Trails: Rhododendron and Rocky Trails
Geographic Location: southeast of
Length: 3.2 miles
Difficulty: 7/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: July 2013
Overview: A secluded hike with one steep section offering good wildlife viewing.
Park Information: http://www.valleyfallsstatepark.com/
Google Map: http://www.mappedometer.com/?maproute=203891
Directions to the trailhead: In northern
West Virginia, take
I-79 to SR 310 (exit 137). Exit and go east on SR 310. Drive SR 310 7.7 miles to Rock
Lake-Valley Falls Road and turn right on Rock
Lake-Valley Falls Road. Rock Lake-Valley
Falls Road deadends at the state park. Pass the park office, drive carefully down a
steep hill, and park at the gravel picnic area parking lot on the right
at the bottom of the hill.
The hike: Based on the route you drive into
, this park does not seem
like the ideal destination for a good hike.
After turning off the main road, you drive through a tight-knit lakeside
community known as Valley Falls
with houses and docks everywhere you look.
Only after you top the last hill and cross the park boundary does the
isolated state park feel emerge. Rock Lake
As you might guess, only modern travelers come over the hill to get to the valley falls. Visitors a century ago would have traveled the B&O railroad line that was built in 1852 and still remains an active CSX line today. Earlier visitors would have come down the
and needed to portage around the falls on this site. In fact, the falling water is what first made
this site significant, as W.W. Fetterman, the first white settler to occupy
this land, built a mill along the river in 1827. Only a single rock column from a later grist
mill remains of that era today. Tygart River
The waterfall remains the 1145-acre park’s main attraction today, though visitors come for its ability to please the senses rather than its ability to turn a waterwheel. In addition to the waterfall, the park features two reservable picnic shelters, fishing in the
, a game area, and 18 miles of
mostly backcountry trails. Many routes
through the park’s trail system are possible, but the route described here
forms a manageable dayhiking loop through the western portion of the trail
system. This hike could easily be
extended by adding one of the adjacent trails to the east. Tygart
|Trailhead: Rhododendron Trail|
At 0.5 miles, the old road you have been treading on forks, and a sign tells you to angle right to stay on the Rhododendron Trail and begin a gradual to moderate climb. 0.7 miles into the hike, the yellow-blazed Rocky Trail exits steeply uphill to the right. You could turn right here to short-cut this loop, but this description will continue straight on the Rhododendron Trail to take the longer, more gradual route to this hike’s highest point.
|Climbing on the Rhododendron Trail|
In only a couple hundred feet, you reach another confusing intersection that gives you the choices of straight and right. The unmarked trail going straight is the Dogwood Trail and leads to the eastern part of the trail system. This hike will angle softly right to head for the Rocky Trail. Truth be told, my original plan was to do a longer hike involving the Dogwood Trail, but my plans got derailed by some wrong turns at these two intersections. The damaged wooden directional signs that exist at these intersections need to be repaired or replaced. This incident brings up a basic rule in hiking: always be willing to change your plans when trail conditions warrant doing so.
For the next 0.3 miles you tread a nearly flat trail that connects the Dogwood and Rocky Trails. Because this trail passes through the center of the park, good wildlife viewing can be had here. The highlight of my trip was seeing a scarlet tanager, which is easily identified by its bright red body and black wings.
|Descending on the Rocky Trail|
The Rocky Trail starts on a nearly level grade with the hillside rising steeply to the left. At 2.8 miles, the easy section abruptly ends as the Rocky Trail begins the final steep descent back to the picnic area. Take your time on this descent and save your knees. At the bottom of the hill, the Red Cardinal Trail enters from the left just before you arrive at the picnic area parking lot where your car is parked.
|Waterfall on Tygart River|