Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia, has bears everywhere. Every gift shop—from the Trading Post to the Lodge to Park Road Gallery Gifts—includes bears. T-shirts, shot glasses, key chains, postcards, books, coffee mugs: if you can put a bear on it, it’s at Blackwater Falls.
The gift shops aren’t alone. The reception desk at the Lodge has a nature log that features bears, too.
With all the bears around, you’re probably wondering why I would go. But I ask you, why wouldn’t I?! My BeFF had been to Blackwater Falls years ago and was itching to return, so she kidnapped me Thursday morning and we drove down to West Virginia, through the mountains, coal mines, and wind farms that make that small state a giant in energy production.
Only when we arrived at the park did I think to wonder about the name black water. Water isn’t black. And if it is black, isn’t that bad? I’m picturing oil spills, here. But a sign at the overlook explained it. Turns out the tannin from hemlock and spruce needles that fall into the stream basically tea-dye the water, turning it a beautiful dark shade that goes well with the autumnal foliage.
The map labeled the hike to the falls “intermediate to difficult,” but I found it pretty easy. It’s a boardwalk, so it’s clearly marked and has benches along the way, but it’s also mostly stairs, so I can see where the difficulty would come in. Fortunately, I took my trekking poles along, so my knee* didn’t give out at any point and keep me from enjoying myself.
After eating lunch, we headed up the Balanced Rock Trail. And it was beautiful. If you are within driving distance of Blackwater Falls, cancel all your plans and go there, now. These trails feature all the best parts of hiking. Wooden bridges, rock strata, ferns and flowers, birch and maple, oak and sycamore, and coves and nooks you would swear are home to fairies and gnomes.
We chatted along most of our hike, enjoying the company of friends but also scaring away wildlife. At one point, though, we lost the next blaze, and in the pause before finding the next one, the wildlife came out. A red- or yellow-bellied woodpecker drummed its tattoo in a tree overhead and filled the ridge with life. Was this the beginning of our wildlife sightings? What else lay along our path?
Squirrels and rhododendrons, as it turns out. And some stairs. And a blanket of beautiful fallen leaves. And at the end, as promised, the titular Balanced Rock.
We hiked about five miles round-trip, and by the time we returned to the Lodge, we hadn’t see any bears. I still can’t decide if I’m upset or relieved, but hey, there’s always a chance of seeing one on my return visit. And a return visit there will be. Everyone we talked to after returning from our hike asked, “Did you go on the Lindy Trail?” and subsequently gasped in horror when we said we hadn’t. If it’s more gorgeous than the trails we were on, they must really be something.
* My knee. I twisted it about a week into a 6-week trip through Europe a few years ago, and since I didn’t take care of it at the time, it’s never really recovered. (LET THIS BE A LESSON TO YOU!) Nowadays I might look like an old lady with her cane when I use my trekking poles, but at least my knee doesn’t keep me off the trails.