Devoted to exploring off the beaten path for beautiful waterfalls, wildflowers, and landscapes in West Virginia.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Hiking the Waterfalls of Big Branch


If you like waterfalls, you’ll love the Big Branch Trail of the New River Gorge. Depending upon how you count them, you’ll see six or seven waterfalls in the space of ¾ mile. For the sheer joy of seeing water descend over rock, the Big Branch Trail is hard to beat. I won’t describe all the waterfalls in this blog, but we’ll take a look at most of them.
Big Branch Falls

Trailhead

The trailhead is about 4 miles from Hinton on the River Road—the road that takes you to Sandstone Falls. Look for the trailhead across the road from the Brooks Falls overlook. Starting at the trailhead, take the left-hand fork, which after about 500 feet of woodland walking leads to the streambed of Big Branch. At this point the trail crosses Big Branch for the first of four times. Since this stream doesn’t have a large watershed, it’s generally a trickle in summer and fall. But in winter and spring, it’s full enough that you should plan to get your boots wet when crossing.
First Waterfall

First Waterfall

Before crossing the creek, look for a trail running downstream and take it for about 100 feet. The first waterfall on Big Branch will be to your right. It’s a nice waterfall that takes about an 8-foot drop before spreading out across a large, flat bedrock surface. The water is shallow across the bedrock plain, so you can walk across it and set up a tripod wherever you please to snap a few photos of the falls. Backtrack to rejoin the Big Branch Trail, make the first stream crossing, and head uphill. 
Rocky's Falls

Rocky’s Falls

The trail hugs the course of Big Branch all the way to the top waterfall, so when you’re not relishing a waterfall you’re being serenaded by the music of a babbling brook. At the second crossing there’s a fair size riffle, but do continue for more waterfall action. The next waterfall is named after Randall Sanger’s dog “Rocky” who was fond of splashing in it and getting into the photos Randall was trying to take of the falls. Though “Rocky’s Falls” is just a 4 to 5-foot plunge, don’t let its size fool you. This is a very lovely and photogenic waterfall.
Double Falls

Double Falls

After the third creek crossing, you’ll come to “Double Falls.” Actually Double Falls is composed of several stair-stepping drops, but has two primary falls. The trail runs right above them and makes a perfect platform for some tripod locations. Or you can easily climb down to creek level for some shots. Continuing upstream you’ll pass “Log Falls.” It’s a small waterfall with a couple of prominent logs near it. 
Big Branch Falls

Big Branch Falls

Because of its 30-foot drop, the next waterfall is the main attraction on Big Branch. I call it “Big Branch Falls” because it is the largest waterfall on the creek. It sits in a semi-rounded cove and begs for exploration. Patience when approaching this waterfall is rewarded. Instead of bushwhacking a way to the falls when you first spot it from the trail, stay on the steeply inclined trail until you’re almost level with the top of the waterfall. At this point, an easy trail takes off downhill to the right and will deposit you at the base of the waterfall. The ground is relatively flat around the base of the falls, so you can move about freely. Right, left, and center, good photo ops abound. 
Top Falls


Tops Falls

After surveying Big Branch Falls, backtrack to the main trail and continue uphill. The next waterfall is not far. The Big Branch Trail flattens out for a bit and crosses Big Branch for the fourth time right above what I call the “Top Falls.” This waterfall is about ten feet high and sits across from the ruins of an old homestead. A rusty bucket and the remains of a stone house mark the location of the Berry family home. To learn the history of the home site check this web address Berry Homestead

At Top Falls I generally back track to the trailhead at Brooks Falls. But if you’re willing to hike another 1 ¼ mile, you can complete the loop trail. When the leaves are off, several scenic views of the gorge and river can be seen along the ridge top. The trail then descends steeply to the trailhead, offering scenic views of Brooks Falls along the way.
Bluebell Patch


Virginia Bluebell Patch


If you’re exploring Big Branch in early spring, you might find the Berry homestead covered in Virginia Bluebells. Indeed, the Big Branch Trail is a hot spot for early spring flowers. So you can enjoy both waterfalls and wildflowers on your trek up the trail. The Big Branch Trail is a win-win for day hikers.

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