Thursday, March 21, 2013

Falls of Fayette

I think waterfalls are wonderful, and Fayette County is a good place to find them. Not only are there many interesting waterfalls of various types and sizes, but several of them are readily accessible from roadways.

A few of my favorites are very easy to visit. Driving from Charleston along Route 60, the first to see is the wide Kanawha Falls (with a small park and boat ramp) at Glen Ferris. Just a bit further (after crossing the Gauley River and then the train tracks) is the tall Cathedral Falls, with its own parking area and picnic tables. After climbing Gauley Mountain, one eventually comes to a junction where Route 60 veers left and Route 16 goes straight on down the hill. By taking Route 16, you cross the New River on a low bridge and then begin climbing up towards Fayetteville. On the right side of Route 16, Laurel Creek is plunging its way down to the river, and includes a large waterfall easily seen from a car (but unfortunately, there is no pull-off parking).

Those three nearby waterfalls are well-known and easily viewed. However, there is another nice waterfall in the same area, which can also be seen from your car, albeit on a narrow dirt road. It is the twenty-foot waterfall on Mill Creek near Hawks Nest State Park.

Most people don’t know about Mill Creek Falls, but they do know about Hawks Nest, one of West Virginia’s most well-known spots. Visitors have been coming to its overlook for generations. Its rocky outcropping provides an oft-photographed view of the New River Gorge. In addition to the main overlook (which is along Route 60 a few miles beyond where Route 16 splits off), the park consists of a nice lodge and restaurant, as well as a tramway to take you to the river below. At the bottom is a nature center, marina (where you can ride a jet-boat upstream to see the New River Gorge Bridge), and some hiking trails.

To drive to the marina, turn left as you enter downtown Ansted, follow the signs, and work your way through a tunnel under Route 60. Soon you will see parking for the Ansted-Hawks Nest Rail Trail, which formerly was a narrow gauge railroad line from the coke ovens at Ansted down to the main C&O rail line along the New River. This hiking and biking trail immediately crosses Mill Creek over an impressive refurbished wooden trestle, with beautiful views of the creek. I hiked the trail to the bottom of the gorge and back a few years ago, and enjoyed it very much.

While the trail goes down the far side of the creek, the narrow road follows the creek down to the river on the near side, all the way to the Hawks Nest Marina. It is primarily one lane, but with numerous wide spots where one can pull off if meeting on-coming traffic.

Whether hiking, biking, or driving, the Mill Creek waterfall is a beautiful site (especially if it has not been dry). Luckily for me, I happened to be “in the neighborhood” last weekend with some extra time on my hands, so I drove down to enjoy this delightful scene. I was able to park the car in a pull-off and reveled in both the view as well as the melodious sounds of this waterfall. With no one else around but the woods and the waterfall, it was wild, wonderful West Virginia at its best!

This waterfall on Mill Creek is a peaceful, serene spot—off the beaten path but still easily accessed.

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