If you’re looking to enjoy a few of West Virginia’s fantastic waterfalls on just a couple of hours’ worth of time, you’ve arrived at the right place!
Although Blackwater Falls in Tucker County is home to one of the most iconic waterfalls east of the Mississippi River, there are a series of waterfalls along a nearby rail trail that can enable you to get up and close with some behemoth waterfalls!
Head to the town of Thomas in Tucker County. Just past the main drag on the south-driving side of town past the Purple Fiddle is a road that juts to the right named Douglas Road. Take that road and follow it out for a couple of miles or so until you see a graveled road on your left with a sign that says ‘Douglas Falls’ on it. The road is called Rail Falls Road and is the beginning of the Blackwater Canyon Rail Trail.
The Blackwater Canyon Rail Trail is a 10.5 mile long rail trail that begins on its north end at the dead end of Rail Falls Road off of Douglas Road near Douglas and ends on its south end at the small town of Hendricks on Main Street. It first follows the North Fork of the Blackwater River where all four of these waterfalls are located before the waterway empties into the Blackwater River. It then follows the Blackwater River into the town of Hendricks. It is well known in the area to be a great biking and hiking trail. Along only a small segment of the northern side of the trail are four fantastic waterfalls for you to check off: Albert Falls, Teresa Falls, Douglas Falls and Kennedy Falls. Each of these waterfalls are very unique and are a real joy to see in person. If you’re up for the challenge, quite a bit of adventure awaits you if you long to get a great shot of Kennedy Falls.
On a beautiful late Spring day in early June, my best friend, Hal, and I set out to conquer these waterfalls. The first two are pretty straight forward and easy to arrive at. Douglas Falls will require some scampering, but anyone that is fairly mobile can reach it. Kennedy Falls does require a lot of work, which I will elaborate on below.
Albert Falls is the first waterfall to check out. It, along with Teresa Falls are viewable nearly by vehicle, as these waterfalls are located along Rail Falls Road before the roadway dead-ends. Crews have placed a metal gate near where Douglas Falls is to prevent vehicular access along the Blackwater Falls Canyon Trail at this location. Douglas and Kennedy Falls are located beyond the gate and will require some short hiking.
|Albert Falls||39.128486, -79.520333||8 to 10 feet||Small picturesque drop, first waterfall|
|Teresa Falls||39.124458, -79.518853||4 to 8 feet||Smallest drop, smooth rock & second waterfall|
|Douglas Falls||39.123661, -79.519692||35 feet||Largest drop & most popular, third waterfall|
|Kennedy Falls||39.120239, -79.520338||25 to 30 feet||More difficult to access, fourth waterfall|
Waterfall #1: Albert Falls
Albert Falls is the first waterfall you’ll encounter. You can literally drive up to it, as the drop is located along the graveled Rail Falls Road around a quarter of a mile before you get to the dead end of the roadway. It’s a small but picturesque waterfall, eight to ten feet in height and in my experience, there’s usually very little traffic here. For the record, there was nobody at any of these falls when I hiked to each of them, but once I stayed at Douglas Falls for a short while, a few folks popped up, as it is by far the most popular waterfall of the four. Once you get a chance to check this waterfall out, you can walk farther down Rail Falls Road down to Teresa Falls.
Waterfall #2: Teresa Falls
Teresa Falls has a short drop but it is very unique. You can see some of the effects of the industrial past of this region, as acid erosion from acid mine drainage which plagued this area for decades is evident on the super smooth rocks as the water drops off the top of the waterfall into the pool below. As a result of the smooth rock both here and at some of the other falls in this area, be careful walking on the top of them as they are very slippery! If you don’t mind getting your feet wet, you can access a good photo of this waterfall down below it where the water is much more mellow. From this waterfall, hike back up to Rail Falls Road, walk past a metal gate that has been placed to block vehicular access and you’ll be able to hear Douglas Falls roaring within a tenth of a mile of that gate.
Waterfall #3: Douglas Falls
Douglas Falls is an absolute gem of a waterfall. With a 35 foot drop and large rocks surrounding it, the landscape makes a natural amphitheater, with the water very loudly crashing from above. During periods of drier weather, it is fairly easy to walk behind the waterfall, which I’ve done before. On this trip though, the water was flowing strongly and my best friend and I thought best to not attempt getting behind the falls due to the very wet smooth rock. There are plenty of nice vantage points for this waterfall, and again, if you don’t mind getting your feet wet, you can hang out on some rocks below the falls which really provide nice vantage points. But again, be careful!
Waterfall #4: Kennedy Falls
Kennedy Falls is a real treat! Not visible from the Blackwater Canyon Trail, this waterfall requires a short hike from the trail down to the top of the waterfall. When I hiked the trail, it was marked in blaze orange ribbon and wasn’t too difficult despite being a bit steep. In wet weather though, it would be very slippery. Getting down to the top of this waterfall is not bad. I emphasize that part because getting down to the bottom is a bit of a different story.
This beauty stands about 25 to 30 feet in height. If you look closely, you’ll see my best friend, Hal, sitting on a rock at the top of the waterfall for a height comparison – this waterfall is a beast! I sat up at the top for a time and it provides a beautiful view of the river below as it continues on its trek toward emptying into the Blackwater River:
The trick to getting a nice view of Kennedy Falls from down below at the rock outcropping in the above photo is to find a side trail off of the orange blaze that follows the river:
The side trail is not long – maybe 50 feet or so – but after walking it, you’ll notice that the trail ends and all that is left is a blue rope. This is where the challenge begins:
You will likely need this blue rope to get down to the bottom of the falls. There are places to put your feet as you drop down to the bottom of the river bank slowly but surely, but each spot that you place your feet will be very wet, as water sort of oozes from the mountain, so you’ll want to definitely make sure you’re secure on that rope in case you slip. You’ll drop a total of about 20 feet along this rope until you get down to the bottom of the river bank. Once you’re down there, it’s very easy to get to the rock outcropping to take awesome photos of Kennedy Falls. In my experience, climbing the rope back up the bank to get back onto the trail that allows you to easily get back to the Blackwater Canyon Trail is much easier than descending down the bank, which I completed in a very careful manner to make sure I didn’t slip.
And there you have it! My best friend and I knocked all four of these waterfalls out in under two hours with plenty of time to enjoy each one of them. We enjoyed this hike immensely, and hopefully you will, too! Check out more beautiful waterfalls in West Virginia here.