Davis, West Virginia was one of the early mountain bike destinations I read about. Today it still draws mountain bikes. Living about an hour away, I was eager to check out some trails.

Table Rock

Having not ridden too much technical terrain since leaving Colorado more than five years ago, I wasn't looking for an overly technical ride. I was more interested in a longer ride with a little more distance and not continuous an extended technical ride. I settled on the Canaan Loop Road. The Loop Road is a Forest Service road that circles around the top of Canaan Mountain. The southern half of the loop travels over decent dirt roads, while the northern part becomes more of a rough, high clearance road better suited to Jeeps. Closing the loop requires a stretch of paved road on WV 32 or extending the ride onto other trail systems. Since closing the loop with WV 32 didn't look that fun, I cobbled together my own route with nearby trails.

 I set out on June 28th. With temps approaching 90 in the lower elevations, Some time in the mountains sounded refreshing. Majority of the ride sits above 3,000' in elevation, and temps often run 10 degrees cooler in the area. I began my ride around 1045AM.

My ride started at a trailhead along the Blackwater River in Davis at the end of the River Road Trail. A couple minutes on the  paved road brought me to the dirt Camp 70 Road. Several trails branch off the road in the Little Canaan Wildlife Management Area if your looking for more singletrack, but I stuck to the road for a few miles following the Blackwater River.

Kiosk at a trailhead

Blackwater River

The Blackwater River at a bridge crossing

I crossed the river and began riding fairly easy singletrack on the Canaan Mountain Haul Road. The trail traveled mostly through the woods with an occasional clearing with a view. Quite a few wildflowers lined the trail. I even saw a few ripe blueberries.

Crossing the river

Haul Road Trail

Wildflowers along the trail

Riding through a clearing

Ripe blueberries

The Haul Road ends at a powerline. To avoid the private property, I rode a short distance up the powerline that connected to a road in Canaan Heights. By this point I gained some elevation as it climbed Bearden Knob and the high point of the ride at over 3,800'. From the road, I descended through a residential area. There are some broken views over the Canaan Valley to the south towards the local ski areas. Mostly this is just a fun downhill to the start of the Canaan Loop Road.

Reaching the powerline

Riding up the powerline

At the end of the descent, I reached the Canaan Loop Road (FSR 13). It briefly starts out paved before reaching Monongahela National Forest. Once it turns to dirt, it begins wide and well-maintained, suitable for any vehicle. It's very easy riding and allows for a quick pace. It passes several dispersed campsites as well.

Canaan Loop Road marking

Very easy riding at the beginning of the Loop Road

It becomesless manicured and narrower as it progresses, although most passenger cars should be able to drive the first half of the road with caution. Since the road loops around the top of Canaan Mountain, the scenery is fairly pretty with lots of mountain laurel. After a few miles the road descends, at times steeply, to under 3,000' as it works its way down along Red Run. At his point the road is barely more than a car wide. I only saw a couple vehicles the entire ride near the beginning. The riding was fast and fun. Dispersed campsites continue around the southern end of the loop. 

Blooming laurel

Red Run

Bee balm

Beyond its low point along Red Run, the road begins a gradual climb back to the top of Canaan Mountain. By now the road is only wide enough for a single vehicle. The ride feels more remote the further along you go. Since its mostly shaded in a thick canopy of trees, it felt comfortable. I enjoyed this stretch.

Peaceful riding on the loop

I wanted to add a side trip to my outing while I was in the area. On the western edge of the loop, a side trail travels 1.2 miles to an outcropping called Table Rock. Some say it's one of the best vistas in the area. Don't let the short mileage fool you if on a mountain bike. The Table Rock Trail is slow going as it negotiates one rock garden after another. Closer to Table Rock, there are a series of 9-10 new bridges in muddy sections. The bridges were not very easy to ride though. Most of them were pretty high off the ground without a good transition to ride on them. I'm sure they were built with hikers in mind rather than bikes though.

Start of the Table Rock Trail

A smoother section of the Table Rock Trail

A smaller section of rock

New bridge on the Table Rock Trail

I slowly made my way to Table Rock. I wasn't let down. The viewpoint is quite pretty. I also had the vista to myself. The Table Rock Trail rode a little bit better in reverse since it traveled somewhat downhill. It took me nearly 25 minutes to ride the 1.2 miles from Table Rock back to the Loop Road. I didn't keep track, but I'm sure it was quite a bit longer heading out.

Blackwater Canyon from Table Rock

View of the canyon in the opposite direction

Back on the Loop Road, I began my way onto the northern end of the loop. The road takes on a much different experience. While the road was fairly well maintained up to this point, the maintenance ends suddenly. The last several miles, the road becomes a high clearance Jeep road. While this isn't that big of a deal on a bike, its worth noting your pace will slow down and the riding becomes fairly wet, muddy, and more technical. 

One of many muddy sections

Lots of laurel

The road narrows in a tunnel of laurel

On a bike, most of the worst puddles, mud, and technical bits can be avoided. There usually is a decent line to ride through the mess. A few spots this unavoidable. There are a couple easy water crossings as well. One unavoidable puddle had me pass through water deep enough to submerge my foot on my pedal downstroke. This part of the ride might deter brand new riders if you're not comfortable with any rock. I was fairly muddy after this stretch. The road becomes quite narrow and passes through pretty mountain laurel tunnels as a bonus.

A more technical section

Tunnel of mountain laurel

Creek crossing

Soon enough the rough riding ends when you reach Blackwater Falls State Park and the road is paved. I rode several miles on the paved road through the park. I closed my loop by riding some easy singletrack on the River Road Trail, that dumped me out at my car after a couple of flat miles. 

Vista of Blackwater Canyon along the road
in the state park

River Road Trail

Halfway through the ride, my computer reset itself so I don't have the exact mileage, but this ride was in the 30 mile range. Start to finish, I was rode about four hours, but at least an hour of that was just my side trip to Table Rock. 

I enjoyed the ride. When I started mountain biking, many of my rides were like this with a mix of dirt road and trail. It was fun exploring and riding a bike. This ride was much like those early mountain bike rides. If I rode this again, I would probably not include Table Rock. While the view was worth the trip and I'm glad I made the side trip, it broke up the flow of the ride. I would probably hike to Table Rock or include it on a shorter ride next time. 

There are a ton of trails around Davis and it would be easy to put together your own variation of this ride with more or less singletrack to your taste. It may be worth noting that both Lindy Point and Blackwater Falls are very close to this ride and would be easy to incorporate as side trips. I just recently visited both and didn't add them to this ride, but they are both scenic and worth visiting if you have never seen them

Blackwater Falls

Lindy Point

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