We decided this year to drive from Iowa to West Virginia in mid-December to have an early Christmas with our daughter and her family. They drove from the Washington DC area to meet us in Blackwater Falls State Park. We stopped in Indiana on our way to revisit and hike a state park we enjoyed when we first met in 1980. You can see that story here. After our WV visit, we stopped at a state park in Ohio to hike again. We planned to see that park several years ago. A death in the family prevented that visit. You can see the Ohio hike here.
Winter hiking is new to us. So far, it has been a lot of fun. We are cautious. We don’t hike in deep snow yet. Extreme cold (below about 15°) is not appealing to us. Our hiking poles, waterproof boots, and balaclavas are our main gear. A local outdoor store will rent snowshoes by the day. That way we can tell if we want to buy some.
This post is about four hikes we enjoyed while at Blackwater Falls SP. We had a great time with our daughter, her husband, and our five grandkids. But they aren’t the focus of this post. Sorry.
The lodge had few people staying there mid-week when we arrived. Built in the 1950s, it offers affordable guest rooms, a large room with tables, easy chairs, and fireplace, a game room, a pool and hot tub. The restaurant is excellent and reasonably priced. We arrived early afternoon, after driving one of the most winding roads along route 50. The stretch from Grafton to Aurora was amazing in its twists and turns. We got our room, ate some lunch, and had a nap.
After our nap, the clock said it was a little after 4 pm. Just enough time to drive the short distance to the west and hike a 1/4 mile trail to a popular promontory point overlooking the valley of the Blackwater River. Perhaps we could be there just at sunset. So we set off on the trail.
The snow was three or four inches deep, not enough to top our boots. After the short hike out, we were rewarded with some remarkable, beautiful vistas. It was cold, about 15˚, and the wind was strong on the wooden observation deck. It was well worth it. The river 500 feet below was tiny. We made it just in time to watch the sun drop below the mountain on the other side of the canyon. After that we knew we would lose our light quickly, so we skeddadled back to the trail head.
The next morning after breakfast we bundled up for the cold and hiked the trail that started from the lodge parking lot. It went down the grade a short distance to a ravine with a footbridge over Elakala Falls. After the falls, we continued for about 1/4 mile. Both of us at the same time noticed the large and odd tracks on the trail. They were black bear tracks, not very fresh. Signs at the lodge warned of them saying ‘They live here…you don’t…leave them alone’.
Right after the Elakala Falls hike, we found the trail head to Balanced Rock. There was no mistake we were at the correct trail. All around, visitors had stacked little rock piles (cairns) to decorate around the trail sign. There were no other visitors this day. Our tracks were the first ones in.
Shortly after entering the trail, we noticed a doe about ten feet from us. She did not move, unconcerned until we made our way past. At the end of our hike, a huge rock was sitting on top of a smaller rock. The whole structure was probably 15 feet tall. We were fascinated by the sedimentary base, with small rocks incorporated into what likely was sandstone. Very impressive.
Our last hike, before our daughter and family came, was to the Blackwater Falls at the river in the bottom of the valley. The “black” water is caused by tannic acid from hemlock and red spruce needles. It looks like tea. We’ve seen rivers colored like that in northern Wisconsin. The falls are accessed via 214 steps constructed for tourists. They were snow covered and yet were easy to navigate.
The next two days proved snowy and stormy. The grandkids loved the snow. We built forts and battled each other with snowballs. A good time was had by all.
Thank you for joining us on our trip to Blackwater Falls.