I often lament that there are not that many waterfalls closer to me. Sure, there is Scott’s Run Nature Preserve and that is a really cool one. And of course, all of the ones in Shenandoah National Park and along the Blue Ridge Parkway. I just really wish I lived right next to one I guess.
However, Potomac Wayside Park is only 30 minutes away. I feel like calling this a “park” is a bit of a stretch. The first thing to know about this park is that there is parking for about three vehicles. That’s it. When you drive up to it, there is a large, long paved area but they (Loudoun County? NOVA Parks?) call most of it a roadway. And they don’t allow parking there except for the very end of it. If you decide to go, go early (no later than 9:00 am). It is unfortunate that there is so little parking because the area is beautiful. If you go during the summer, you’ll see that the Harpers Ferry Adventure Center uses the full length of the “roadway” to park for their tubing expeditions. I know, it seems unfair that they get to use it for commercial ventures while the rest of us cannot.
When you arrive… very early in the morning…you’ll see a sign at the start of the trail. The trail is incredibly short and it will take you directly to the waterfall. Each time I have been to the falls there has been a good amount of water. The name of the waterfall is Piney Run Falls. It dumps directly into the Potomac. I once visited during the winter and it was pretty much frozen solid. It looked amazing. There are some large rocks to climb on but just be aware that they are very slippery. On a hot day, feel free to wade into the water. It feels amazing.
If you continue down the trail, you’ll come to the Potomac River. From there, you’ll have a great view of the bridge that connects Maryland and Virginia to your right. And to your left, you’ll see Harpers Ferry. I suppose you could fish from this area. I would recommend swimming here as the current can be strong. The chances of seeing an eagle fly by are very high. When the water is lower, there are exposed rocks where you can sit and relax.
This is one of my favorite spots in Loudoun County. Because I go very early, I have it to myself each time. While it is a shame the parking lot is so small, I guess, it is also a blessing. It would probably be overrun with people if it was larger. It is a balance. I definitely recommend visiting Harpers Ferry after seeing the falls. There are a number of smaller trails to explore. Or you can do the Maryland Heights Trail which will give you an incredible view of the entire area.
I really wanted to visit a waterfall this past weekend. I never can decide where to go but decided to do a return trip to South River. If you’ve been following me for a few months, you may remember I went this past winter in 0 degree weather. I think I prefer that trip and I’ll explain why below. The South River Falls trailhead is located in the South River Picnic Grounds at mile marker 62.7. The circuit I hiked is approximately 6 miles long and covers 2,300 feet of elevation. I started on the South River Falls Trail and went all the way to the base of the falls. You’ll get to a post that says, “Base of Falls”. Continue down that path. On my way back up, I stay on the fire road. This will cross the Appalachian Trail where you’ll make a left. This will take you back to the South River Falls Trail where you’ll turn right and just about be at the parking lot.
South River Falls is not my favorite waterfall in Shenandoah National Park. It’s kind of weird looking and split. I much prefer Doyles River Falls but I love the hike to South River. There are many pretty cascades. I know it sounds silly but when I made my way to the river I was surprised at how different everything looked. I know. Duh. But in March we had a massive wind storm and the downed trees added to how it had changed. I had to spend time crawling on rocks, balancing on wet rocks and wading through water to get some of my photos. And I loved every minute. The green does add beauty to the photos but I also loved how wide open everything was during winter. I was able to get to some other small falls because I didn’t have to worry about poison ivy or as many ticks or stinging nettles. I had more to photograph and I like that. Also, I think the falls look really cool when they are partly frozen (better than they look now but that’s a personal opinion).
I kept telling myself to keep moving. It was partly cloudy and I was worried the sun would be too bright by the time I got to the falls. I just couldn’t help myself when I passed certain small falls and cascades. And unfortunately, a few of my shots ended up with dappled sun. And when I got to the falls the sun was hitting the top of the falls. A photographic disaster. (Laughing) I shot it in a few exposures and I guess the final image came out okay. Sometimes I rush and don’t really think about my compositions.
Eventually the sun was out to stay so I had to hike back. But, before I forget, I almost ran into a bear on the trail. I was all alone on the trail. And I mean really alone. I didn’t see anyone for 3 hours. I came around a corner and there was a bear. It was as surprised as me. I backed away slowly as I greeted the bear. I expected to hear it run off but it didn’t. I called out a few more times. Eventually, I saw it walk through the woods at a lazy pace. I was thrilled! Bears don’t scare me. I do wish I had gotten a photo but I thought I should follow protocol. I haven’t ever seen a bear while hiking so this was exciting.
Hiking back I forced my pace. With an upcoming Spartan Race this weekend, I wanted to test my fitness and not stop. I did have to stop once or twice but the 2,300 foot climb back up wasn’t so hard. Loved it!
I still recommend South River Falls. If you want to be in the water, it’s a great option! And the hike is just about 6 miles. Any time spent in Shenandoah National Park is time well spent.
If you are a Virginian and reading this, then you are well aware and probably sick of all the rain we have received. It has been a lot. All I kept thinking is, “I need to get to some good waterfalls!” When hiking in Shenandoah it is easy to find a cascade or a waterfall but often there is a trickle of water – especially in the late fall or summer. All of this rain was good for those of us who love photographing waterfalls.
I decided to return to Doyle’s River Falls. While I enjoyed the photos I took there last year, I yearned for more water and this was my chance. I had originally planned to only hike to the lower falls and return but wondered how Jones Run would look. So I tacked that on to my day since I was alone.
As I started down the trail, I was happy. I was alone. The birds were chirping. And it wasn’t long before I heard the water. As you go down the trail, you follow the stream down to the falls. I could already tell the amount of water was far more than what I had experienced last year. There is a small waterfall before you reach the upper falls. I had the place to myself (a common occurrence on my hike) and could spend time trying new compositions and camera levels. Not every shot was a winner but it was fun trying. The water felt great as well.
It wasn’t long before I made it to the upper falls. I sloshed around in the water, sometimes up to almost my knees, trying compositions and ideas. I kept thinking, “I can’t believe I am alone!” It is possible to climb up to the ledge on these falls. I did it last year but since I was alone, I decided to not take a chance. I would have loved to though. Eventually, a family came and their sons removed their shoes and provided to climb everything. It was a blast to watch them. They relished in letting the falls wash over their heads and declared that the water wasn’t that cold. I chatted with the father a bit before proceeding on down the path.
It was here where I took my second favorite shot of the day. Maybe my most favorite. I go back and forth. There was just something about the positioning of the logs and how the water ran over the rocks. There is moss and green and it was just beautiful. I enjoyed thinking back to my previous hike and comparing the scenes. As I stood taking this shot, the family passed me by on their way to the lower falls.
The lower falls took my breath away. They barely resembled the falls of my memory. Water was everywhere. Again, the boys had climbed up quite high. I wish I could have gotten a shot of them when they were letting the water fall all around them. It looked so cool! They were too speedy for me though. I was waiting patiently so I could have my time. I was careful with where I stepped because where they were waterfalls in Shenandoah, there are snakes. They didn’t spend a lot of time at the falls so once again, I was alone. Photography is something that relaxes me a lot. The moving from place to place. Trying new things. Reviewing shots. Making adjustments. It all takes my mind off of whatever is going on in my life. And then just stopping, looking up, and being one with nature. It soothes me. My only complaint about this location was that a tree had fallen over and it blocked out part of the upper portion of the falls. I imagine it probably fell during our big wind storm back in March. All part of the scenery I guess.
At this point, I could have turned and gone home satisfied with what I had seen. I decided I would just continue on because why not. I wanted to see what Jones Run looked like with a large amount of water. While Jones Run Falls is not my favorite in the park, the trail is very high on my list. I love hiking along a creek/run/river and this one is just beautiful. There were many places where I wanted to slip down the side of the trail for a photo but knew I had a long ways to hike. Thankfully, some large rocks provided good places for quick photos.
It is a pretty easy hike to reach Jones Run Falls. Hooray! Water! I took some time to eat a snack and took a few photos. It is a great place for a rest as there are a lot of large, flat-ish rocks for sitting. Again, I made sure to look for snakes. Earlier, after walking out of the water, I did almost step on one. I don’t know what kind it was but I certainly didn’t stop and look. I got the heck out of the water.
Finally, satisfied with my photos, I took off. I knew the hike back up to the Skyline was steep. Thankfully, my training made the hike much easier than it was previously. My plan was to hitch a ride back to Doyle’s River parking lot. It is about a 3 mile drive but a 3.4 mile hike. I tried. No cars would stop fro me. So I started down Skyline thinking someone would see me and stop. This was actually pretty fun. I was able to see wildflowers that weren’t visible in the woods. No one stopped. I reached a portion of the trail and saw the white blaze (for the Appalachian Trail) and figured I’d just hoof it the rest of the way on the trail. Well, my mistake…. I didn’t realize it crossed the road. I should have known better since I was on a fire road. I was just excited that it was flat and fast. Soon, I realized I didn’t see any white blazes. I looked at my phone and nope…. I was on some other trail. Can we all say, “UGH!!!!” together? I had to retrace my steps.
So once again, when I reached Skyline, I tried to hitch a ride. This normally isn’t a problem but no one would stop. I once again reached the trail and just at that moment, a car slowed. I moved forward and they moved forward. And then they took off. Hope squashed. I sucked it up and eventually made it back to my car. If I had just stopped trying to hitch a ride, I probably would have made it back much earlier. Lame on my part.
I was still super happy with my day. 9 miles hiked. Waterfalls galore. Everything was green.
Our original plans for spring break were to stay in our cool cabin for two nights and then head to Claytor Lake State Park for two nights. I was excited to try a new Virginia State Park – especially for the sunset possibilities. As we were coming off of the mountains at Grayson I received a phone call. I didn’t know the number so I figured they would leave me a message if it was important. When I reached the bottom of the trail I checked the message with the little bit of signal I had left: Claytor Lake had canceled our reservations because the whole park lost power. It would not be restored for days. Heartbreak. I think they lost power due to the snow storm.
So I figured we’d just drive into town, find WiFi, and I’d figure something out. I wasn’t sure what… well, “town” was much farther than I anticipated so I drove back to Grayson where I knew I had some signal. I called VA State Parks and we settled on Hungry Mother State Park – a place we stayed at two years ago. My son was thrilled because he knew that meant a fire in the fireplace… aka… s’mores. And it was close. But what would we do? My hikes were planned for around Claytor. I researched the awesome Outbound and found some waterfalls. I reached out to an Instagram buddy and he confirmed a location and gave me more tips about it. Perfect.
That location was Bush Creek Falls in West Virginia. The drive was approximately 1.5 hrs from Hungry Mother. I chose to drive on the back roads instead of hitting I-81. Anyone from Virginia knows you avoid I-81 at all costs! The rural country was beautiful. I stopped to take a few photos (will do a write-up on them later) along the way and on the way back. Eventually, we reached the falls.
Due to the melting snow the water was incredibly high. The falls sounded loud and powerful. It was a sight to see. The hike to Bush Creek is only half a mile at the most. I got very excited to shoot the waterfall until I picked up my camera and realized my nub was missing. I’m sure the “nub” has a more official name but basically it is the connector that fits into my tripod. It’s rather important for waterfall photography. I instantly got upset. I thought, “All the driving, time, and now I can’t take photos.” I turned and saw that my son was upset. He said, “So we’re only here for photos?” Thanks, babe. I needed that because I realized, photos or not, I was there for him.
Thankfully, with my smaller 18-55 mm lens, my camera actually balances perfectly. I could set it on the tripod and it would say there. Of course, I couldn’t get too many good angles it forced me to be creative. In the end, I’m glad for it. The shots I got while resting the camera on a rock/log actually are some of my favorites – perhaps of any waterfall shots I’ve ever shot. There weren’t a lot of places to stand next to the creek since the water was so high so we didn’t spend a lot of time there. My Instagram pal had said to continue down the trail. So we did and it was an adventure.
There were little, mini waterfalls flowing down the side of the mountain (?) to our right and then down to the creek. We had to be creative with our crossings until, eventually, one was too deep and we had to just walk through it. As I stood trying to figure out how to take photos of these mini waterfalls my son declared, “That’s it. We can’t go any further.” There were a group of trees down across the trail. I surveyed it and knew we could get through it. One of my goals for the trip was to show my son that just because something requires effort doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing (like homework). This was perfect. I found a way through for us and tried to explain this to him. Maybe he’ll remember it in the future.
Finally, we got to White Oak Falls. They were magnificent. It was a tiered waterfall with huge boulders. I again had to be creative with my shots. I tried a few things. And while I would have preferred having my wide angle lens on my camera, I think I ended up with a couple of photos that show how cool the falls were. I had to stand right in the water for quite a while to get them. Worth it.
We meandered back to the car. My feet were soaked and I was anxious to get back and shower. I felt good about the day. I hope it is an adventure my son remembers since we had to walk through water, cross trees, and explore a waterfall. If you’d like to have specific information on how to find both sets of falls, please refer to my post on The Outbound. If you haven’t yet joined The Outbound, please use my invitation link.