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

Friday, June 2, 2017

Exploring the North Fork of the Blackwater River: Kennedy Falls

Though the falls of Douglas are striking and dramatic, there are many more falls on the North Fork as it makes its descent into the Blackwater Canyon. Indeed, an intriguing entry in Philip Pendleton Kennedy’s Blackwater Chronicle led me to look for one of them. In Kennedy’s description of his scramble down the North Fork below Douglas Falls, he wrote: “This level of the stream, however . . .  leads you to a second large fall, a clear pitch again of some forty feet.” When I read that, my eyes widened. A second large fall as high as Douglas? I had neither read of these falls in any modern travel guides nor seen photographs of them. Was Kennedy exaggerating–merely caught up in the thrall of the cascades? 
Kennedy Falls


Following in the Footsteps

I had to find out, and the only way to do so was to follow in his footsteps. With the help of some kayakers who ran the North Fork, I found the falls. I’ll call them Kennedy Falls after Philip Pendleton Kennedy, the man who first wrote of them.


Finding Kennedy Falls

To find Kennedy Falls (Lat 39.1202, Long -79.5205) continue down the railroad grade along the North Fork. Scrambling along the stream bed is difficult at best and somewhat dangerous. If you read Kennedy’s account, you’ll know what I mean. It’s much better to parallel the stream along the road and then descend straight into the canyon at the point of the falls. Hiking about a quarter of mile below Douglas Falls should put you at the point of descent into the canyon. If you come to a rock cairn composed of sandstone cobbles, you’ve gone too far. The falls are indeed directly downslope from the cairn, but there’s an easier way down the side of the canyon. Backtrack about 86 paces or 215 feet to find the best point of entry into the woods.
Kennedy Falls

Descend into the canyon at this point and head straight down the slope. But use caution. The slope is very steep. When you reach the bottom of the canyon, you should be near the falls. Bear right and downstream a little to reach the head of the falls. You can scramble around the falls on the right to see them from below. The falls are about 30 feet high and lovely indeed. A rocky gravel bar in the middle of the stream provides a great frontal view. The levels above the falls beg for attention, too. The rocks are red like those at Douglas Falls and finely sculpted by the river. 
Kennedy Falls


Standing in the Foot Prints

Aside from some intrepid kayakers, I don’t believe many people have seen these falls. When viewing them, you could be standing right in the foot prints of Kennedy and his fellow explorers. As you turn back for cabin or camp or cottage having walked in the footsteps of these frontiersmen, perhaps you’ll feel as Kennedy did when he finished his first day exploring the North Fork:
Kennedy Falls

Kennedy’s Parting Words

“The sun broke out, and we proceeded on our way up the steep ascent–rainbow over-arching the waterfalls, and the spray everywhere golden with sunbeams. At length, reaching the top of the grand chasm, and standing again on the brink of the impending rocks where we first hailed so rapturously, the leap-down of the river–we took a last look of the wild scene and went on our way to the camp.”


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