Mountain Beauty


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Published: December 23rd 2011
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Lower Falls of Hills CreekLower Falls of Hills CreekLower Falls of Hills Creek

Lower Falls of Hills Creek in low water. The shadow castt by the water is off the right edge of the photo
My goal for today was Monongahela National Forest.

This large tract of forest land covers roughly the northeastern quarter of West Virginia.

It contains the most isolated wilderness in the eastern US.

The spots I was after were pretty popular and close to the road though, since I was still worn out from the raft trips.

Before I could get there, I had one more New River Gorge hazard to handle.

This hazard is the town of Summersville.

The town is notorious throughout West Virginia for getting a big proportion of its annual revenue from traffic enforcement along US 19.

These traffic stops are so reliable that they are listed in the AAA travel book for the state.

For a while, someone had even rented a billboard on the town border warning people about them.

Needless to say, drive this stretch of road slow and politely.




Once I left US 19, I turned onto the Highland Highway.

This road gets its name because it crosses some of the highest land in West Virginia.

It was lined with stunning foliage.

Eventually, it decends into a river valley and passes
Upper Hills Creek FallUpper Hills Creek FallUpper Hills Creek Fall

Seen from the viewing area at the top, the waterfall is almost invisible. Look for the ribbon of white.
through an old coal-mining town, Richwood.

Much of the town looks like nothing has changed since the 1800's.

After that, it enters the National Forest.


Falls of Hills Creek




My first site within the Forest was the Falls of Hills Creek.

These are three beautiful waterfalls located in a narrow ravine.

The trail from the parking lot to the first waterfall is gently graded and paved to make it fully accessible.

The downside is that this required many switchbacks, and people have created unofficial shortcuts.

At this time of the year, the trail was covered in fallen leaves.

After the first waterfall, the trail turns into a series of wooden steps and boardwalks.

This trail can be hiked in any footwear that has a tread, making this a very popular hike.




The overlook for the first waterfall is very badly placed.

In anything other than high water, the waterfall falls away from the overlook, so you can't actually see very much of the waterfall.

After the first waterfall, the trail descends to the brook on a series of steps.

If you wanted to, you
Hills CreekHills CreekHills Creek

Beautiful foliage along the creek
could hike up the streambed from here to get a better view of the upper waterfall.

I skipped this because I did not have the time.




The trail soon encounters the middle waterfall.

The waterfall is a mixture of drop and curtain.

The water falls over a wide ledge that has a notch in one side.

A good portion of the water falls through the notch, creating a straight drop.

The rest of the water falls over the remainder of the ledge, creating a curtain fall.

At this time of the year, the water level is low, so the curtain portion was just drippy little streams.




From the overlook, the trail descends to the bottom of the waterfall.

It does so by a series of iron steps.

The steps are made of mesh, so you see the ravine between your feet as you descend.

For many people, this triggers vertigo.




The trail then reaches the lower waterfall.

This waterfall is 60 feet high, making it the second highest waterfall in West Virginia.

The waterfall is incredibly beautiful.
Middle Hills Creek FallsMiddle Hills Creek FallsMiddle Hills Creek Falls

Middle Hills Creek Falls in low water


Most of the beauty comes from its setting.

The water falls from a strata of hard rock that sits on softer sandstone.

Over the decades, ice and wind have eroded the sandstone behind the waterfall, creating a bowl with the harder rock as the lip.

The water falls into the bowl, so it flows through open air instead of over rock.

By the time it hits the ground, it is a good yard or two away from the rock face.

Most waterfalls are best observed on overcast days.

This one should be seen in sunlight.

The waterfall casts a shadow on the back of the bowl.

It’s the dark vertical streak on the light-colored rock to the right in the photographs.

If one comes here at the exact right time (which varies by day) the waterfall will create a rainbow.


Seneca Rocks




After the waterfalls, I headed for Seneca Rocks .

This is located in the northern end of the forest, so it was quite a drive.

The foliage in this portion of the forest was past peak.

The mountains in this section were
Boardwalk Foliage along Hills CreekBoardwalk Foliage along Hills CreekBoardwalk Foliage along Hills Creek

Stunning Foliage along Hills Creek on the way to Lower Falls
originally sediments at the bottom of the sea.

When the Appalachian Mountains first came into being, this rock layer was folded and became nearly vertical.

Erosion of the surrounding rocks has since exposed the near vertical sediment, creating a series of dramatic cliffs.

The drive to Seneca Rocks goes by most of them.

These cliffs, which are high and surprisingly thin, are a mecca for rock climbers.




Seneca Rocks is the most famous of these cliffs.

It’s also the only one on public land that has a trail to the top for ordinary hikers.

The trail is a mile and a half long, and is one of the most popular in the entire forest.

About half-way up there is an unofficial but well worn spur trail that goes to an overlook of the Seneca Rocks cliffs.

It’s at the height where the cliffs rise from the surrounding hills, so the view is especially dramatic.

Near the top of the cliffs, there is a platform with dramatic views of the valley and surrounding mountains.

A very unofficial trail continues from here to the actual top of the cliff.

It traverses a knife-edge that is only 12 feet wide and has an 800 foot drop on either side, with no handholds.

Some of the rocks on this trail are pretty loose.

Several people have died here from falls over the years.

It was near sunset when I arrived, so I just admired the view from the platform.




After sunset, I drove to the Canaan Valley Resort for dinner.

It’s a full service resort that is located in a state park.

It has a formal dining room with some of the best food in the area.

This being West Virginia, I walked in wearing jeans looking like I had spend a day in the woods, and people barely blinked.


Additional photos below
Photos: 16, Displayed: 16


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Hills Creek TrailHills Creek Trail
Hills Creek Trail

Foliage along the trail to Hills Creek Falls
Foliage Along Hills CreekFoliage Along Hills Creek
Foliage Along Hills Creek

Beautiful fall foliage along the Falls of Hills Creek Trail
Hills Creek FoliageHills Creek Foliage
Hills Creek Foliage

More amazing foliage along the way to Hills Creek
Vertigo with a viewVertigo with a view
Vertigo with a view

Looking through the stairs on the way to Lower Hills Falls
Lower Hills Creek FallsLower Hills Creek Falls
Lower Hills Creek Falls

View of the waterfall from the top of the grotto
Seneca Rocks TrailSeneca Rocks Trail
Seneca Rocks Trail

Glorious foliage along the easy way to the top of Seneca Rocks
Seneca Rocks FoliageSeneca Rocks Foliage
Seneca Rocks Foliage

More beauty along the climb of Seneca Rocks
Senea Rocks ViewSenea Rocks View
Senea Rocks View

Famous view from near the top of Seneca Rocks, looking west
Seneca Rocks ViewSeneca Rocks View
Seneca Rocks View

View from Seneca Rocks looking north
Seneca Rocks profileSeneca Rocks profile
Seneca Rocks profile

Seneca Rocks in profile, from an overlook along the trail


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