After my brief visit to Blackwater Falls State Park West Virginia, I found the license plate slogan “wild, wonderful” to be spot on.
After three days in the city– first in Philadelphia and then on to D.C.– staying in busy hostels and spending hours walking through the streets in the sweltering summer weather, I knew I was going to need time to myself. For years, hiking has been my way to reset and reflect. Blackwater Falls State Park in West Virginia, a short drive from Washington, D.C., was the perfect destination for slowing down and reconnecting.
I left D.C. just as the morning rush-hour traffic swamped the city. I took the opportunity of stand-still travel to listen to the CD I’d purchased the day before at the National American Indian Museum. The soulful chanting, fluttering flute notes, and grounding drum beats were enough to keep me calm and happy during the wait. Once the traffic broke it didn’t take long before I was in West Virginia and enjoying the most scenic driving I’ve experienced so far. Winding roads cut through the mountains making for hairpin turns with rocks to one side and dramatic drops to the other. I felt as if I were a driver in an arcade racing game, only going much, much slower. I was happy that the locals passed me along the way so I could take my time and enjoy the view. Farms, forests, and mountains led the way to Blackwater Falls.
I opted to stay in the lodge, though more expensive than I’d planned for accommodations, it was worth not having to drive back through the street-light-less mountains late at night. The lodge was well worth the extra money, slightly higher than budget motels or hostels, but still cheaper than higher-end hotels. The lodge featured a 200 person capacity function room and dining room serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner from 7 AM to 9 PM, a fitness center with cardio equipment and weights, a Jacuzzi, swimming pool, arcade game room, Ping-Pong table, two large main rooms with comfy chairs and fireplaces for the wintertime, a spacious screened porch, a back deck perfect for viewing the sunset, a gift shop, and modest sleeping accommodations. After three days of hostel-living, the solitude and spaciousness was a much needed reprieve.
A series of trails of varying difficulty levels begin around the lodge and across the river in the campsite area. I started with a short loop from Elakala, down Balanced Rock, and on to the Shay Run Trail. All are accessible, clearly marked trails suitable for beginners. The steepest part of the Elakala Trail has a wooden stairway built in to make ascending easier.
I reentered the woods from across the road at the start of the Yellow Birch Trail. The trail loops around by the road far enough in that you’ll forget how close you are to civilization and leads eventually to an overlook of Blackwater Falls, the waterfall from which the park takes its name. For the most part this trail is suitable for beginner/ intermediate hikers, although there is one point along the trail where you must squeeze through and descend down two large boulders on the way to the falls, then find your footing to climb back up on the return trip. The drop is only a few feet to the ground, but it’s a tricky maneuver that would pose a challenge to most hikers.
If you’re not interested in hiking and just want to visit the overlook for the falls, there’s a convenient parking lot along the main road where you can stop and take a short walk down a paved path that will lead you to the overlook. Looking down, there appeared to be a second overlook further down and extending from a hiking trail that begins by the campgrounds. Had I gotten to the park earlier I would have explored the other trail, but instead settled for some photographs from above.
When I first arrived at the lodge and was browsing the lobby bulletin boards, I came across a sign for an outdoor yoga class by Pendleton Point Overlook. I was excited to find that the class was Wednesday nights only—the day I happened to pass through Blackwater Falls. Pendleton Falls is a short drive from the lodge and worth the visit whether for yoga or just sight-seeing. Perch on a peak high over the river and watch as it cuts a zig-zag line through the forest. Yoga takes place on Wednesdays from 6-7 in the grass just beyond the overlook during the summer months when the sun is shining.
After the serendipitous yoga class, I returned to the lodge where I treated myself to dinner in the dining room. Although the menu was mostly meat dishes, they did have several pasta options for vegetarians. Better than the food and the dining though is the view of the forest from the wall-to-wall windows that line the dining area. I was able to watch the sun set slowly as I waited for my meal. I couldn’t have dreamed up a better ending to a perfect day away from the city and into the woods.
What to be Aware of if You Go
Like most national parks, Blackwater Falls is filled with warning signs about local wildlife including black bears. At several points along the trail I thought, or imagined, I heard the low growling of a bear, but I am a city-girl after all and have a better chance of identifying the kick of the ignition to a Ford pick-up truck than the sounds of a bear in the woods. I was thankful that I didn’t discover the origins of the sounds, whether real or imagined, airplane or animal. If you do happen to encounter a bear along the way, don’t run, back away slowly while making lots of noise. To ward off wandering bears, calling out, “Hey Bear” as you walk can be a deterrent. I half-hoped that I’d meet someone along the way who heard my bear calls and growling, but neither bear nor human made himself seen though I did share a trail with a deer eating dinner. We both eyed each other with suspicion, then she went on to eating and I went on to walking.
If you are going to explore one of the hiking trails, be sure to wear solid waterproof hiking boots or shoes, especially following a rainstorm. I encountered several puddles like the one pictured above, as well as swampy-quick-sand-like ditches of mud that sucked my shoe in past the laces. There were places where walking through the woods around the trail was better than staying on the trail itself.
Blackwater Falls Short and Simple
Based on the license plates on the cars in the lodge parking lot, I’d say Blackwater Falls is a regular getaway for locals and a quiet spot for small functions. If you find yourself in D.C. or any of the surrounding cities and just need some time in nature, Blackwater Falls with its miles of hiking trails, campgrounds, scenic overlooks, and activity-packed lodge is the perfect place for a getaway.