Check Out These Iconic Rail Trail Waterfalls in the West Virginia Mountains in Two Hours!

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 Falls39.128486, -79.5203338 to 10 feetSmall picturesque drop, first waterfall
Teresa Falls39.124458, -79.5188534 to 8 feetSmallest drop, smooth rock & second waterfall
Douglas Falls39.123661, -79.51969235 feetLargest drop & most popular, third waterfall
Kennedy Falls39.120239, -79.52033825 to 30 feetMore 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.

A True Adventure: Beauty to Behold on Barren Branch

There are dozens of waterfalls for people to enjoy in Fayette County alone. An outdoor person’s dream, Fayette County has a slew of outdoor opportunities for you to explore and enjoy, many of which are easy to access. However, if you’re looking for an adventure that few have viewed, then Barren Branch might be a place to check out!

A note: This is not an easy hike. You’ll primarily be walking in creek bed, so a good set of waders are recommended. When I was exploring this area, there were numerous trees down. I was told that there was a flood within the last couple of years that brought a lot of vegetation down. Nonetheless, the waterfalls on this creek are outstanding and the adventure of getting after it makes it so worth it!

Barren Branch is a small tributary that is located off of Dunloup Creek just east of Glen Jean in Fayette County and is located on the northern fringes of the Summit Bechtel Reserve. A zoomed in map is shown below.

Barren Branch is located off of Thurmond Road. Dunloup Creek alone has some beautiful waterfalls on it, including The Little Brother, Dunloup Creek Falls and Meadow Fork. Geographically, the creek traverses north from the Summit Bechtel Reserve near Glen Jean and empties into Dunloup Creek, traversing only about a couple of miles.

Location of each waterfall along Barren Branch, with an additional large waterfall located on Turley Branch. Coordinates for each of these are available farther down in this story.

There is a couple of pull-offs in the area of where Barren Branch stems off of Dunloup Creek. The parking’s a bit tight but doable. There’s no real easy way to get down into the creek bank – a few deer trails are around and I just took one of those to get down into the creek bed of Dunloup Creek.

Dunloup Creek flows well even during periods of dry weather, such as was the case during my escapade.

Once you get creek level with Dunloup Creek, you’ll need to cross it and find where Barren Branch stems off of it. It’s pretty easy to see, but beware, the creek rock in Dunloup Creek is pretty slick!

After crossing Dunloup and locating Barren Branch, it becomes pretty evident quickly that this is no easy hike! There are a lot of trees down covering the creek and the rhododendron is pretty thick in spots. Be prepared to get bushwhacked a bit, as you’ll see how the landscape looks in the pictures below:

The waterfalls begin appearing pretty quickly after you first start trekking up Barren Branch’s creek bed. In total, I encountered eight waterfalls between where Barren Branch empties into Dunloup Creek and near the fork of Barren Branch and Turley Branch – a pretty substantial amount for only about a mile or so of creek hiking! I did not go past the fork with Turley Branch and Barren Branch – there is quite a climb beyond this point, plus you start getting pretty close to the reservoir that Barren Branch flows from.

Here’s a list of the waterfalls and then photos of each:

Name of WaterfallCoordinatesDescription
Barren Branch #137.92483, -81.117255Small four-footer at the beginning of the trek
Barren Branch #237.924478, -81.117036Eight foot shelf waterfall – nice for angles!
Barren Branch #337.924117, -81.117303A couple of small two feet tall waterfalls on each side of creek
Barren Branch #437.924147, -81.117455A nice wide five-footer – a nice pool below the falls
Barren Branch #537.923683, -81.117797The most photogenic – a six foot cascade into a large pool
Barren Branch #637.92163, -81.120353A beautiful eight foot staircase waterfall – very serene!
Barren Branch #737.920912, -81.120880Unusual rock drop-off – unique!
Turley Branch #137.920845, -81.120942Definitely the largest at 15 to 20 feet – beautiful flow!
Barren Branch #1 – the closest waterfall to Dunloup Creek (farthest north).
Barren Branch #2
Barren Branch #3
Barren Branch #4
Barren Branch #5
Barren Branch #6

Barren Branch #7

Turley Branch #1

There’s a real serenity in this area that is hard to describe. There are sections of this creek that are quite rugged and difficult to travel on! It was especially hard juggling my camera and tripod along with just carefully walking around without getting water in my waders. But there were other sections that were very calm, like in the section shown below, where minnows and larger fish pranced around with hardly a care in the world.

The one beautiful thing about this area is that it has largely been untouched by man. Very few people go up this stream and it’s evident when you’re there. There is no sign of trash or remains. If you decide to embark on this trip, please bear that in mind so that the next set of eyes can enjoy it as much as I did!