Along the way waterfalls of all sorts appear as you delve into this highland vale. You’ll find slab cascades, delicate narrow and steep tributary falls, as well as classic ledge-and-pool cataracts, The route is well marked and maintained but also very popular. Solitude seekers will choose off-times to escape the crowds.
This hike takes place in the Seneca Creek Backcountry. It contains West Virginia’s highest point and also one of the highest valleys in the state, the Seneca Creek valley, where you find a plethora of waterfalls of several assortments. Hikers will find almost 60 miles of marked trails in the Seneca Creek Backcountry, highlighted by the Seneca Creek Trail, which you follow to see all these cataracts.
The 30-foot Upper Falls of Seneca makes a worthy turnaround point (Lower Falls of Seneca is downstream of Upper Falls and is located on private property). Not all the waterfalls are going to jump out at you, so expect to look off the trail at tributaries and along Seneca Creek where it occasionally goes out of sight of the trail.
Keep your ears perked and you will find still more waterfalls. That being said, all trail intersections are marked, helping to keep you apprised of your position. The Seneca Creek Trail can be busy with both day hikers and backpackers. An overabundance of campsites will be found along riverside flats.
Elevation changes of less than 800 feet are stretched over the 5-mile hike, making the trail gradient gentle. The hike passes through a variety of environments on the way to the wide-ranging waterfalls. Walk under spruce thickets, through open meadows with views, in ferny streamside bottoms, and beneath a canopy of yellow birch.
Tributaries from the high country add volume to Seneca Creek. Watch for occasional beaver dams as Seneca Creek snakes downstream. Make a stream ford before arriving at Judy Springs, a meadow and popular camping area, with a huge spring emerging from a hillside, worth the side trip to see.
A concentration of waterfalls lies beyond the Judy Springs area – 14-foot Cascades of Seneca, and a pair of tributary waterfalls 40 and 35 feet respectively, both coming in on the far side of Seneca Creek. The first one, a ribbon-like tumbler, drops first as a slim stream then bounces through rhododendron before making a final dive over a sheer stone wall to meet Seneca Creek. The second tributary cataract summersaults in stages about 35 feet then spreads over a gravel bar to feed Seneca Creek.
More falls are waiting down trail after fording Seneca Creek again. The first is Twelve-Foot Falls, dropping a dozen feet over a ragged shelf. Depending on water levels, the cataract divides into channels as it spills, though when the water is up the classic waterfall charges over the whole shelf. A gravel bar and recovery pool are easy to access from the trail. Then Seneca Creek cuts deeper, creating a hard to reach falls.
Make yet another ford of Seneca Creek then find a 10-foot unnamed falls, just as the trail squeezes past a resistant layer of rock stretching across the creek and trail. The cavalcade of cascades experiences an interlude and you cruise downstream, passing through a relic meadow.
Then comes another tributary fall. This one is low-flow and can reduce to a trickle in summer. However, when lively it makes a 25-foot dive off a sheer, stripped cliff. Since this falls is across the creek and lower flow the spiller receives lesser recognition, especially with all the cascades surrounding it.
One final ford of Seneca Creek is ahead. And then you reach the climax cascade – Upper Falls of Seneca. Your first view will come from the trail. The whole scene impresses, from the powerful discharge of Seneca Creek over a stratified cliff to the deep, circular plunge pool created by the gravity fed water, to the wide gravel bar mixed with bigger rocks and boulders to the rockhouse rising across the creek. Considering the waterfalls of Seneca Creek in aggregate, it is no wonder this is a popular hike.
Photographers who arrive here under favorable lighting conditions will have a multitude of angles from which to shoot Upper Falls of Seneca– the trailside view, downstream at the base of the pool and over by the rockhouse, on the gravel bar … just make sure your batteries are charged because you will likely be taking plenty of pictures along the whole route.
To reach the Seneca Creek trailhead from the cool and worth a visit tourist town of town of Seneca Rocks, West Virginia, head south on US 33 for 13 miles to Briery Gap Road. Turn right on Briery Gap Road and follow it up for 2.5 miles to Forest Road 112. Turn right on FR 112 and head up 11.3 miles to the Seneca Creek trailhead, which will be on your right.
For more information check out the Monongahela National Forest, Potomac Ranger District, HC 59, Box 240, Petersburg, WV 26847, 304-257-4488, www.fs.usda.gov/mnf. Or consult my book “Hiking Waterfalls in West Virginia.”