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!

Enjoy the Cascades and Rock Faces Found Within Audra State Park

In a rural area of northern West Virginia lies a small hidden gem that will enamor the waterfall enthusiast, fans of rock formations and those who love hiking for an afternoon of beauty and splendor.

Barbour County is home to a multitude of unique towns, the largest of which is Phillippi. Just a few miles to the southwest of this town is a small state park nestled on the county border with Upshur County.

Audra State Park is relatively small compared to other state parks in the state at 355 acres, but it is packed with beautiful scenery and a lovely river that will make for a great afternoon outside. The park is named after the small town nearby, Audra. According to West Virginia State Parks, the area was the site of a logging operation that was owned by the B&O Railroad but was later turned into Barbour County’s 4-H Club camp. The park became open to the public in 1950. Additional land was purchased in 1960 for the park.

The river is a beauty! In fact, there are MANY whitewater rapids on it, particularly on from Audra State Park and downstream:

Click to zoom the map off US-33

To access Audra State Park, I turned off of US-33 and turned onto Mount Nebo Road. Drive that road for 0.6 miles and then turn left again for Handy Camp/Mount Nebo Road in a quarter of a mile.

Once you make that turn, you’ll stay on Handy Camp Road for a mile before turning left on Route 10. You’ll stay on Route 10, which turns into Route 3. The road is nice and smooth but it does narrow a bit right before you get to the entrance for Audra State Park via Audra Park Road off the right. Once you cross that bridge, you’re at the park!

I saw some photos from last fall of some beautiful short cascades along the Middle Fork River that bisects the park, as well as images of interesting rock formations. These photos inspired me and my good pal, Hal, to see what the park had to offer.

The park is located around a couple of nooks of the Middle Fork River. This 35-mile long river begins in Randolph County as the confluence of Birch Fork and Kittle Creek in Randolph County. The river flows north, a rarity, and empties into the Tygart Valley River in Barbour County just downstream from Audra State Park.

There is one large trail that covers the majority of the park and another much smaller one by the camping area. The main trail is known as the Alum Cave Trail and is a nearly 3 mile loop that follows the Middle Fork River for a little over a mile before jutting uphill to the mountain above. The Rock Cliff Trail is a much smaller trail that is located just west of the Camping Area.

I took a hike on the Alum Cave Trail, which has some nice scenic views of the Middle Fork River! Though there are no official waterfalls along this stretch of the river, there are several nice small drops that could easily be classified as one, such as the images below.

Less than a half mile up the Alum Cave Trail, the trail splits briefly. If you keep on the high side, you’ll hike above the river level for a bit, while the low end stays by the river. This split is less than a quarter of a mile – but it’s important: you’ll want to do the lower split!

The reason for this split is that the lower end takes you along and under a huge rock face that faces the Middle Fork River, while the upper end keeps you above the rock race.

A beautiful boardwalk has been built so that you can get up and close to the rock face. It is pet friendly, so you can bring the furry companions along with you, too!

There are a couple of really nice features of this trail and the park, in general. First, the trails are well-kept in my opinion. They are kid and pet friendly and though the back side of the Alum Cave Trail juts uphill about 300 feet, it is doable for anyone who is not in poor health.

Secondly, the Middle Fork River is gorgeous! According to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, about 94 percent of the river’s watershed is forested and only about 4 percent is used for agriculture – it is a VERY clean watershed.

This time of the year, the water is clear with a blue shimmer. You can really see the beauty of this watershed and there are small footpaths that hang off of the Alum Cave Trail that allow you to go right to river level for a nice lunch view.

Once you’re about 1.5 miles out on the trail, it will make an abrupt right – this is when you leave the river and head uphill. The trail will climb about 300 feet over the next mile and you’ll get a nice sweat but it’s not exhausting. The trail will come out at a picnic area along a paved circle parking lot. Walk to the right and the pavement will come out back on Audra Park Road. Head to the right again and after about a 1/4 mile, you’ll be right back where you parked!

Enjoy this wonderful park that West Virginia has to offer. There is nothing superbly flashy about this small state park but it is beautiful and will certainly allow you to relax while getting out and enjoying the outdoors.