We recently visited the Potomac Highlands, one of nine tourism regions in West Virginia. With forests, rivers, wetlands, peaks, valleys, caves, and plateaus, the Potomac Highlands is often called “nature’s playground” for good reason.
We planned a late summer weekend that stopped at some of the Potomac Highlands’ most beautiful and fascinating destinations. Its largest and most defining destination is the 920,000+ acre Monongahela National Forest, which preserves landforms within the Allegheny Mountains including the steep Allegheny Front.
Our trip included stops at state forests, state starts, the adorable mountain town of Davis, and a wildlife refuge. We have already explored this area on another weekend trip to Davis, West Virginia. This time, we visited new places, going underground in caves, summiting tall peaks, and enjoying new activities like geocaching. The Potomac Highlands makes for a great city-escape or weekend getaway.
Table of Contents: Three Day Potomac Highlands Itinerary
- Day One: West Virginia Potomac Highlands Itinerary
- Day Two: West Virginia Potomac Highlands Itinerary
- Day Three: West Virginia Potomac Highlands Itinerary
- Where to Stay in Davis West Virginia
DAY ONE: Potomac Highlands Weekend Getaway
We made the scenic drive to our first destination from northern West Virginia along Route 219 and Route 48. Cell service is limited, so be sure to download or print your itinerary ahead of time!
Smoke Hole Caverns
Our first stop was at Smoke Hole Caverns, which claims record-breaking geologic features and offers plenty of activities for visitors outside the caverns. Guided tours of the cavern are offered on a time basis, so be sure to plan ahead and arrive early. Tickets are available in the Log Cabin Resort, which features a gift shop, cafe,
Our guide gave us great history and science lessons on the beautiful caverns. The name Smoke Hole comes from stories of the Seneca Tribe using the front section of the caverns to smoke wild game.
Smoke Hole is considered an active cave, with one cubic inch of new deposits, about the size of an ice cube, accumulating every 120 years.
The incredible Room of a Million Stalactites features the second-highest ceiling of any cavern in the eastern U.S., towering 274 feet above the floor. This room also features the World’s Largest Ribbon Stalactite, weighing in at 2.5 tons.
The Queen’s Room has what is believed to be the oldest formation in the cavern, dating back more than 13 million years.
The caverns remain a consistent 56 degrees Fahrenheit despite the outdoor temperature and the floor is quite slippery, so prepare accordingly.
We left Smoke Hole Caverns to explore an above-ground geologic feature, Seneca Rocks. The rocky outcropping that comprises Seneca Rocks is made of an erosion-resistant rock called Tuscarora quartzite. It is actually layers of rock pushed 90 degrees upright by the tectonic forces that created the Appalachian Mountains.
Seneca Rocks is part of the Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area of the Monongahela National Forest. Established in 1965, it was the first National Recreation Area designated by the U.S. Forest Service, which encourage recreation within the Forest (learn about different types of public lands here). Spruce Knob is the highest point in West Virginia, and while we didn’t have time to visit there on this trip, it is another amazing site to see.
We visited the Discovery Center at the base of Seneca Rocks and enjoyed fascinating exhibits, knowledgeable Forest Rangers, and a picturesque view of the rocks.
After some picture-taking and geocaching, we hiked the 3.2 mile in-and-out Seneca Rocks Trail. It begins at the base of the rocks and is a steep uphill climb with multiple switchbacks. We were amazed by how the plants and rock deposits changed as we gained more than 800 feet in elevation. Read the interpretive signs to learn more and complete an Earthcache.
An overlook on the summit offers incredible views of the valley below. This area is mostly surrounded by high-elevation trees. For safety reasons, hikers are discouraged from climbing beyond this area to view the famous craggy peaks, which are only accessible to experienced rock climbers.
Be sure to check the weather before venturing up, since lightning and wind are a serious concern.
After returning to the base of the mountain, we looked around an historic homestead and garden. How amazing would it be to live here?
Champe Rocks are a pair of large, white and gray Tuscarora quartzite crags along the same ridge as Seneca Rocks. They are a popular challenge for rock climbers. Champe Rocks are named after Sergeant Major John Champe, a Revolutionary War soldier who turned double agent to attempt capturing American traitor
Unlike Seneca Rocks, Champe Rocks are really only accessible to view from a pull-off on Route 28. However, you can see a historical marker commemorating the story of John Champe in this area.
Dolly Sods Wilderness & Bear Rocks Preserve
Thanks to a helpful Forest Ranger at Seneca Rocks, we found a route to Dolly Sods, a 17,700+ acre wilderness area. More remote and undeveloped than other forests and parks we visited on this trip, Dolly Sods has a few access points to choose from. With only a few hours until sunset, we chose to visit Bear Rocks Preserve, a popular section of Dolly Sods that is protected by the Nature Conservancy.
The drive from Jordan Run Road to Bear Rocks is only a few miles, but takes a while since it is mostly gravel road. Be sure you have enough time to get back before nightfall and definitely plan out your route prior to leaving because the phone service is very limited!
Boulders, high-altitude shrubs and meadows, and wind-blown red spruce trees cover this plateau landscape. Rocky overlooks provide stunning panoramic views, which are a favorite of photographers, so be sure to bring a camera. You may also want to bring a jacket since it is cool and windy on the plateau.
The unusual name “Dolly Sods” is derived from
We spent most of our time taking pictures, enjoying the views, and walking trails near the parking lot. You could easily spend all day hiking dozens of miles of trails in Dolly Sods, but know camping is only allowed in the wilderness area, and weather conditions like heavy rain and snow can make the area inaccessible.
Davis, West Virginia
We made it to our overnight accommodations in Davis, West Virginia, at dusk. This tiny, former logging town has transformed into a destination for summer and winter recreation.
Where to Stay in Davis, WV
We stayed at the Bright Morning Inn because of their homey atmosphere, wonderful hospitality, and delicious cafe for breakfast.
DAY TWO: Potomac Highlands Weekend Getaway
We spent all of day two at Blackwater Falls State Park. Just a short drive from Davis, Blackwater Falls offers hiking, water sports, picnic areas, and lodging for all types of outdoor enthusiasts.
Our day began with a big breakfast at Milo’s Cafe & Restaurant. They have a delicious selection of breakfasts with eggs, pancakes, biscuits, veggies, and more!
Blackwater Falls State Park
First, we stopped at the most popular attraction, Blackwater Falls. This 57-foot cascading waterfall flows into the Blackwater River, which divides the park in two and has shaped the land’s beautiful canyons and steep slopes.
We viewed Blackwater Falls from both the west and east side of the canyon. The western view takes a long set of steps down to the overlook. The eastern view offers an overlook at the end of the handicap accessible Gentle Trail.
After a picnic lunch near the Blackwater Falls Lodge, we hiked down to Elakala Falls. This is a series of three waterfalls, the last of which is quite difficult to access, that cascade into Blackwater Canyon.
The trail to the first waterfall is short but steep. With so much moisture in the air from the falls, the surrounding forest is mossy and reminds us of a fairy land.
We set up a tripod to get long-exposure images of the waterfall.
Across from the Elakala Falls Trail and Blackwater Falls Lodge is the trail to Balanced Rock, a massive boulder that seems to balance on a much smaller one. The 2.5 loop trail passes by this unique geologic feature.
Lindy Point Overlook
We finished the day with a 0.3 mile walk out to Lindy Point. This overlook gives panoramic views of Blackwater Canyon from the westernmost point of the park. This area is beautiful at sunset or sunrise.
DAY THREE: Potomac Highlands Weekend Getaway
After another hearty breakfast at Gino’s Cafe & Restaurant, we explored more around Davis. We found some geocaches along the Davis Trail that lines the Blackwater River and refilled our water bottles from a natural spring along Route 32.
Canaan Valley Resort State Park
After leaving Davis, we drove to the Canaan Valley Resort State Park for some easy hiking and exploration. The park includes a number of activities popular at mountain resorts like hiking, golfing, archery, swimming, and skiing.
We hiked trails that meandered through the park’s diverse landscape, including unique “tundra” wetlands, forests with young trees growing from nurse logs, and scenic overlooks.
We saw more wildlife at Canaan Valley Resort State Park than any other place on our trip. The forests and wetlands were filled with birds, the butterflies flocked to blooming meadows, and some friendly deer came to say hello.
Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge
Our last stop was to the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, a unique high-elevation wetland and upland habitats normally found in Canada and Maine. The Refuge’s 16,000+ acres are specifically designated to conserve wildlife and the unique landscapes they depend on.
We walked the 0.4 mile Freeland Boardwalk Trail, which includes an interpretive brochure for you to learn about points of interest including wetlands, ponds, shrubs, and a balsam fir forest.
Thanks for following along!
Check out our other visit to Davis, West Virginia. What destinations would you like to visit?