Blackwater Falls is the principle attraction and reason to be for Blackwater Falls State Park near Davis, West Virginia. The falls themselves cascade from a height of 62 feet (five stories) at their tallest point. The width is variable, depending on the volume of the river—Blackwater River, that is, which is named for the high tannin content of its waters. In truth, the river isn’t so much black as amber, reminding me of the peaty streams we’ve encountered in the Scottish Highlands,
Himself and Yours Truly have seen a different face of Blackwater Falls with each of our visits. That face has ranged from a few trickles when the river is low to a raging torrent covering the full width of the channel after a period of heavy rains. Most of the time, the falls divide impressively around a beck-shaped rocky protrusion. But when the river is high, the single curtain of the cascade is truly glorious.
Much of the majesty of Blackwater Falls can be credited to the location. The river has formed a deep gorge along its course through the Allegheny plateau. At the falls themselves, the south rim of the canyon (actually, it’s more northeast than south at this particular location) ends in a sheer, almost vertical drop, showing off a rocky cliff topped by a mixed woodland—mostly conifers but accented by an occasional broadleaf.
The north side of the canyon is steep and would be a hard climb but for the series of wooden stairways and ramps installed by park management. This path serves two vital purposes. It provides less-fit visitors with a convenient way to get up-close and personal with the falls (probably saving lives in the process). And it protects the local ecology by saving it from repeated footfalls, slips and slides from missed footing, and grabs at plants and rocks to prevent the foolhardy from plunging down the slope and into the river below.
The season and the weather contribute to the endless variety that brings visitors back to the falls time after time. The natural scents of the woodlands and color scheme of each season form a kaleidoscope of beauty. Spring brings sprigs of delicate green unsure as to whether they will survive a late freeze. Summer features the mature forest green that seems to block the sun. Fall offers a frenzy of variations on yellow, orange, and red. And winter brings blankets of white. In the case of our last visit, an October snow scattered fall leaves on the surface of the snow like jewels on a carpet. It was an unexpected treat to the senses.
The main "trail" to Blackwater Falls offers two viewing platforms, one about halfway down and the other more-or-less on eye-level with the cascade. From parking lot to the lower viewing platform, this trail descends 320 vertical feet, in which one is almost always climbing or ascending. Still, the steps are in good condition, with reasonable treads and rises, and they can be used easily by most visitors with no serious mobility issues. We also appreciated the sturdy handrails, which we rarely needed but often found helpful. For hale and hardy hikers, there is also a steep trail leading down to the basin under the falls. Finally, there is a so-called "gentle trail" on the south side of the canyon. This path is wheelchair accessible. It is fully paved, and visitors are able to enjoy a view of the falls from a high-level overlook. This viewpoint is by no means close-up, but it shows off the majesty of the falls and their surroundings quite clearly. The trails are the north side of the canyon are served by a sizable parking area and by a small "trading post" offering park souvenirs, a snack bar and picnic tables, and toilets. The accessible path has a roadside parking area that is large enough to accommodate a bus and several cars.
Himself and Yours Truly are moderately fit seniors, and we took in the views from both the accessible trail and wooden stairway. It’s tempting to say that we avoided the steeper path to the falls’ base because the recent snow or (on other occasions) mud made it more hazardous, but in truth neither us are inclined to risk ourselves or our beloved SLR cameras but attempting such a strenuous trail. (I’m pretty sure the park’s emergency team would appreciate such a decision!)
There is no charge for visiting Blackwater Falls and enjoying its beauty. The only costs are in terms of time, energy, nearby lodging, and transportation. For this investment, visitors get an eyeful of beauty, the sights and sounds of nature, and exertion to match his/her abilities and inclinations. By any accounting, it’s a deal! For more information on Blackwater Falls State Park in general or Blackwater Falls in particular, reference the park’s Web page (http://www.blackwaterfalls.com/) or visit the onsite Nature Center.