Blackwater Falls State Park
There’s good reason Blackwater Falls State Park is the most visited park in West Virginia. Accessible overlooks offer panoramic views of the 62-foot majestic falls where water tumbles over rocky outcrops to the tannic pools below. The falls borrow their name from the stained water that leaches acid from the abundant hemlock and red spruce needles. The effect is “black water” though we tend to think it’s more tea-colored than coffee.
The park spans 2,358 acres with more than 20 miles of trail calling hiking and biking enthusiasts alike. Whether you’re stopping in to stretch your legs and grab lunch at The Smokehouse or planning a long weekend stay in one of the park’s 39 cabins there’s plenty to see and do.
Formal accounts of the falls date back to the 1850s. Though, it was a series of articles published in Harper’s Magazine in the 1870s that introduced the natural wonder of the Blackwater Falls to the world. This eventually led to its establishment as an official state park in 1937. Much of the park’s modern infrastructure, including the lodge, was built in the 1950s. Since that time, Blackwater Falls State Park has remained one of West Virginia’s most treasured destinations.
These falls, the largest in the park, are also the largest in all of West Virginia. Measuring 62 feet high, views of this natural monolith are accessible from Blackwater Falls Boardwalk Trail which descends 200 steps for a close-up perspective of the cascading water and tannic pools below. If the trek up and down the many steps is too much, an overlook from Gentle Trail, provides an equally stunning birds-eye view.
There’s no bad time of year to visit Blackwater Falls. Springtime snowmelt makes for dramatic waterfall displays and the trout-stocked rivers are ripe for the fishing throughout April and May. During summer, depending on rainfall, the falls may be milder, but there’s no better time to explore the groves of native rhododendron flowering along the trails. Geocaching, an 18-hold disc golf course, petting zoo and nature center ensure everyone in the family will find the adventure that suits their tastes.
Arguably the most photographed spot in West Virginia, Blackwater Falls is a fall favorite among professional photographers and Instagram influencers alike. The autumn display of colors combined with the mist rolling off the falls during the cooling months is simply unrivaled. But don’t be mistaken, nothing slows down in this park during the winter months. The longest sled run in the east can be found right here. Cross country skiing and snowshoeing are other favorite wintertime activities. The park even offers rental equipment.
Open year-round, the park gift shop sells gorgeous prints and other memorabilia to help you remember your trip.
It’s impossible to cover the entire park in one day. Luckily, you don’t have to. Accommodations from primitive camping to deluxe vacation cabins are available. Those looking for something in between may opt for a camper site with electric hookup, a comfortable and convenient room in the lodge, or a classic cabin on a spacious wooded lot.
Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, The Smokehouse, located in the lodge is open year-round. Menu favorites include a build-your-own omelet, the pork belly burger and the pan-seared trout. The view of the Blackwater Canyon from the restaurants oversized windows makes the dining experience all the better. Not many things can beat a dinnertime sunset over the canyon viewed from the outdoor patio in summertime.
Falls and Overlooks of Blackwater Falls State Park
The original meaning of Elakala is the stuff of legend, but, as one of the stories goes, a young Native American princess threw herself over the falls after being scorned by her lover, thus lending her name to the falls. No doubt, the bridge that overlooks these falls has been the site of many romantic moments over the years—hopefully less dramatic moments. Elakala Falls is a series of 4 falls ranging in height from 40 feet to 15, though the first one is the only accessible by trail. The remaining three are difficult to reach and should only be tried by experience hikers. At the height of the season, Elakala Falls Trail is less crowded than the Blackwater Falls trails.
If you don’t have a photo of Lindy Point, have you even been to West Virginia? Perhaps the most photographed scape in the state, the rock outcroppings and expansive views of Blackwater Canyon make Lindy Point a worthy destination even if you never lay eyes on a waterfall. This vertigo-inducing 3,000 foot view of the Allegheny Mountains should be on everyone’s must-see list.
For another equally inspiring and unobstructed view of Blackwater Canyon, Pendleton Point Overlook is easily access from the parking area. This overlook offers a vantage of the widest and deepest section of the canyon.
For the explorer who prefers solitude on the trail, Pase Point is Blackwater Falls’ best kept secret. This out and back hike follows a ridgeline replete with panoramas of the sweeping mountains. The rhododendron growing along this trail are not to be missed.
Other Attractions to Discover at Blackwater Falls
Water comes in all forms at Blackwater Falls State Park, and that includes the still waters of Pendleton Lake. Its proximity to the visitors center, picnic areas, basketball and volleyball courts make the lake a perfect gathering spot for families or groups. For those who want to explore the far reaches of the lake, kayak and paddleboat rentals are available. But it’s the anglers who love Pendleton Lake the most for its largemouth bass, bluegill, and channel catfish rife for the catching. The lake is stocked with trout monthly throughout the spring months, too. Just be sure you’ve reviewed the WV DNR’s regulations before you cast your line.
Largemouth Bass, Blue Gill, and Channel Catfish http://www.wvdnr.gov/Fishing/Stocking/DailyStock.shtm
Escaping the city for the weekend? If you’re bringing the kids along, you won’t want to miss the Barnyard Babies Petting Zoo operated by Mountain Trail Rides. Here you’ll find gentle farm animals from bunnies and chickens to llamas and donkeys. There’s even a pig! And they all love a little scratch behind the ear. Except for the chickens; we can’t find their ears. Animal feed is available for purchase to coax the shyest beasts closer.
Who says Blackwater Falls State Park is best seen in summer and fall?! The park boasts the longest sled run on the east coast, and you’ll only experience that when the snow blankets the valley. This spectacular ride will have you singing “over the river and through the woods.” Although, we admit riding the Magic Carpet conveyor, also the longest in the east, to the top of the hill is almost as fun as sledding down the quarter-mile wooded path.
Blackwater Falls State Park is replete with picnic sites for parties of all sizes. Several are located near Pendleton Lake and a large covered pavilion will keep your crew dry during the many unscheduled summer rainstorms. You’re sure to find the perfect spot to unpack your picnic basket—maybe even a rocky outcropping with a view.
Take a Hike at Blackwater Falls State Park
“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” John Muir said it, but you’ll think it as you explore the more than 20 miles of trail weaving through Blackwater Falls State Park. Trails range from easy to difficult and offer breathtaking canyon vistas, shadowy hemlock forests, wildlife sightings, and, of course, waterfall views. Grab a trail map at the visitors center and ask a ranger for the inside scoop.