Road Trip! Destination: Canaan Valley, W.Va
Jones, Susan, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
When you think of West Virginia, long, flat spaces don't readily come to mind. But, nestled in the hills of Tucker County, about three hours from Pittsburgh, is Canaan Valley, one of the highest- elevation sizable valleys east of the Mississippi River.
The oval-shaped valley is 14 miles long and 2 to 4 miles wide. Its elevation ranges from 3,200 to 4,300 feet, making it a cool escape during the hot summer months, popular with hikers, bikers and fishermen, and a prime skiing destination in winter.
Nature, along with peace and quiet, are the attractions here. And there are plenty of both -- deer are plentiful, along with other wildlife, and the 16,000-acre Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge has a variety of plants that are rare to the region.
And if you don't want to be spotted immediately as an outsider, make sure you get the pronunciation right - its "kuh-NAIN," not the biblical "KAY-nen."
If this is a valley, then, it has to be surrounded by some hills. If you want vistas, you have plenty of choices. The Dolly Sods Wilderness, maintained by the U.S. Forest Service, is on the edge of the Allegheny Plateau. At altitudes of 2,600 to 4,000 feet, it offers a climate and plant life that resemble northern Canada. So, even if it's warm in the valley, bring your sweater for a hike here. The views are breathtaking. Check out real-time images at www.fsvisimages.com/fstemplate.aspx?sitedoso1. Head south from Canaan Valley on W.Va. 32, look for signs to Dolly Sods. You'll turn left on County Route 45/4 (Jenningston-Lanesville Road). If you reach the turnoff (to the right) for W.Va. 72, you've gone too far. Be warned, the roads can get muddy and have big potholes.
Not far way are two other "high" points. At Seneca Rocks, about 30 minutes away (take W.Va. 32 South to U.S. 33 East), white/gray Tuscarora quartzite rocks rise 900 feet above the North Fork River. They're popular with rock climbers, but there's also a 1.3-mile hiking trail that takes walkers up to the west side of the rocks. The trail has been under reconstruction for the past year, and the contractor has until mid-August to complete the project.
Head another 15 miles down U.S. 33, and you'll find a road leading to the highest point in West Virginia. Spruce Knob, at 4,863 feet, is accessible by car (with some gravel road) and to hikers. An overlook and a half-mile trail circling the knob give great view of the Monongahela National Forest.
If mountains aren't your thing, how about caves? Seneca Caverns (800-239-7647 or www.senecacaverns.com) is 8 miles south of Seneca Rocks. Go 10 minutes north, and you'll be at Smoke Hole Caverns (800- 828-8478 or www.smokehole.com). Both offer tours year-round. Check for hours and days.
Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge is the nation's 500th wildlife refuge. It runs alongside W.Va. 32 for several miles. There are a variety of access points and 14 trails to take to see wet soils, forests, shrub lands and open lands. These house habitats for deer, raccoon, geese and squirrel, which are easy to see, along with mink, bobcat and barred owls, which are more elusive. Details: 304- 866-3858 or www. …