Perhaps I’m a bit early in saying fall is coming, but it’s only because I’m quite excited to get out of these 90-degree days and breathe that crisp autumn morning air. As you can tell, it’s my personal favorite season and it’s for a good reason. Quite simply, there’s nothing that can compare to the rush of waking up in a hammock to a crisp 50-degree misty air, pouring a cup of coffee steamed straight off the campfire, and hiking into a remote location to catch a native brook trout that is all painted up in its finest pre-spawn colors. Perhaps it’s even a morning at hunting camp waiting to put a fresh harvest of wild turkey, white-tailed deer, or even squirrel on the table.
Obviously, I’m partial to brook trout, but there is so much more to offer within the Tygart Valley River Watershed. I’d like to point out a handful of fun outdoorsy activities you could plan for this fall. For leaf-peepers, keep in mind that our fall foliage generally peaks in late September in higher elevations as the lowlands tend to peak by mid to late October.
WV State Parks and Scenic Areas
One of the most advisable fall foliage suggestions is to visit a WV State Park or State Forest. Luckily, we have quite a few of these within our watershed. Simply driving from park to park can provide you with all of the leaf-peeping your heart desires, while the roads will generally have you following the Tygart Valley River.
Valley Falls State Park
Valley Falls State Park is nestled along the Tygart Valley River between Fairmont, WV and Grafton, WV along rt. 310 “East Grafton Road”. Valley Falls is considered to be the most impressive set of four waterfalls along the Tygart Valley River. The park hosts a whopping 18 miles of hiking/biking trails that are available to the public within the park’s 1,145-acre area. Aside from waterfalls and hiking, Valley Falls State Park hosts a gift shop, camping, and fishing with the day use facilities opening at 7am and closing at dark.
Pictured both above and below are fall photos of Valley Falls State Park taken by local photographer Steve Heap. For behind the scenes stories check out this link: https://www.backyardimage.com/category/west-virginia/
To purchase custom prints from this artist check out this link: https://www.pictorem.com/gallery/Steve.Heap?cat=10206&iframe=1
Due to the long and steep nature of the trails here, it is important to pick up a trail map at the park or download a digital copy from a trail resource provider such as Trailforks.com
Pictured Above: Valley Falls State Park trail map courtesy of TrailForks.com
Tygart Lake State Park:
Tygart Lake has three general public access sites. The first is from downtown Grafton along Parkview Road to Paul E. Malone Road which will follow the Tygart Tailwaters to Tygart Dam and bring you to an observation pavilion, information center, Tygart Lake Marina, a picnic area, boat launch, restrooms, and hiking trails. This will also lead you to the state provided swimming area that is available in the Summer. The second and third access sites are accessed from Rt. 250/119 heading towards Philippi from Grafton. You will see signs for “Pleasant Creek Wildlife Management Area” and brown park signs indicating a boat launch. I’ll touch on Pleasant Creek in just a few. This road will lead you under a historic trail trestle that poises itself perfectly for historic fall photos. Once you pass the trestle, you will quickly see some trails that lead to a cove of Tygart Lake that generally has some exposed rock ledges in the fall. Further along the road, you will pass the Tygart Lake Campground and come to the Doe Run access area with a small impoundment and boat launch. There are no facilities in this area, however; that just adds to the scenery. In my previous blog about fishing tips I covered Tygart Lake in good detail, but I would like to share some fall-specific sights. I mentioned before that during the fall the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers normally draws the lake down during the fall to maintain a moderate river flow below Tygart Dam. This exposes a lot of rock structures all throughout the lake that you normally can’t see. Whether it be from the dam and marina or from Doe Run, this is a great place to birdwatch. It’s not uncommon to see rare migratory waterfowl, bald eagles, osprey, or even a golden eagle on its migratory path. On a cold morning, it is very common to capture some eerie scenes of lake water evaporating which can create some unique lighting for pictures.
Pictured Above: A photo of Tygart Lake with mist evaporating from the lake on a clear morning. Photo credit to WV State Parks & WV Tourism.
Pleasant Creek Wildlife Management Area
Pleasant Creek WMA is a unique sight within the Tygart Valley River watershed. This WMA includes a gun range, camping area, a boat launch to Tygart Lake, and a series of shallow man-made impoundments aimed at creating wetland habitat. These impoundments are often a great location for birdwatchers during fall as many species of birds, particularly waterfowl, will travel through this area as seasonal migration begins. Anglers also enjoy this area as it harbors great structure for prized largemouth bass, catfish, carp, panfish, and baitfish. Fall can be an interesting time to fish these impoundments as fish feast before returning to deeper water for winter. Wildlife photographers are often seen hiding in brush waiting for the perfect shot on a bird they might only see at some point within a window of a few short weeks. This WMA is located on both sides of Rt. 119 between Philippi and Grafton.
Pictured Above: Entrance sign located on Rt. 119 for Pleasant Creek WMA, photo provided by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources
Moats Falls / Arden Falls
As you leave Pleasant Creek WMA on Rt. 250/119 heading south towards Philippi, you will quickly come upon a road to your left named Arden Road right before a large curved bridge. This road will lead you through scenic farmland straight to the Tygart Valley River. When you arrive at the river, you’ll notice the roar of swift water and small waterfalls which make up what we know as Arden Falls or Moats Falls. Keep in mind, this area is along private property, so please be mindful of any posted designations in this area. Arden is a beautiful area and is surrounded by great fall foliage, however; this stretch of river has a controversial history. The nature of the carved limestone stream bed can be VERY treacherous, and many people have lost their lives by swimming here. Though unfortunate, this area can serve as a reminder of the power of nature. When the river is low and dry, you can see many caverns and tight gaps where the river could easily sweep you away. This may be scary, but if treated with respect it is a very beautiful stretch of river. Arden is well known as “party rock” and it gets its name honestly. It’s not an uncommon sight during breaks in the school year to see many college students from across the state gathering on the riverside although local and state police have begun patrolling this area over safety concerns. Another common sight is a kayaker looking for a burst of adrenaline by toppling over the various waterfalls. If that activity interests you, please remember to wear your personal floatation device / life jacket and hang on!!
Pictured Above: Moats Falls provided by West Virginia Waterfalls
Check out West Virginia Waterfalls for a resource on all waterfalls in West Virginia!
Audra State Park
Audra State Park is founded on one of the largest tributaries to the Tygart Valley River named Middle Fork River. Though this stream flows close to the town of Buckhannon where the Buckhannon River flows, merely a ridge away, this is a direct tributary to the Tygart Valley River. The Buckhannon River is also a very large tributary of the Tygart Valley River but has its own unique characteristics. The Middle Fork River is a highly riparian bubbling stream that makes its way through a series of plunge pools and drops. The landscape here is very mountainous and that can be a fall fanatic’s favorite scenario with tons of rhododendron and evergreens. During the summer, Audra can be very busy as many swimmers and sunbathers come here to cool off. Audra is home to a designated swimming area, a campground, and plenty of parking access. You can find Audra a number of different ways. You can access from Rt 119 between Philippi and Buckhannon off Audra Park Road, from Belington along Audra Park Road, and from Rt. 33 on Talbott Road.
Pictured Above: Audra State Park and its famous park bridge on Audra Park Road, photo by Barbour County Chamber of Commerce
Audra has many gorgeous hiking trails, with one trademark trail commonly being photographed with a wooden walking trail directly below a large rocky overhang. You can find a trail map at the main parking area. This area boasts many family-friendly trails that don’t require much physical ability while also offering some more difficult trails.
Hiking trails available at https://wvstateparks.com/park/audra-state-park/
Kumbrabow State Forest
Kumbrabow State Forest is located off of Rt. 250 between Huttonsville and Valley Head in an unincorporated town of Elkwater, WV. Kumbrabow is an interesting State Forest, as the land here was primarily acquired for the State of West Virginia by three men who gave Kumbrabow its name (Governor Herman G. Kump, Spates Brady and Hubert Bowers, aka Kum-Bra-Bow). As you climb into this State Forest, you will be able to look back from quite a height when you arrive at the green welcome sign. You will be able to see the Tygart River Valley below for quite a few miles.
Pictured Above: Trademark Kumbrabow welcome sign at the top of the mountain from the Huttonsville side. Photo credit to ElkinsRandolphWV
A small stream called Mill Creek runs through the forest and is home to the precious native brook trout. This stream is designated as a catch and release fisheries management area by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. The forest boasts rentable cabins, multiple picnic areas, playgrounds, a general store, and scenic waterfall overlooks. The roads into the park are twisty and steep gravel roads. Be mindful of road conditions during periods of heavy rainfall.
Hiking trails available at https://wvstateparks.com/park/kumbrabow-state-forest/
Pictured Above: Mill Creek Falls within Kumbrabow State Forest with rustic cabin in background, photo credit to WV State Parks & WV Tourism.
Other fun fall activities:
Train Rides on The Tygart Flyer
With a train line named the Tygart Flyer, this old-fashioned diesel train will depart from Elkins, WV and climb its way through the mountains that separate the Cheat River from the Tygart Valley River. The Tygart Flyer will briefly follow the Tygart Valley River passing through the valleys that are home to our watershed, then climb through tunnels and bridges as it ends its run at the High Falls of the Cheat on Shavers Fork. Shavers Fork of the Cheat is certainly also a great place to take in the fall views.
For availability, pricing, and details check out the link below:
Photo of the Tygart Flyer crossing the Tygart Valley River before making its run to the High Falls of the Cheat. Photo credit to Mountain Rail WV.
Mountain State Forest Festival – Elkins, WV
From October 2nd to October 10th 2022, Elkins WV will be home to the Mountain State Forest Festival.
“Every year the anticipation builds for opening day of the Mountain State Forest Festival. It is a time when West Virginians come together to celebrate the fall foliage around us and our West Virginian pride. We look forward to experiencing the Grand Feature Parade, the Fireman’s Parade, and the Jack Basil Field Show. We are proud of our local and extremely talented Appalachian Crafters who put their hard work on display for all of us to enjoy. There is nothing quite like the City Park Events, Kids Day at the Park, the Talent Show, and the Carnival. Our country music show and the talent that takes place on our Citizens Festival Stage is also something to really look forward to. We have so many exciting and noteworthy events that take place during our Forest Festival that we couldn’t possibly list them all. Don’t miss out on any of them, check out our Forest Festival events catalog which will be available soon. We really look forward to celebrating Forest Festival Week with all of you.”
– Per the Forest Festival Website at https://www.forestfestival.com/events/
You can certainly look forward to great food, great fall foliage, and loads of fun events for the whole family here! For more information visit the link above and plan your trip.
Save The Tygart Watershed Association wishes you happy trails this fall! If you have any questions about any of the locations mentioned in this blog, or other areas near our watershed, please don't hesitate to reach out us at: SaveTheTygartWatershed@gmail.com