It seems that one of the prerequisites for gorgeous shooting locations in West Virginia is that they need to be located quite literally in the middle of nowhere. When you bring up Blackwater Falls State Park on Google maps, you can see tiny, one horse towns scattered around the woods nearby, but no large cities. As I was driving in from the Winchester area, I drove through several small towns on the way out there, but soon found myself driving past sprawling farms, creeks and rivers and mile after mile of uninterrupted forest. So I settled in, found some bluegrass on a local station, and just soaked it in.
Blackwater Falls is actually a bit of a misnomer as there are three notable waterfalls within the park’s boundaries. Blackwater Falls itself is named after the river from which it flows. Depending on the time of year, the amber colored water might be at a trickle, and thunderous roar, or frozen completely over. When I arrived in October of 2013, the water level was down a bit, but still had plenty of flow.
From what I could tell, I arrived maybe a week before peak color, but there were still plenty of chaining leaves throughout the park.
The leaves were especially colorful around the lodge which is located on the rim of the Blackwater Gorge. If you have the time, be sure to stop for a meal in the dining room as the views are simply stunning in all directions. Better yet, spend a night or two and take your time while exploring this park. Blackwater lodge, cabins and restaurant are open year-round and welcome visitors to enjoy winter sled riding, spring greening, cool summer evenings, and, of course, the beautiful leaves during the Autumn months.
There are plenty of Hiking opportunities throughout the park and views are plentiful. Some are just a short walk from the road and others involve a bit more of a hike. As mentioned earlier, there are two other waterfalls in the park in addition to Blackwater. I didn’t make it to Pendleton Falls as the trip would have been too time intensive, but I did manage to take the short hike down to Elakala Falls which is only 10 minutes or so from the lodge:
Most of the afternoon had been completely clouded over, and after grabbing shots from the other side of the gorge, I came back to the lodge and was setting up to shoot what was left of the day from one of the overlooks. Just out of an abundance of caution, I called my good friend Mike Besant, who has shot this location extensively, and asked him if he knew of a better sunset location. I told me to drop what I was doing and to book it over to Lindy Point. He told me it would be a bit of a hike, but that if I hustled, I could make it out there.
I jumped back into the car and drove for quite a while. Mike had told me to look for a location where there would be a ton of cars parked on the road. After finding the spot, I looked up and noticed that the sun was beginning to break through. I broke into a run with my camera gear and tripod banging in all directions. I finally came out at Lindy Point and found it completely SWARMING with photographers. Apparently, we all had the same idea.
As we were all looking for a specific angle, we had to work around each other and many of us ended up looking for alternate locations. Officially, I would suggest staying within the confines of the railing for safety, but it soon became clear that the nicer angles were on the other side of the rail. I was trying to be very careful as I set up by watching out for photographers as well who were, at this point, very distracted by the glorious sunset that was unfolding before us. As the lookout is perched on a cliff with a drop off of 200-300 feet, it was definitely a sketchy proposition for a while. I made my way over to a nicer view on a large boulder to my left. The only problem was that I needed to jump over a crevasse which looked to be about 25 feet deep. I had balked at this point and was preparing to just give up when some very nice photographers on the other side decided to help me out.
“Hand over your tripod and camera first and then you can jump across easier,” they said.
Yeah. Hand over the Nikon D4. Ummm…no . They would be back at their car with the camera AND the tripod before I knew what had happened. But eventually, my desire to get the shot got the better of me and I ended up trusting my fellow man. And….they handed it right back and helped me up the rock! The end result of this transaction is that I ended up with the shot that you see at the beginning of this post…and much more faith in the kindness of others than I had as I began my day.
All of that to say that Blackwater Falls is very highly recommended at any time of year. It might be in the middle of nowhere, but it is definitely worth the time and effort to get there.
Post Processing: All of these photos were bracketed, some of which were combined via the “Merge to 32-bit HDR” plugin in Lightroom. Other levels were adjusted using Adobe Camera Raw and Nik Color Efex Pro.
If you are looking for inspirational shots of Virginia and West Virginia (Babcock, Blackwater Falls, Dolly Sodds, Bear’s Den, Appalachian Trail, Shenandoah National Park) , be sure to check out the work of some of my East Coast photography buddies:
For more info on Blackwater Falls State Park, visit: