This past week, I took an excursion out to Holly River State Park in Webster County on the hunt for waterfalls that I had not experienced before in person! I made the determination the night before that I would head out at a decent time and try to visit every single waterfall that the park had to offer, and I didn’t leave one bit disappointed, despite water flow being a little below normal with how dry it is has been in central West Virginia.
It took me about two hours to get to Holly River State Park in the Hacker Valley area of Webster County from where I reside. When I made my way into Webster County via WV-15 and then WV-20, some of the hickories were already blossoming with bright oranges – an early start to what promises to be a beautiful fall foliage season in this area and across the state in general.
I divided my travels into three parts for the waterfall excursion. The first part would take me to Tecumseh Falls on the Reverie Trail on the northern side of the park. Next, I’d head down WV-3 and head over to Shupe’s Chute, Upper Falls, Lower Falls and anything else along the Left Fork Holly River. Finally, I’d make the scramble on the Potato Knob Trail up to Tenskwatana Falls. These three treks are highlighted in the map below:
This total excursion took about 6 hours for me to complete – a big chunk of that time was spent on the last part of my hike up to Tenskwatana Falls, which I’ll describe shortly. In general, every waterfall at Holly River State Park is a real joy to witness in person, and each are unique. Although there are five ‘main’ waterfalls that are described usually for Holly River State Park (Shupe’s Chute, Tecumseh, Upper and Lower, and Tenskwatana Falls), I was able to find and document nine total waterfalls, which are all described below. A friend of mine mentions of a secret waterfall located on the Tramontane Trail in the south-central part of the park – I was unable to get to this due to me finishing my hike at dusk, but I do plan on being back to Holly River State Park in the winter for more photos and to try to locate this secret waterfall, dubbed locally as ‘Mystic Falls’. This post is divided into the three parts of my travels, and will go into detail about the hikes and what to expect. NOTE: Right click on each photo to view the full resolution photo.
Hike #1: Tecumseh Falls
I first arrived to Holly River State Park by heading off of WV-10 and turning onto Park Road. This is the main thoroughfare that takes you through the heart of the park. There’s a lot of features right off of this roadway, including a restaurant, tennis courts, park office, and more. You’ll only drive about a 1/3 of a mile down Park Road before there’s a nice pull-off area to the right where you can park your vehicle. It’ll be the first big pull-off you come to and is the campground entrance at the park. Directly on the opposite side of the road is the Reverie Trail, which is the trail that takes you to Tecumseh Falls. Park at the graveled pull-off area, carefully cross the road and then head into the woods via the Reverie Trail.
Reverie Trail is 3.5 miles long in length – but you won’t need to hike all of that. In total, I walked about 1.5 miles to Tecumseh Falls, and then retraced my steps back. Once you’re at the falls, you can either continue the hike, which will intersect Pickens Road, or you can turn around like I did and come back right where you came. There are some neat features farther beyond Tecumseh Falls, including a primitive camping site. The trail is marked with yellow – so it’s pretty easy to see the yellow on the brown bark of trees as you make your way up the hollow toward the waterfall.
The hike up to Tecumseh Falls begins very flat, and the majority of your hike to the waterfall will remain that way until you’re near your destination. The Reverie Trail follows Big Run, a beautiful stream that empties into Laurel Fork back at the campground entrance. Laurel Fork empties into the Left Fork Holly River, which will be discussed in detail farther down.
As you hike farther up Reverie Trail, Big Run gets smaller and smaller. The stream is actually the result of two mountain streams coming together not far below Tecumseh Falls. Tecumseh Falls is located on the most eastern of these two branches. The first mile of the hike is pretty tame, as you remain parallel and relatively flat in elevation to Big Run. The trail is a bit rocky and you do encounter two creek crossings during this trek. I went on this hike during a low-flow day and didn’t have any issues or concerns getting my feet wet in my shoes, as the creek bed was sufficiently dry in places to be able to cross with ease. However, if you decide to hike after a heavy rain, something to protect your feet would be a good move. Portions of the trail are a bit crumbly with rock, but I didn’t have any issues with that – just something to keep in mind.
One neat feature you will encounter is Dreamer’s Meadow. You’ll come up on it kind of abruptly and it is a small field in the middle of a dense forest, which makes it unusual. According to a geocaching website, the name of the field is thought to come from a homesteader in that area from many years ago that had a mule named Dreamer. There was plenty of wildlife on Reverie Trail, especially in this area, so if you enjoy seeing nature at work, you’ll like Reverie Trail.
After about a mile, you will abruptly begin inclining quickly – it’s a steep grade in places. As you incline, Big Run splits into two streams, and you follow the eastern stream. Take it slow and steady, as you’ll incline a couple of hundred feet over the course of about a quarter mile. I’ve certainly encountered worse grades, but my heart was beating at a fast pace once I finished it. As you incline, there are some posts that have been dug into the ground for you to hold onto and rest and/or use for support. For me, these came in particularly handy on the way down.
It’s a couple of steep inclines with switchbacks before you make it to Tecumseh Falls. It wasn’t a heavy flow when I got there, but I was still very happy to see it flowing, and the flow was definitely sufficient for some fun captures. The fifteen foot overhang still had some water coming off of it.
Tecumseh Falls offers you the ability to get creative with your photo captures, as you have access to 360 degrees of capturing – you can even shoot behind the falls in a cave area, which was pretty neat. It would be the perfect spot for a nice lunch. The trail itself continues behind the falls and up and over to the next mountain. I stopped at the falls, rested for a few minutes and then took several captures of Tecumseh – named after a Shawnee warrior chief.
The cave behind Tecumseh Falls is pretty neat, too, and if you get the sunshine just right, you could probably get a better shot of the water trickling off the overhang than I could!
Once you finish enjoying Tecumseh Falls, if you decide to cover the steps you made on your way up to Tecumseh, you’ll be really thankful for the posts I alluded to that are in the ground on the decline back down the mountain – it’s steep and a bit treacherous, but those posts are great for giving you support.
I headed back down to the valley below along Big Run, made it back to my car and then headed to part 2 of my expedition, which begins at Fall Run on the opposite side of the park in the southeastern area. In total, this hike took me a little over two hours to complete, but in that time, I finally knocked out Tecumseh Falls and got some great shots of the fall scenery on the northern side of Holly River State Park.
Hike #2: Upper, Lower Falls & Shupe’s Chute
We have a lot to cover in this section! I wasn’t expecting there to be as many waterfalls on this hike as there was – seven in total, but it sure didn’t leave me disappointed!
I drove down WV-3 from the main highway and drove above 4.2 miles east – it does turn to gravel toward the end of this stretch of highway, but I was driving a low-clearance sedan and didn’t have any issues. After driving that distance, there’s another gravel road that splits off the main road to the right. There’s signs indicating Shupe’s Chute and Upper Falls – drive down that split (right side) and you’ll be at a nice parking area in a couple hundred feet.
Once you park and get out of your vehicle, you have two options: you can hike to the left and go to Upper Falls or you can hike right and head down toward the Left Fork Holly River. A third option at the parking lot is to head up the mountain on Potato Knob for a scenic view of the area below – I wish I had time to do this, but I spent more time than I expected at Tenskwatana Falls – more on that shortly.
What I did was head to the left first to grab Upper Falls, before heading to the right and downstream toward the Left Fork Holly River. The Upper Falls is along a stream called ‘Fall Run’, which empties into the Left Fork Holly River at Shupe’s Chute.
When you head left, you almost immediately start on a nice boardwalk that gently takes you down to water’s edge. You’ll be able to see Upper Falls from a good distance away and walk right up to it from the boardwalk. If you brought good water shoes or waders, you’ll definitely have plenty of opportunities to enjoy this spot from multiple angles.
Even on a low-flow day, Upper Falls was looking fantastic, with beautiful hues of yellows and oranges with peak fall season approaching. Upper Falls stands at about twenty feet tall. During periods of heavy rain, this waterfall will really come alive – along with the other waterfalls in this area, but I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of flow on a dry day in September.
Once you’ve grabbed your shots or taken time to simply enjoy this fantastic waterfall, you can begin to head southwest on the Potato Knob Trail, which is blazed in red. You’ll retrace your steps up the boardwalk that you came down and then head the opposite direction (to the right) from the area where you parked, following Fall Run to your left. It doesn’t take much walking to start to reach more waterfalls, including a nice drop just a few hundred feet east on the Potato Knob Trail. Keep in mind that there are places during this part of the Potato Knob Trail where you are basically walking on the right shelf of the creek bank – it can be a bit slick, especially after rain on the smooth rocks – just something to keep in mind!
Since this next waterfall is located between the Upper and Lower Falls, I just dubbed them ‘Middle Falls’. It’s a waterfall spanning the entirety of Fall Run in three segments. I am surprised this waterfall isn’t mentioned much of anywhere, as the drop is at least six feet – definitely worthy of being mentioned. I hopped down off of the trail and took a quick scurry down to creek level, where I was able to get right up on it for a few captures.
Once you hike past Middle Falls, you’ve got a real treat just around the bend waiting on you – Shupe’s Chute! This narrow pathway of water flow is named after a former superintendent of the park, Walter Shupe, according to the West Virginia Encyclopedia. This chute is much larger (it’s about a fifteen to twenty feet angled drop) than I ever was expecting – and it had a great flow to it even on a dry day!
The natural feature is located only about a 1/4 mile farther down from Middle Falls. There’s plenty of spots to check out here, as there are two large boulders that you can easily track over to get a good look at the chute. The water squeezes in between these two boulders and the mountainside before emptying into the Left Fork Holly River at the swimming hole below the boulders.
I had plenty of time on my side, so I spent a good bit of time relaxing and also working on capturing some unique angles of this spot. Again, this is where Fall Run empties into the Left Fork Holly River. Left Fork of Holly River then continues west along the Potato Knob Trail until you hike past the Lower Falls, which will be discussed next.
It’s amazing the amount of work that can be done by the pressures of water, and Shupe’s Chute will certainly allow you to appreciate it, as you can easily see the effects of pounding water on rock as Fall Run makes one final plunge. I know of people who slide down Shupe’s Chute to go swimming at the swimming hole where Fall Run and the Left Fork of Holly River meet. If you decide to embark on that, just be careful, as there are rocks that protrude from Shupe’s Chute on the way down – this activity was not in the cards for me on this day, as there were more waterfalls to check out!
In the last image (bottom right) above, I walked off of the Potato Knob Trail and slipped my way down into the Left Fork Holly River. I was grabbing some captures of the lower end of Shupe’s Chute, when I looked to my right and saw another waterfall looking right at me! This is the first of four waterfalls that I encountered on the Left Fork Holly River, so I just named these waterfalls through numbers 1 through 4 appropriately.
Therefore, while Shupe’s Chute empties Fall Run into the Left Fork Holly River, there is also another waterfall essentially at the same spot coming from the Left Fork Holly River, and everything comes together at a swimming hole below Shupe’s Chute. I’m not sure how deep the water is here, but I think it’s safe to say that it’s at least six feet deep. I was surprised how large this swimming hole was, too – definitely plenty of room to swim a bit.
Lower Falls #1 (shown above) is not a huge waterfall in the least bit, as the water ‘oozes’ slowly over a rocky bulk in the creek. But I found it quite majestic the way the water eases over the rocks and into the swimming hole. I didn’t go any farther up the Left Fork Holly River from this spot, but I am curious to see if there are any additional waterfalls farther upstream and may venture out on some of this on a return hike in the winter, time permitting.
From here, you’ll head back on the Potato Knob Trail, where you are hiking almost due west. The trail kind of is an unusual course, as it basically has you hike clockwise from the parking area and beyond. There are three more waterfalls that can pretty easily be viewed from Potato Knob, the first of which is probably the second-most popular waterfall at Holly River State Park – Lower Falls.
I call this waterfall ‘Lower Falls #2’ because the first waterfall is above it where Fall Run and Left Fork Holly River collide. I will say, this is the one waterfall that I was surprised to see a little less flow than what I was expecting, especially considering the considerable flow above back up at Shute’s Chupe. Nonetheless, it’s another wonderful waterfall about fifteen feet that will provide you with plenty of angle and perspective opportunities – and I tried to take advantage of those.
I usually am not a big fan of trees becoming lodged in waterfalls, but a two feet diameter tree lodged on the left side of the waterfall added some character, at least in my opinion. I’ve seen some photos of this waterfall absolutely roaring, but on this day, Lower Falls was pretty docile, with two main streams on each side of the waterfall letting the Left Fork Holly River continue its flow downstream.
There is one last nice waterfall on the Left Fork Holly River viewable from the Potato Knob, and it’s almost directly below the waterfall described above. I actually enjoyed this waterfall better than Lower Falls #2, as Left Fork Holly River scurries down a river-wide drop and into another shallower swimming hole.
Although you may be tempted to just head down the creek bank to this waterfall from Lower Falls #2, I would not suggest it, as the creek rock in this area is very slick. I hopped back up on the Potato Trail and scooted down maybe 100 feet to get down to this beautiful waterfall. Again, it’s my favorite waterfall of the falls that I’ve dubbed the Lower Falls, as I love the way the water elegantly flows into the shallow swimming hole below. I also love the layered appearance of rocks along the back of the waterfall – you can especially see this feature in the middle photo below.
Do some exploring here! Checking out different angles and perspectives will result in some surprisingly drastically different photos, as shown below. The first photo is taken from the rock on the right side of the second and third photos below. Just be careful because again, the rocks are a bit slick in these areas.
Finally, last but not least is a very small but charming two-footer that I discovered right as the Potato Knob Trail begins to veer away from Left Fork Holly River. It’s nothing huge or even necessarily remarkable, but I always love a drop that has a smooth top like this one – this waterfall (Lower Falls #4) reminds me of a miniature version of Teresa Falls in Tucker County. I didn’t get too close to this waterfall, as even on a light flow day, water was moving over some very smooth rock – a recipe for a good fall, so I took these photos from the bank.
At this point, you can turn around right here and head back to the parking area, where you’ll be back in about a 20 minute’s worth of hiking, or you can continue out the Potato Knob Trail to Tenskwatana Falls. I say this because the hike to Tenskwatana Falls is a bit of a workout. However, if you want to say you knocked all five of the well-known waterfalls of Holly River State Park then continue the walk on Potato Knob Trail!
Hike #3: Tenskwatana Falls
Once you head past the last waterfall along the Left Fork Holly River on the Potato Knob Trail, you’ll head northwest toward WV-3. In this area, there are some trees down, and it does make it a little hard to keep track of the trail with the leaves being down. When in doubt though, stay to the left side of the valley and don’t venture up to the right side, as you may be inclined to do. I think the red on the tree leaves made it also a little difficult to spot some of the red markers on the trail that represent the Potato Knob Trail. From Lower Falls #4, it’s almost a mile up to WV-3, so it’ll take you some time, but you’ll get there.
If you need to take a rest at WV-3, take it because the trail is about to be a workout! I did not know this, or I would have left earlier so I would have had time for the Potato Knob overlook, but as soon as you cross WV-3, you’re heading straight up a mountain – it’s the mountain opposite of Potato Knob. The mountain you’re climbing is an elevation increase of about 550 feet (from about 1800 feet at Lower Falls #4 to about 2350 feet at the top of the mountain.
The majority of this is over just a quarter of a mile, which is an average grade of about 30%. It’s steep and will leave you winded when you get to the top. For the most part, the trail is easy to keep track of, as there’s plenty of red on trees to keep you in line. Some of the boulders heading up this mountain are house-sized – it kind of reminded me of the New River Gorge area whenever I hiked up Fern Creek this past spring, as it’s rocky with a lot of large boulders.
It took me some time to make it up this mountain. I wasn’t in a race, but I was also getting a little low on daylight, so I knew I’d have to hike at a steady pace to get enough light for Tenskwatana Falls. Thankfully, once you reach the top of the ridge, Tenskwatana Falls is an easy walk to reach.
The only thing I will say about the ridge top as that it is rather muddy, so I wouldn’t recommend wearing a pair of shoes that you take out to dinner or play basketball with. You’ll continue for a short distance up the ridge until you see a sign for a cemetery to your left. I didn’t have time to check it out, but I wish I had. You’ll continue right until you intersect with an old forest road, which is called the Ridge Road Trail.
It’s basically an old road that has since seen growth take over with lack of vehicular use. It’s rather muddy, so I generally skirted to one side of the trail as I traveled it. You’ll follow left at the intersection on the ridge top for almost a mile. Don’t be fooled into taking Potato Knob once again on the right – that will not take you to Tenskwatana Falls, and it instead intersects with the Wilderness Trail in about a half mile. Stay left on the Ridge Road Trail until you hear the falls. It won’t be really loud, but you’ll be able to hear the water falling on the rocks at the bottom of its overhang.
Someone built a picnic table and placed it at Tenskwatana Falls and if you’re like me, you’ll definitely utilize it. You can see Tenskwatana Falls from the picnic table (first photo below), and it’s then just a short and pretty easy scramble down to the bottom of the overhang to capture photos of this final location.
Tenskwatana Falls is a lot like Tecumseh Falls: the overhangs are about the same height, and in this day’s case, the flows were about the same: not a ton of flow but enough for some nice photos. There’s also another really nice cave behind the overhang that you can explore. I was within an hour of sunset when I left Tenskwatana Falls, so I had to scurry back to my car so I wouldn’t hike in the dark.
I followed my footsteps back to the car – going back down the mountain on Potato Knob after coming back from the Rocky Ridge Trail, crossing WV-3 and then continuing on the Potato Knob Trail until I reached the Left Fork Holly River, then hiked out back to the parking area. There are other ways you could go back to your car, including walking down WV-3 like when you first drive there like you’re headed to the Upper Falls, but I was looking for the scenic route and got back to my car right at sunset feeling very accomplished and grateful that I could go on an adventure like this here in West Virginia.
So there you have it! Nine total waterfalls to check out in Holly River State Park – all of which can be accomplished in a single day! Please contact me if you have any questions and enjoy the adventure!