Known by many as the Birthplace of Rivers, West Virginia is a waterfall-rich state. Thousands of miles of streams and rivers feature countless waterfalls and cascades of various sizes. Many of our beautiful streams are rather dry and unappealing in the summer, meaning those gushing spring waterfalls are often reduced to mere trickles by August. However, there are still plenty of waterfalls that shine during those rain-free months. Here is a top-ten list of my favorite summer waterfalls. The list begins with waterfalls that are guaranteed to have good summer flows and ends with a few that are typically good but could use a little bit of rain to kick them up a notch.
Located on the New River near Hinton, Sandstone Falls is always a sure bet for waterfall photography, in part because extra water is added by the confluences of the Bluestone and Greenbrier rivers several miles upstream. These consistent flows crash over a series of river-wide ledges ranging from 15 to 25 feet in height on this 1500-foot-wide section of the New. Sandstone Falls is easily accessible thanks to an elaborate quarter-mile boardwalk and bridge system. Just a few feet from where the boardwalk ends are a network of user-created trails giving you access to even further exploration and intimate views of the unique spouts and pour-overs.
Even in the driest months of summer, Dunloup Creek Falls is another sure bet. This waterfall is one of my favorite West Virginia waterfalls and photographs better with lower flows. Views from the roadside are available, but for stream-level views, a short-but-steep scramble down the bank is required. Dunloup Creek empties into the New River a few miles downstream of the falls near the historic railroad town of Thurmond, which is worth a visit on its own.
The iconic and majestic Blackwater Falls is the crown jewel of Tucker County and one of West Virginia’s most-visited waterfalls. Although flow is heavily reduced during the summer months, you’ll almost always find enough water falling over the 57-foot sandstone ledge to make your journey worthwhile. There are two popular viewing options: the ADA-accessible Gentle Trail overlook or the Lower Viewing Platform. Additionally, a more adventurous trek down the steep, forested canyon follows an unofficial path created by kayakers, leading to magnificent river-level views. You’ll find this path at the aforementioned Gentle Trail parking area—the well-trodden trail lies just past a sign warning of the dangers of entering the canyon.
Situated on the North Fork of the Blackwater River, Douglas Falls is fed by several tributaries upstream, so summertime flows are relatively consistent. Douglas Falls is accessed from the Blackwater Canyon Trail via Rail Falls Road near the town of Thomas and the setting is amazing. Boulders are stained orange from acid mine drainage that has heavily impacted the river but clean-up measures are in place and aquatic life is beginning to make a comeback.
The High Falls of the Cheat is a gorgeous waterfall in a true backcountry setting. Even in drought conditions, Shavers Fork of the Cheat River typically has just enough water flowing to make the roughly 8.4-mile round-trip hike worth your while. The trailhead is located on Beulah Road near Glady. If the long hike does not sound appealing, you can catch a ride on the Tygart Flyer from Elkins, travel along the old logging rail line, and stop at the falls for half an hour of viewing time.
It seems there’s a Mill Creek in just about every watershed, but Mill Creek Falls near Ansted is a cut above the rest. Access these picturesque falls via the Ansted Rail Trail or by following Hawks Nest Road and parking just upstream from the falls. Although Mill Creek Falls is the highlight of this rugged stream, take some time to explore the plethora of cascades both upstream and downstream from the main falls. A short and rugged scramble down to the falls will give you the best photo opportunities, but roadside or trailside views are also available.
Offering an idyllic veiled set of falls, Brush Creek Falls on its namesake creek is a tributary to the scenic Bluestone River. You’ll find these falls in Mercer County near Princeton, where an easy-but-rocky quarter-mile hike from the parking area will lead you to this beautiful waterfall. Brush Creek is a hefty stream and summertime flows are typically healthy enough to deserve a spot on your itinerary.
Blackwater Falls State Park is also home to Shay’s Run, which offers two of my favorite West Virginia waterfalls: Elakala Falls #1 and #2. These successive falls are located just a short walk from the Blackwater Falls State Park Lodge, and while drought conditions sometimes reduce the flow to a trickle here, a little bit of rain will quickly get them back to a worthwhile condition. From the lodge parking lot, follow the official Elakala Trail for 0.2 miles over the bridge, and then look for a well-worn unofficial path down to the stream.
Although technically a roadside waterfall, many folks driving on Fayette Station Road miss out on Wolf Creek Falls. Because it’s hidden deep in the canyon adjacent to the New River Gorge and especially due to the fully leafed trees surrounding the stream, this big waterfall can be especially difficult to spot from the road. Summertime flows are typically strong enough to make this waterfall a worthwhile stop, but the steep scramble down to the falls may be a hinderance to some. You can access Wolf Creek from the Kaymoor trailhead from Fayette Station Road in Fayetteville.
Randall Sanger is a photographer and author who resides in Williamson with his wife Melissa, their daughter Hannah, and his trusty hiking pup Rocky. His latest book, Waterfalls of Virginia and West Virginia, was published in June of 2018.