Blackwater Falls was my main destination when traveling into northern West Virginia in June. I had ideas further south, closer to home, but due to the devastating floods that central West Virginia was suffering, I had to either alter my destination or go home. I had no idea how serious the floods were until I was actually in West Virginia, listening to the special news reports on the radio. It all happened so fast, and the rapidly rising waters unfortunately caught many by surprise. My heart truly goes out for the all those affected by this tragedy. It was said that 8-10 inches of rain fell in 24 hours. This was a text book flash flood of historical proportions. With many roads washed out, traffic at a standstill backed up for hours, and rescue & recover operations still in place, I decided to remain on the main highways and travel out of the area into northern West Virginia. I could tell by the lower levels of the streams up here that although the rains were still torrential, they were not as bad.
I have been wanting to come to this region for several years now and see the crown jewel Blackwater Falls. I’ve always considered it a tad to far, certainly for a day trip. After my first initial visit to Blackwater Falls, along with 100-200 others, I decided to stay right in the park at the very nice Blackwater Falls Lodge. This place was quite a nice surprise for me. Along with being a nice place to stay, with a nice restaurant, gift shop, conference center, right along the Blackwater Canyon, it has another waterfall trail to some waterfalls along Shays Run that begins right in the parking lot…I love this place!
Shays Run was considerable smaller than the Blackwater River, but smaller creek waterfalls allow one to really get up close and personal. The trail leading from the lodge was quiet easy, leading down to a nice bridge crossing Shays Run with the waterfall just on the down side of the bridge. Once you cross the bridge though, the ease of Shays Run comes to an end. Views from the bridge or even the other side of the creek are nice, however if one wants the the grand view here, the path to the base one must find!
Just down from the base, I studied my dilemma. The creek bed was down below me, above a 25 or so foot cliff. I could see another photographer down in there, so I was particularly determined to find a way. The view from the bridge that most visitors were settling for was just not enough for me. Just a short ways downstream from the falls, I was able to find a place where the cliff side descent came to an end and a “navigable” path to the creek side was. There was a large fallen tree hiding this, but once over, I was able to get down fairly easily and safely. Once down, I simply had to walk and rock hop back upstream a very short ways to a beautiful, small West Virginia waterfall. It was here, that I discovered the best swirl opportunity that I have come across do far in my young 206 waterfalls life.
I found it amazing, how quickly the water recedes up here. 2 days prior, a photo from Randall Sanger showed the waterfall on Shays Run being an absolute raging torrent . Today it was nearly normal although the Blackwater River nearby was still quite high. When I first got there , the lighting conditions were terribly harsh, dark at the bottom, very bright on top. This one was so easy to get to from the lodge, I simply went back to the lodge, had dinner, then returned about 8:00 pm. That was the trick. Also, from you notice about 3 photos up, you can see a lot of excess foam in the water created from the waterfall, collecting in the pool along the creekside to my right. This comes from impurities in the water I have read. But, as the foamy top water in the pool works its way downstream, it circulates in the pool. The foam can visibly be seen circulating. So…..when the camera is set with a very slow exposure..a beautiful swirl shows up in the photos. I had always wondered how the West Virginia waterfalls always seem to have these dreamy, magical swirls in them. I have a answer, at least for this one, the foam.
Also, here is a short video of Elakala Falls, showing the foamy water circulating.
This one is also known as Waterfall #1 on Shays Run, as there are 3 more sizeable waterfalls downstream as Shays Run works its way down the Blackwater Canyon to its confluence with the Blackwater River. I did not visit the other 3, but I have read that each one is increasingly more difficult to navigate. The last two are not recommended for casual hikers. I have to keep in mind that I was here for Blackwater Falls and the next morning was slated for Douglas Falls along the North Fork Blackwater River. I soon retired to the lodge to catch the last few seconds of a beautiful sunset over the Blackwater Canyon.