Canaan Loop, Dolly Sods, and Blackwater Canyon

View from Big Run Scenic Overlook - 10/09/04 - Click to Enlarge

(Click to see the same view in July)

10/9/04 - 10/10/04

Way Points

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Keith dropped me a line and told me he was planning a trip out to Canaan Loop and Dolly Sods.  He asked if I would like to go. 

-----Original Message-----

From: Keith

Sent: Tuesday, September 21, 2004 10:37 PM

To: Paul Provencher

Subject: Dolly Sods in October

Hey! How have you been?

I'm planning a trip to Dolly Sods and Canaan Valley in October, probably the weekend of Oct 9-10 (Columbus Day weekend) or possibly the following weekend (Oct. 16-17). The trip is based on the attached clip from National Goegrphic's Adventure magazine August issue.   It has recently been pointed out to me that you have made a similar (maybe even the same) trip in July. Would you be interested in going again with CORE? Let me know as you're welcome to come along with us.

Also, any other tips/tricks besides what shows on your website?


Does a Bear...   nevermind...   So I checked out the write-up he sent me about some trips and did the usual homework to get ready - study maps of the area and configure a GPS mapset/waypoint collection.  I leveraged my trip data from the recent Blackwater Canyon trip and soon had what I needed.

-----Original Message-----

From: Keith

Sent: Friday, September 24, 2004 8:50 PM

To: Capital Off Road Enthusiasts - General list; Paul Provencher

Subject: Re: [Core4x4-list] October Dolly Sods Date!

The trip to Dolly Sods and Canaan Loop is set for October 9 and 10.  This is expected to be an overnight camping trip in a primnitive camping area so pack accordingly. This is an exploratory trip and all indications are that it will be rather mild wheeling but there has been a significant amount of rain and wind this fall. Safety is always our first consideration. Prep your vehicle and pack as if you're staying for longer than you plan to in harsher territory than we expect. Also recall that October in the mountains ain't usually warm! I also do not expect cellular service to be very reliable in these areas so a CB or other communications device is highly recommended.

Right now the list looks like this:

Gil and Sherrie

Keith (~100%)

Ian Kluge

Jeremy Albrecht

Mike V. and Donna

Paul Provencher (friend of mine, you have seen him on the web as 4x4Icon)

Paul recently went over part of this trail (see There are some spots for hiking which we will likely take advantage of and the fall colors will likely be at least starting to show through.

Right now, I plan on at least two meeting spots. The first will be the South Mountain rest area west of Frederick MD on I-70 which may be useful and probably also the West Virginia welcome center at milepost 30 on I-68. If there are several coming up from VA, you may want to set another spot to meet and caravan together. Times for meetings will be announced later. All CORE members and guests are welcomed to join in for this ride.

Guests are reminded to bring a signed waiver of liability from the website with you. Please give a rough percentage of your certainty of coming along.  I'm headed to Florida in the morning (Mother decided to invite us to the cleanup from the hurricane party!) and will return the weekend of October 2-3. (Actually this is just a visit as the family thankfully had no structural or personal damages from Ivan's first pass through the FL Panhandle.)

I'll check back next week.


Topozone Map

Red Creek Campground

Dolly Sods Scenic Area

Route to Area - Click to Enlarge

Canaan Loop and Blackwater Canyon Rim Tr.  - Click to Enlarge

Dolly Sods - Click to Enlarge

I prepared the camping gear and got the kids briefed.  We'd bring the bikes as usual, and otherwise try to travel light and prepare for cool weather.


The kids had been looking forward to the trip since Keith first wrote. Earlier in the week we went shopping for new boots since they'd both outgrown their boots from last year.  I too found that my boots had finally reached the end of their serviceable life.  So I did something that is generally not recommended:  I bought new boots a couple days before my plans to use them.  I wore them to work on Friday and found them to be tolerable so made no plans to carry spares.

I spent most of Friday evening packing the trunks and loading the Jeep so that we'd be able to just climb aboard and leave first thing in the morning.  With the kids fairly intense, anything more is sheer folly.

I woke the kids at dawn and got them dressed.  We jumped in the Jeep and hit the road, headed for the South Mountain Rest Area near Frederick. This happens to be the rest area that the Snipers were arrested after being spotted by truckers and blocked in while the police came.  Our visit was far less dramatic, but I had several conflicting bits of information about the location.  I left a message on Keith's cell telling him where to find us if we did not find the rest area.  When I noticed a rest area coming up I got on the CB and raised Keith.  It was the correct one so we pulled in and parked with Mike and Donna and Keith.

South Mt. Rest Area (Keith and Mike)South Mt. Rest Area (Paul, Mike and Donna, Keith)Keith, Mike, vehicles at South Mt. Rest AreaJeremy's KJ

The kids got out and stretched, hit the facilities and talked their heads off.   Soon Jeremy came along and we were ready to go.  We hit the road on the way for Route 220 just past Cumberland. 

The drive went well and soon we had made our exit and driven down to the Wal*Mart in Keyser where we met Gil and Sherrie, and Ian. 

Gasing up at Keyser Wal*MartGasing up at Keyser Wal*Mart

Everybody got gas, etc, and we continued on down Rt 220 to the various turns that led us to the exit for Canaan Loop.

On the Road
Signs of FallOn the Road

It was clear when we got to the general area that the foliage was almost peaking and weather permitting, we'd have some incredible sight-seeing.

Road Trip - Click to Enlarge


Canaan Loop Road

We took the lower entrance to the Canaan Loop road and drove around to where the riverside campsite was located.  The road was dusty and the riverside camp was occupied.  We continued in the same direction and soon came to another spot that offered some off-trail parking and plenty of nice tent sites.  The group agreed so we pulled in and set camp.

Camp on Canaan LoopCamp on Canaan LoopPaul, Tom and TedPaulCamp on Canaan LoopJeremy on Canaan Loop

The kids took their bikes down and started working the trail while I got everything set up.

Tom and TedTom and Ted

Blackwater Canyon/FR 18

Blackwater Falls State Park

Everyone took their time and then we had some lunch.  After we all had finished, we got back on the trail, this time headed for Blackwater Canyon and FR18.  When we got to the end of pavement near the spot on the map called Douglas, We stopped to disconnect and air down. 


Jeremy airing downIan's ToyotaGil and SherrieGil (Left) and Mike and Donna's YJKeith

Group on Blackwater Canyon Rim TrailDouglasDouglasDouglasView of Blackwater CanyonNear Blackwater Canyon

This move was mostly to give a better ride but also in anticipation of any wheeling we might do.  Then we moved on down the trail.

Pretty soon we reached the spot where the trail goes up to a clearing. The first part is a little rough and requires some finesse to get past.

Jeremy on Blackwater Canyon (FR 18)Ian on Blackwater Canyon (FR 18)

I went up the same way as my last visit, and Jeremy commented that he had not expected me to make it that way.

Gil drove straight up the ruts and found he'd need to switch on his ARB.

Gil and SherrieGil and SherrieGil and Sherrie


Jeremy took a line on an angle across the ruts and made it with some spotting. 



Keith chose the same line and followed us up. 

KeithKeith (with Gil clapping)

Mike and Donna, and Ian opted to go ahead to the outlook and wait for us to come back down from the clearing.

After threading through some narrow trees and over a couple fallen saplings, we reached the clearing.

Gil and Sherrie, Jeremy, Keith

We played follow the leader to an area with some rough spots and climbs.  I went the same way as last time, preferring not to tempt fate.

Gil and Sherrie



KeithKeith and JeremyKeith and JeremyJeremy

Keith, Gil and Sherrie

Paul's TJ


Keith and Jeremy (above); Gil and Sherrie belowKeith spots Jeremy


Gil and SherrieJeremy

KeithGil and SherrieGil and Sherrie


Keith opted to climb one hill and found himself lodged on a rift.  We didn't winch him out, honest.

Keith and Jeremy


Gil and Sherrie (winching) Tom and Ted (watching at safe distance)

Movie: mov07108.mpg Keith in a pickle

Jeremy drove up on a mound and lots of pictures of his KJ were made in a true off-road setting!


Sherrie, Missie and Maggie (or Sherrie, Maggie and Missie)

GroupKeith, Jeremy, Gil and Sherrie

Gil and SherrieGil and SherrieGil and Sherrie


Then we backtracked out the way we came, with each taking the same line out from the entrance that they had taken coming in - except Gil and Sherrie who chose to straddle the ruts and come down from on high.

Movie: mov07118.mpg KeithMovie: mov07119.mpg Jeremy


Gil and SherrieGil and Sherrie

We continued down the road and reconnected with Ian, Mike and Donna at the outlook.

View from Big Run Scenic Overlook

View from Big Run Scenic Overlook

View from Big Run Scenic OverlookView from Big Run Scenic Overlook

View from Big Run Scenic Overlook

View from Big Run Scenic OverlookView from Big Run Scenic Overlook

Group at Big Run Scenic OverlookGroup at Big Run Scenic OverlookView from Big Run Scenic Overlook

View from Big Run Scenic OverlookView from Big Run Scenic OverlookView from Big Run Scenic Overlook

Tom, Ted and Paul; Jeremy; Keith; Sherrie, Gil, Missie and Maggie; Mike and Donna; and Ian - Click to Enlarge

The kids crawled all over the outlook area and at one point Tom decided the railing was not meant for him.  One of the others spoke to him and I turned to see him outside the railing on the edge of the rock.  He was not in any danger but he was definitely one step away from a very high fall.  I got him back on the right side of the railing and explained to him about staying there.  He told me he likes climbing rocks...  Great!

We determined that we had about 21 minutes until sunset at 6:47 pm and just enough time to reach Olson Lookout tower for the sunset.  So we took off in that direction.  I caught up to a pick-up truck moving slowly and patiently (yeah right) waited behind until they pulled over to stop for something.  I stopped at the intersection with 717 for the rest of the group to catch up then turned up to the tower.

Olson Lookout Tower

I got there with the kids just in time to climb up for the last 10 seconds. 

View from Olson TowerView from Olson TowerView from Olson TowerView from Olson TowerView from Olson Tower

View from Olson Tower - Click to Enlarge

View from Olson TowerView from Olson Tower

Ted was gung-ho but Tom got a little iffy when we got to the first landing and decided to go back to the ground.  Keith agreed to accompany Ted to the top so up they went.  Tom decided that maybe he would try to go up a couple landings after all.  We went one or two past where Donna had decided to stop, and we took a look around at the twilight horizon.  It was beautiful, even if we missed the actual sunset.

View from Olson TowerView from Olson TowerOlson TowerOlson Tower

The folks at the top discovered the observation deck was open and peeked inside for a quick look around.  Meanwhile, Tom decided he'd had enough and walked back down with me.  Soon the rest of the gang made their way back to terra firma and got loaded up to leave.

Gil and SherrieGil and SherrieGil

Sherrie and TedFrom Olson TowerJeremy on Olson Tower
Ian on Olson TowerTed on Olson TowerFrom Olson Tower

We drove down to pavement and followed it back into Davis where we stopped at the grocery store for last minute supplies.  I bought some drinks for the the kids and me, and marshmallows were acquired for the campfire later.

Canaan Loop Road II

Jeremy took point for the drive back into camp so he could try out his newly mounted roof lighting without scorching those in front of him.  At my direction we drove a little too far south for the entrance to the Canaan Loop, so backtracked to the upper entrance and drove out to the camp.  A couple spots on the road provided mild entertainment.

Canaan Loop returning to Camp

Canaan Loop returning to Camp

We reached camp a little after 8:00 PM, and located it by GPS coordinate.  Everything was untouched and we quickly had a fire going. We cooked up supper and took it easy for a while.  The kids got some marshmallows and then went into the tent to unwind and go to sleep.  I stayed by the fire and relaxed in that way that a warm fire on a cool night can make you do.  Pretty soon I hit the sack, no doubt snoring a streak to the delight of my fellow campers...


We all got up late in the morning and had a leisurely breakfast.  Keith provided a musical backdrop to our activities.  I made oatmeal for the kids and me, along with coffee for the thermos and breakfast.  Then I got Ted's help packing everything up. 

Tom, Ted and PaulKeith in CampPaul and Keith in Camp

Paul, Ted and Tom's tentCanaan

Jeremy's KJJeremy's KJKJ

Mike and Donna's tentMike and Donna's tentJeremy's tent

Ian's ToyotaIan's Toyota

Keiths S10Keith's S10

Mike and Donna's YJMike and Donna's YJ
Movie: mov07159.mpg Mike's YJ

Gil and Sherry's TJGil and Sherrie's TJ

Paul, Ted and Tom's TJPaul, Ted and Tom's TJ

Keith, Ian, Paul and Tomi in camp

Movie: mov07155.mpg Camp

We would break camp before hitting the trail.  This activity kept everyone busy for the better part of two hours. 

Paul Loads up...Paul LoadingPaul LoadingPaul Loading

Finally the last was stowed and we hit the trail for Dolly Sods Wilderness Area.  The air was cool and dry; the sun was shining; and there was not a cloud in the sky.  The weather could not have been better.

The drive back out was a little different than the day before.  I was still aired down though I did put a few pounds of air back in the tires to accommodate the load of our camping gear.  Along the way we took pictures of the little rough spots that we passed over.

PaulPaulPaul on Canaan Loop



Gil and Sherrie on Canaan Loop - Click to Enlarge

Gil and Sherrie on Canaan LoopGil and Sherrie on Canaan Loop
Gil and SherrieGil and SherrieGil and Sherrie

Mike and Donna on Canaan Loop

Mike and Donna on Canaan LoopMike and Donna on Canaan LoopMike and Donna on Canaan Loop
Mike and Donna on Canaan Loop
Mike and DonnaMike and Donna

Keith on Canaan Loop

Keith on Canaan LoopKeith on Canaan Loop
Keith on Canaan LoopKeith on Canaan Loop
Keith on Canaan Loop

Jeremy on Canaan Loop

Jeremy on Canaan LoopJeremy on Canaan LoopJeremy on Canaan Loop
Jeremy on Canaan LoopJeremy on Canaan LoopJeremy on Canaan LoopJeremy on Canaan Loop
Jeremy on Canaan LoopJeremy on Canaan LoopJeremy on Canaan LoopJeremy on Canaan Loop
Jeremy on Canaan LoopJeremy on Canaan LoopJeremy on Canaan LoopJeremy on Canaan Loop

Jeremy on Canaan LoopFall

Ian on Canaan Loop

Ian on Canaan LoopIan on Canaan LoopIan on Canaan LoopIan on Canaan LoopIan on Canaan Loop
Canaan Loop
Ian on Canaan LoopIan on Canaan LoopIan on Canaan LoopIan on Canaan Loop


We passed a number of people who had driven in to the first part of the loop to look at the various scenic spots along the canyon.  We continued to pavement and stopped at a wide spot to regroup and plan the afternoon.  We agreed to drive on and have lunch a little later, though my kids were so hungry that I made them lunch on the spot to keep them happy and quiet.

Tomi, Teddy, and Dad (Paul)

Dolly Sods

Dolly Sods

The drive to Dolly Sods took us through the Canaan Valley.

Canaan ValleyCanaan ValleyCanaan Valley
Canaan ValleyCanaan ValleyCanaan Valley

It could not have been much more beautiful.  The road descends into the valley and then passes through a pretty resort area.  A ski lift is visible in the distance, and several shops dot the landscape.  The edge of the wilderness area can be seen to the left of the far side of the valley.

We reached our turn-off and dropped down into a hollow then followed a winding road back up the side of the ridge.  Pretty soon the road turned to gravel and continued deeper into the woods.  There was plenty of traffic and no doubt there were many people out for a day of sight-seeing just like us.

We stopped at a picnic area to have lunch.  By that time I am sure that everyone was really tired as it had been nearly two hours since our last stop.

Picnic area approaching Dolly Sods
Dolly Sods signsDolly Sods signsDolly Sods signs
Dolly Sods signsDolly Sods signsDolly Sods signs

The night before, I had given the kids each 25 cents to buy something from the gumball machines at the grocery store.  They each bought little chain necklaces.  Now Tom discovered that he had lost his and that the world was going to end.  So I spent some time helping him compose himself then went looking for it.  We eventually found it in the Jeep under the driver's seat.  I took the time to air up and reconnect since I knew we were done wheeling for the weekend.  Even though I was pretty well off the side of the road, the traffic in both directions made it a little dangerous so I managed to keep the kids out of the road while I worked.

When everyone had finished eating and getting ready to go, we hit the road again.  In a mental lapse, I mistook the first pavement we encountered as the exit from Dolly Sods and considered going back and driving out on pavement.  That was a mistake and had we gone that way, we would have missed the entire point of going here in the first place. We emerged at the Sods to find a huge tundra with incredible views, lots of different plant life, and some intense rocks.

We stopped at a scenic outlook and walked to the edge of the east side of the area.  The view was tremendous.  Lots of pictures were taken. 

View from Outlook near Dolly Sods - Click to Enlarge

Keith making an image
Outlook near Dolly SodsPaulPaul
Tom and TedView from Outlook near Dolly Sods
View from Outlook near Dolly SodsView from Outlook near Dolly SodsView from Outlook near Dolly Sods
View from Outlook near Dolly SodsView from Outlook near Dolly Sods
View from Outlook near Dolly Sods

Paul, Ted and Tom on Dolly SodsPaul, Ted and Tom on Dolly Sods
Paul, Ted and Tom on Dolly SodsPaul, Ted and Tom on Dolly Sods

Donna and MikeView from Dolly Sods
Paul on Dolly SodsIan and Jeremy on Dolly SodsView from Dolly Sods

I took the kids and hiked a short distance over a rocky trail to another outcrop of rocks where Tom reiterated his love of rock climbing.  I was spending my time split between enjoying the scenery and watching for him to attempt a base jump with no parachute.  One of these days I'm going to have to untie the apron strings but he's only five so I have a few more years to go...

The kids and I took some pictures and then hiked the short distance back to the parking area. 

Movie: mov07215.mpg Ted and Tom

Teddy wanted to take a picture of the group so we herded back together and he took the picture. 

Parking Area near Outlook near Dolly SodsKeith, Paul, Sherrie and Gil, Tomi, Ian, Donna and Mike, and Jeremy

Then we got back on the road to go.  Once again I thought we were at the "end of the trail" and wanted to head back south when in fact the route planned led north. Jeremy called it to my attention and soon I was going in the correct direction. 

Dolly Sods - Click to Enlarge

Dollys SodsDolly SodsDolly SodsDolly Sods

Dolly SodsDolly SodsDolly SodsDolly SodsDolly Sods

Dolly SodsView from Dolly SodsView from Dolly SodsView from Dolly Sods

View from Dolly Sods

We came to the parking area for Bear Rocks, and the road leading down and out of the park area.

Bear RocksDollys SodsBear Rocks

Canyon Rim Trail - Click to Enlarge

Blackwater Canyon and Canaan Loop Road Area - Click to Enlarge


By then we'd run up against the late hour of the day and most people wanted to head home.  So we drove down the gravel road to pavement and got on the road for home.

My GPS picked a less traveled route parallel to Rt. 93 and we drove north through some really pretty country south and east of Keyser.  Along the way, Gil and Sherrie split off to head east and connect with Route 50. We continued north and tied into it a couple miles west of their planned location.  There we made a pit stop, then headed west and north through Keyser.  The remaining members of the group opted to drive straight home while me and the kids stopped at Denny's in Keyser for dinner.

We got a terrific waitress and had a great meal.  Then we loaded back into the Jeep and continued on our way, blasting up Rt. 220 and Rt. 68 in good time.  Then we hit Hancock...

As soon as we turned on to Route 70 we came up against a traffic backup.

I quick check with the drivers on CB CH 19 revealed that the backup was all the way to mile marker 20.  Since we were somewhere above mile 40, I decided that it really was going to suck to stay on the highway.  I had the laptop tracking our progress connected to the GPS so I zoomed out and panned a little and found a promising side road that would eventually get us to Route 40.  I could have stayed on the highway a couple exits and got directly on Route 40, but nothing was moving.

So we got off and after a couple jogs, turned onto Slabtown Road.  It descended into a valley and went straight across and into Licking Creek.

Licking Creek Aqueduct

By now it was completely dark.  There were no street lights and we were the only vehicle in sight.  I noted some wet tire tracks coming out of the creek on our side so I made the mildly risky assumption that the vehicle had forded the stream from the other side.

The water was flowing from left to right and appeared to be shallow as the outline of the rocks was defined by the flowing water.  I decided to put the Jeep in 4-LO and drive very slowly forward anticipating any sudden drops into deep water.  I was driving so slowly that if the nose started to drop I could stop and back out.

But the depth of the water did not increase and though my exhaust burbled like a Chris-Craft, we drove across and up the bank on the other side.  I had already set an auto-route that promised to take us all the way to Hagerstown so I reviewed the turns on the laptop map and decided it worked on paper.  We drove directly to Hagerstown and once there, crossed under Route 70.

The traffic was heavy but moving at normal speeds.  The truckers that responded to my queries indicated there were no more back-ups headed East so we got back on the highway.  The kids slept through the whole detour.  It was fairly interesting, though I would not recommend it for everyone.

After that it was a pretty quiet ride home, except for the heavy traffic on Rt. 270.  We got to the house and left everything on the Jeep.  In the morning the kids helped me unload and put stuff away before they went to school and I went to work.

This was an incredible trip - the weather was great, the foliage was the best I have seen in years, and the camping and company were top-notch!

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