CHARLESTON, W.Va.—The Mountain State of West Virginia is a paradise for waterfall hunters. Perhaps no other state in the eastern U.S. can boast as many waterfalls, as few others can boast as many mountains. Two important ranges course through the Mountain State—the Alleghenies and the Cumberlands, both of which harness the rains and provide the drops in elevation necessary to create falls.
Randall Sanger, author of "Waterfalls of Virginia and West Virginia," is among the foremost photographers of West Virginia waterfalls and has contributed greatly to its fame as a destination for waterfall hunters. He has provided the following images of eleven of many cataracts he had the opportunity to immortalize.
Blackwater Falls may be the best-known waterfall in West Virginia, partly because of its prominence as the centerpiece of Blackwater Falls State Park. The Blackwater River is so-named for spruce tannins that tinge its waters brown. Here Sanger left established park trails behind and hiked along the river to capture the cataract's distinct curtain from downstream in the canyon of the Blackwater.
Also within Blackwater Falls State Park, Shays Run plunges over three waterfalls, known as the Elakala Falls, in its descent to the Blackwater River. According to legend, a princess named Elakala threw herself over the edge of the first fall when her lover scorned her. In another, a girl-shy warrior named Elakala fell to his death while being pursued by two women. Here Sanger captures the upper falls.
The Mash Fork of Camp Creek descends out of the forest south of Great Flat Top Mountain, protected by Camp Creek State Forest. Mash Fork Falls, one of two waterfalls in Camp Creek State Park, drops over a ledge near the park's Mash Fork Campground. The falls and nearby Campbell Falls are easily accessible and are favorite destinations for waterfall hunters in southern West Virginia.
Also in Camp Creek State Park, Camp Creek drops through a series of tiers at Campbell Falls, a short walk from the park's Blue Jay Campground. The tiers, or steps, are created by the erosion of layers of sandstone and siltstone. Both Campbell Falls and nearby Mash Fork Falls are favorite wading spots for visitors in the hot summer months, though both are also popular fishing holes, so waders should watch for fish hooks.
The North Fork of the Blackwater River plunges into a boulder-strewn bed near Thomas, West Virginia. Rocks along the fork have been stained orange by sulfides following years of coal mining in the mountains, though the fork is being restored. Douglas Falls is a drive of only about seven miles from Blackwater Falls and Elekala Falls, and waterfall hunters often visit the three in the same outing.
One of West Virginia's largest waterfalls, Sandstone Falls wanders for nearly a mile across the New River, tiered in places and dropping the river in a curtained cataract more than 800 feet wide. Here Sanger captures the turbulence as the New turns into a channel near its highest plunge. The falls and surrounding islands are well-known landmarks within the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.
The falls of the Tygart Valley River at Valley Falls State Park aren't the only waterfalls within its bounds. Glady Fork, a tributary of the Tygart, drops over a sandstone cliff here, very near its mouth on the river at Twin Falls. The Valley Falls were principal sources of power on the river, and the stone ruins of gristmills and spillways here are chief attractions in the park.
Dunloup Falls drops over a sandstone cliff about a mile-and-a-half above the creek's mouth on the New River near the ghost town of Thurmond, West Virginia. The waterfall is among the most accessible in the area, though several other smaller falls are located on the stream and on branches nearby. The waterfall is famously on a favorite scenic route to Thurmond, where the National Park Service has established a seasonal visitor center.
Another of the best-known waterfalls in West Virginia, Cathedral Falls cascades over a series of ledges in a punch-bowl geologic formation. A short walk from U.S. 60, the waterfall is a popular picnic spot, partly due to its accessibility but also because of the size and complexity of its fall, which includes fans, horsetails, and plunges.
The three waterfalls that descend Hill Creek together draw waterfall hunters from across the globe. The Falls of Hills Creek arise among the highest peaks in the Mountain State, protected by the Monongahela National Forest. In recent years the National Forest Service completed a series of stairs and walkways that lead visitors to the third and highest falls.
West Virginia waterfalls photographed by Randall Sanger
Many of Sanger's waterfall photos and other images of West Virginia and adjoining states are available for perusal and purchase at RandallSanger.com.
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