The distances vary because the trail has offshoots but everyone generally agrees on 10.5 miles as the average.
Destination Distance From Downtown
3 of 5 diamonds
The gravel and dirt trail l is well maintained and downhill but includes treacherous embankments so care is needed. A good sense of balance is a prerequisite for anyone riding Blackwater Canyon Trail.
Time To Complete
The time for this trail depends on conditions and whether there are bikers and runners on it. Although the trail is usually quite private, tricky curves necessitate care.
Spring, Summer, and Fall
Spring and fall are the best times to try this trail. The foliage and greenery are lovely, but but expect bugs. Some use the trail in winter but it can be treacherous due to embankments that require quick reflexes and technical expertise.
Rail-to-Trail projects are plentiful in West Virginia but for sheer beauty and trail variety few can match the 10.5 mile Blackwater Canyon Trail. What really makes this trail extraordinary is its 1,229-foot ascent up Backbone Mountain. When the West Virginia Central and Pittsburgh Railway (WVC&P) chugged along the former rails hauling coal and timber between Cumberland, Maryland and Elkins, West Virginia extra locomotives were kept on hand to push trains up part of the grade. That gives you an idea of the ascent! When the railroad became inactive in 1983 plans for the trail began. The dirt and gravel trail that is lined with mountains on both sides and accented by roaring rivers and waterfalls is popular with mountain bikers throughout the region.
What Makes It Great
Blackwater Canyon Trail is great for mountain bikers because it offers experienced – and athletic – riders a rigorous work out when they ride up the mountain and allows those who are not in such super shape a fairly easy yet technically challenging ride down. Now I’ll admit to being a bit of a coward near embankments so you might find the trail easy enough for young kids, as many families clearly did the last time I was there. Still I recommend caution.
The trail curves along the Blackwater River and its North Branch and by the lovely Blackwater State Park, one of the most loved parks in West Virginia. The trail is maintained by volunteers so might be a bit rugged after a heavy rain or high winds that topple trees. I enjoy some vibrations when riding so don't have a problem with that but, again, keep your eyes on the trail as you ride. Even those that don't find the drop offs daunting will likely still want to stop and look at the scenery and take photos.
Who is Going to Love It
The trail is as easy or as difficult as you want, depending on the direction you choose. Those that truly love it though, may be those that enjoy occasionally stopping to look at the scenery. The trail is lined by mountains on both sides and populated with frogs, flying squirrels, deer and lush foliage.
History buffs will enjoy seeing remnants from the 1800s when trains filled with coal and timber rolled through the area. Highpoints include Thomas Coaling Station, The Thomas Train Depot, remnants of coke ovens (generally used to convert coal mined in the local mountains into industrial coke, used in the smelting of ore), and the famous outlook at Lindy Point.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
In Thomas, head south on State Route 32 (Spruce Street). Turn right onto Douglas Road, which crosses the trail. Turn left off Douglas Road onto the trail (you can drive on this portion) to reach the trailhead, approximately 1 mile down the road. The trailhead, where there is space for parking, is marked by a Forest Service gate.
In Hendricks, take State Route 72 east through town and turn right on Second Street. The trailhead is on the right. Look for the gazebo and parking at the trailhead.