Mountain Trail Rides provides old-fashioned family fun

You’ve heard the stories about “when I was young …,” but this one is true. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, when Ruth Mallow was still in high school, she rose early and helped milk the family’s herd of dairy cows before heading off to school.

Meanwhile, several miles down the road, her future husband, Kermit Bonner, was performing very similar chores at the Bonner family farm. Before it was customary to buy milk at the store, Ruth’s parents, Hank and Erma Mallow, sold and delivered milk from their Canaan Valley dairy to the nearby towns of Davis and Thomas. In the early 50’s, seeing the potential of tourism, the Mallows built a lake on the family farm, stocked it with fish, and opened Mallow’s Maple Grove Lake to the public. In addition to a restaurant, they rented rooms and offered swimming, fishing, ice skating and horseback riding. Their daughter, Ruth, took care of the riding horses. Meanwhile, the Blackwater Falls State Park was under construction and Kermit Bonner was on the building crew. After blasting boulders to make the roadway, Kermit worked as a carpenter on the lodge itself. When the park opened in 1956, the family became the first concessionaires to run its horseback riding stable. Ruth, by then married to Kermit, helped her parents take care of the riding horses at two locations: Canaan Valley and Blackwater Falls State Park.

It would only seem natural that the Bonners’ daughter, Kim, would now be in charge of the new generation family business – Mountain Trail Rides – overseeing dual operations at Canaan Valley and Blackwater Falls State Park. Like her parents, Kim grew up and helped on the family farm during her early years. As most young West Virginians do, she married and left home. Kim worked as a legal assistant in nearby Elkins for 20 years before returning to her roots in 2002, when the family decided to sell their part of the original Mallow farm on Cortland Road at the northern end of Canaan Valley and purchase another farm property on Freeland Road at the southern end of the valley. Dana Burgess and his wife, Wanda, had began giving horseback rides from the Freeland Road location four years earlier and the Bonner family picked up where the Burgesses left off. Now in its 11th year under current management, Mountain Trail Rides offers guided horseback rides year ’round and many other amenities for visitors – especially families with children.

When visiting Mountain Trail Rides, one is usually first greeted by a friendly farm animal, followed immediately by a smiling face. The hospitality is enthusiastic and genuine. The office/gift shop is housed in a renovated barn with warm, rough poplar on the inside and a welcoming, roomy porch on the outside where visitors can relax and enjoy the beautiful view of Canaan Valley. For those who want to interact with live animals, Mountain Trail Rides is heaven-on-earth. Chickens roam freely, accompanied by a strikingly handsome turkey named Tom. Usually a barn cat or two lounge on the porch or are being carried around by a young visitor or Kim’s 4-year-old grandson, Kaden, who politely opens the screen door and invites you to come in. Dog-lovers prefer to visit with the family’s 16-year-old collie, Malachi (who bears a striking resemblance to Lassie) or play with the younger and much smaller terrier-mix, Ellie. To the delight of visitors, Ellie often rides a horse, upon request. A handsome black rooster named Norman also hangs out near the porch in hopes of receiving attention from one of the many visitors. “We take pride in creating a warm, friendly atmosphere and a feeling that this is your place, too” says family spokesperson, Kim Bennett.

Hand-led horseback rides are available for younger children and a petting zoo allows visitors to pet and play with a variety of friendly farm animals from a llama and alpacas to bunnies, kittens, guinea pigs, and ferrets. In 2010, an old-time water sluice was installed so that visitors can “pan” for gemstones and fossils. Also, an Adventure Cave was created so that visitors may search for different rocks, minerals, gems and fossils from all over the world. “The Adventure Cave is extremely popular with children” says Bennett.

In 2012, the Mountain Trail Rides family returned to their very old roots of the Blackwater Falls State Park. This time, however, the barn is filled to the hilt with friendly farm animals and antique farm relics from the Mallow’s dairy days and Kermit Bonner’s childhood. An antique corn sheller from the Bonner farm allows visitors to shell corn on the cob, while a hand grinder allows them to grind the corn and feed it to the young chickens, turkeys, geese and ducks. Among other relics of yesteryear, Erma Mallow’s milk separator and one of her milking machines are displayed, along with a life-sized demonstration milk cow which allows visitors to actually get the experience of “milking” a cow. There is a variety of young poultry, a black Angus calf, a donkey, pig, alpacas, lambs, goats, and more. There is also an interactive exhibit related to bee-keeping. Visitors can try on a bee-keeper’s hat and gloves and handler a smoker, but, don’t worry, no live bees are kept on the premises! A realistic demonstration/teaching hive is used instead. At the Farm Discovery Center petting zoo, the Mountain Trail Rides family hopes to educate the public about the importance of agriculture and regenerate a respect for the hard work, responsibility, stewardship and ingenuity which allows 2% of the population to provide food for the other 98%. “At the Blackwater facility we try to convey information about animals and agriculture which is not common knowledge” says Bennett. “For example, most people don’t know that a rabbit’s milk is so rich and that they only nurse their young for five minutes each day. Or, that lambs say “baa”, while goats say “maa.” The Farm Discovery Center at Blackwater Falls State Park and is located at 1003 Blackwater Lodge Road, Davis, West Virginia. Visitors will follow park signs to the Petting Zoo. The facility is open daily from Spring through Fall. Monday – Saturday, 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. Sundays 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Despite the other attractions, horseback riding is still the main focus of business at Mountain Trail Rides and they credit the gentlest and best-behaved horses in the area for their huge success.

“Our horses are just wonderful,” says Bennett, “and the trail system we’ve created through the nearby meadows and woods provides spectacular views of Canaan Valley. Horseback riding is a great activity for families to do together. It is a real memory-maker and creates some amazing dinner conversation! We often receive notes and emails from visitors who tell us that the horseback riding was the best part of their vacation.”

Mountain Trail Rides is adjacent to the Canaan Valley Resort State Park and Land of Canaan Vacation Resort at 255 Freeland Road, Davis, West Virginia. Rides ranging in length from 1 hour to 5 hours are available year-round, with regular daily schedules maintained Spring through Fall and winter rides given by advance reservation. Sleigh rides are also available during winter months in cooperation with the Canaan Valley Resort State Park. Special events and pricing are available for groups, field trips or retreats. For more information or to arrange a visit, please call 304.866.4652, or email