When old man winter comes knocking, editor and photographer Nikki Bowman Mills eagerly retreats to her cabin in Canaan Valley. Here she shares some of her favorite spots to enjoy winter at its finest.
When the temperature drops and flurries begin to fly, I head to the hills to my cabin in nearby Tucker County. As anyone who follows my Instagram feed knows, Canaan Valley, with its ski resorts, state parks, national forest, wildlife refuge, and charming artsy towns of Thomas, Davis, and Parsons, is one of my favorite photography destinations and places to enjoy the season.
With 47 ski and snowboarding trails, a terrain park, a tubing park, and an ice rink, Canaan Valley Resort and Conference Center offers plenty of winter activities. The variety of skiing terrains and the new 6-passenger high-speed chairlift and 4-passenger mid-mountain chairlift at Timberline Mountain draw ski aficionados from around the country. White Grass, a locally owned and operated cross country ski touring center, offers everything from trails to ski rentals and classes. You’ll want to reserve your spot in advance at Blackwater Falls Sled Run, where the conveyor belt takes you to the top of the longest sled run in the Eastern U.S. And if you are like me and enjoy taking in the scenery on your feet and not on skis, then hike Dolly Sods, climb the boulders at Bear Rocks, or visit Blackwater Falls for the perfect winter selfie. End the evening with a show at the iconic Purple Fiddle.
Everyone knows I love the authentic vibe of Thomas and Davis. The shops and galleries offer unique items—from clothing to pottery to priceless art. Outdoor outfitters like The Ski Barn and Driftland Ski and Sport will suit you up with the best winter gear. You’ll see me perusing Nellie Rose Textiles, Bloom, Ghost Palace Books, Thomas Yard, and Ella & Company in Thomas before heading to The Emerald Tree, The West Virginia Highlands Artisan Gallery, and The Wandering Caravan in Davis. Galleries like Creature and Invisible always inspire me, and one of my favorite places to visit is Ben’s Old Loom Barn in the Valley, where you’ll find folks sitting at 150-year-old looms working on textile masterpieces.
You can’t go to Canaan Valley without eating at Sirianni’s in Davis. It is an institution. I’m not fond of waiting in lines, so I typically call ahead and pick it up on my way through town. Another one of my favorite spots is Piccolo Paula’s Cafe in Parsons. Order the brisket. And then order some more to take with you. Visit Macy Lou’s Gourmet Apples in Thomas for a darling and delicious treat. Farm Up Table in Thomas is quickly becoming one of my faves, but again, I order my food to go. And speaking of to-go, during the pandemic, White Grass Cafe closed its sit-down dining and opted for a to-go set-up. I miss the eclectic charm of the cafe, but the food is still phenomenal. New to the scene is Mama Mia Pie and Pasta in Canaan Valley, just a hop, skip, and jump away from the area’s two ski resorts. Try not to fill up on the garlic rolls because the pasta and eggplant parmigiana are delicious. And Hellbenders Burritos is back! After being closed for well over a year, it is now open for carry-out only. Order ahead—the line is out the door. For breakfast, my favorite place is Milo’s Cafe and Restaurant at Bright Morning Inn.
Although Canaan Valley is close enough for a day trip, you’ll want to stay overnight. Canaan Valley Resort and Conference Center and Blackwater Lodge are always popular. The Billy Motel, with its mid-century charm, has quickly become a favorite, and The Inn at Canaan recently underwent massive renovations. Another good option is to rent a vacation home or cabin through one of the local rental management companies.