West Virginia is blessed with a variety of waterfalls. There is just something about the sound and scenery of falling water that can hypnotize the soul. We recently revisited Valley Falls State Park, a hidden gem that is only seven miles from Interstate 79, between Fairmont and Grafton on State Route 310. This small park is located where the Tygart Valley River magnificently tumbles over a series of four sandstone ledges in the river.
Valley Falls boasts 1,145 forested acres, 18 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, a playground and other facilities, as well as the natural beauty of the falls which are also open to anglers. Although the park is categorized as a day-use park—it has no lodge or campground and is closed for the winter months—there is camping available nearby at Tygart Lake State Park or Audra State Park.
Steeped in History
It’s interesting to see the historic remnants of the lumber yard and grist mill that once operated there. There was once a bustling community here in the late 1800s, but a fire in 1886 and floods in 1888 erased most of the town from the valley.
The name of the river itself has an interesting history, named for an early settler in the Beverly area by the name of David Tygart. The river forms near the border between Randolph and Pocahontas counties, and flows through Huttonsville, Elkins, Belington, Philippi, and Grafton along the way to the falls near Fairmont. Although most folks simply refer to it as the Tygart River, the waterway is officially recognized as the Tygart Valley River by the United States Board on Geographic Names. Regardless of what you call the river, it’s worth venturing a few miles off the interstate to experience this popular state park.
Hike & Bike
With 18 miles of trails, Valley Falls State Park has become a destination for day trippers looking to clock some miles on foot. The entire trail system is open to mountain bikes, and while 18 total miles isn’t much compared to surrounding areas, challenging singletrack climbs and descents provide great opportunities for clocking laps near the falls.
Those looking for an easy outing should hike or bike the 2.1-mile Deer Trail. Gravel grinders and endurance lovers should check out the 10-mile Valley Falls Loop trail, offering 1,400 foot of gain and descent with singletrack spurs offering technical options.
Valley Falls has become a proving ground for skilled kayakers to drop waterfalls. A deep plunge pool and drops over class 2 – 4 rapids combined with the ability to take-out and hike 1.5 miles back upriver provide an ideal area to dial in your boofing skills. Whitewater kayakers must register at the superintendent’s office prior to running the waterfalls. Although the falls and the rapids are beautiful and melodious, the river can still be dangerous, and the area’s reputation as an easy place to run waterfalls has resulted in kayaking accidents. Beginners should check in with the park ranger for current conditions and always have a boating partner running safety nearby. Recreational swimming is not allowed here because a number of drownings have occurred over the years. Kayakers are advised to avoid hiking back upstream on the railroad, as it remains an active rail line.
With so many recreational options packed into the landscape surrounding the Tygart Valley River’s impressive waterfalls, it’s no wonder that Valley Falls State Park has become the destination of choice in north-central West Virginia.
This piece was inspired by David Kurt’s article “The Call of the Falls,” which originally appeared on his blog Inquisineer. Read more of his travels at www.inquisineer.blogspot.com.