the Falls of Hills Creek-

Monongahela National Forest, WV

 Nov 2021

Anytime that I’m in central West Virginia, a “must do” hike for me is the Falls of Hills Creek.

This gem of the woods is in the Moshannon National Forest between Marlinton and Richwood along Highway 39 (part of the Highland Scenic Highway) 5 miles west of the Cranberry Mountain Nature Center. While just 114 acres, the site contains 3 waterfalls packed into a very narrow gorge that is impressive for not only what God put there but for what the Forest Service has done to give us access to it.

There is a parking area just a few hundred yards off of the highway and there are many interpretive signs which tell about the area and give insight into the formation of the falls as well as some of the challenges that the forest faces here.

From the parking area, there is a paved, gently sloping trail that leads approximately 600 yards through the woods to an observation deck above the uppermost waterfall. One does not get a great view of the falls as the deck is built on the top of it but access is excellent and the trail is such that anyone should be able to manage this portion. 

From there the going gets a little tougher and the lower 2 falls are not wheelchair accessible. Although much of the distance is covered by boardwalks, there are long staircases to traverse.

Happily, there are also benches along the way so that one can rest if needed. 

The views of the stream are worth the hike even if the waterfalls didn’t exist 

The path continues across a wooden bridge and leads to a very short side trail which overlooks the second falls from above 

and a four story steel tower that is bolted into the rock. 

At the base of this tower there is a viewing platform for the middle falls 

Turning downstream again there is more footpath and boardwalk that leads through the narrow gorge and while there are still step downs, they (for the most part) aren’t the staircases that lay between the first and second waterfalls. 

You soon come to a series of wooden staircases which lead to the lower falls 

There are a couple of platforms from which to view this waterfall and, at 63 feet, it is the second highest falls in the state of West Virginia. 

More informational signage at this point indicates that a short way downstream, the water goes underground at a sink and re-emerges on the other side of the mountain as the spring that forms Locust Creek which flows into the Greenbrier River. 

After ample time to enjoy and photograph the falls, all that remains is the trek back up all those steps and to the parking area.  Please remember, if you go, that the trip down to the lower falls is optional… the trip back up is not.

Climb back up the steel tower (here’s a better shot of it from down trail) 

I always pause to appreciate the effort that must have been made to build all the stairs, trails and towers. 

The gorge is very narrow and any access roads should be readily apparent so it seems that all of the wood, concrete, steel and gravel had to be carried by hand. It was certainly a monumental task and it does justice to the natural beauty that surrounds you on all sides.

The signage at the trailhead indicates that, prior to the trail improvements of 1965, the area was accessible only by hiking up the streambed from below and that the steel tower and other improvements were added in 1994. I for one certainly appreciate the efforts and I typically plan my workdays in the area so that I can use my lunch to walk the falls trail.

While I’m not really sure of the total mileage (not much) and the sign at the trailhead says to allow an hour, it usually only takes me about 40-45 minutes to complete the loop and that includes some time to take pictures and enjoy the views. Perhaps I’ll bring the inReach one of these days to get accurate mileage…

Which reminds me… cell service is non-existent in this area so be careful, do not take chances in inclimate weather and consider bringing a friend or two. (rumor has it cell signals are blocked as the government has a telescope nearby which is listening for extraterrestrial communications and, at least in their opinion, that’s more important than whether we have a date this Friday) 

I once attempted a mid-winter trip to photograph the falls when frozen but did not bring ice spikes which would have been required equipment to climb down the steel tower. Even on a warm summer day, I have rarely seen more than a few people during my visits (admittedly, I’ve never been there on a weekend) so I would imagine far fewer might venture here in the winter.

Bottom line is: Without cell service, if you get hurt, you might lay there for quite some time before someone else comes along and finds you.  By all means, get out and enjoy but use common sense and come home safely.