Monongahela National Forest: High Falls Trail to High Falls on Shavers Fork Cheat River, Elkins, West Virginia
Despite its generic name, the High Falls of Cheat is known as one of Monongahela's more distinctive waterfalls. As less than 20 feet in height, the falls isn't very tall - but its signature feature is its width, stretching across a 100-foot wide cliff. The enormous pool and swimming hole denoting the base of High Falls is a welcome sight on a warm summer day. A scenic trail leads to the falls across Shavers Mountain from the West Fork Glady Fork valley. High Falls is unusual in that it is one of the longest waterfall hikes in Monongahela, yet it is also easily accessible by a scenic tourist train ride from Elkins. The Durbin and Greenbrier Valley Railroad Company runs a seasonal track through the Tygart Valley and up the remote gorge of the Shavers Fork Cheat River, otherwise accessible only by foot. The track runs directly past High Falls, so during the summer, don't be surprised to find company from people who reached the falls by train. On the other hand, you're likely to have the hike and falls all to yourself in the cold winter months, especially if you choose to visit after a foot of fresh snow has fallen, like I did. This hike occurred on Monday, February 1st, 2021. My plan was to simply hike the High Falls Trail out and back from the trailhead along FS 44.
R/T Length of Trail: 7.8 miles
Duration of Hike: 4:30 plus 1 hour and 30 minutes of stopping/photography
Type of Hike: Out and back
Total Elevation Gain: 1,542 feet
Difficulty Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Beautiful alpine forest along Shavers Mountain crest; numerous views of Shavers Fork Cheat River; well-constructed gradual ascents
Cons: Substantial walk alongside the Tygart Valley railroad at the end of the trail
Points of Interest: High Falls of Cheat - 7 stars; Meadows at the site of Beulah
Trail Blaze Colors: High Falls Trail - blue; Allegheny Trail - yellow
Best Seasons to Hike: Year-round
Beginning Point: High Falls Trailhead along FS 44
Directions from Elkins, WV: From the intersection of US 219/US 250 and US 33 near downtown Elkins, follow US 33 East for 12.0 miles. Then, turn right onto Glady Road (CR 27). In 9.4 miles, after entering the community of Glady, turn left onto Bemis Road (CR 22). Continue 0.2 mile; then, turn right onto Beulah Road. Follow Beulah Road for 3.0 miles to where it turns into FR 44. Continue along FR 44 for another 1.0 miles to the High Falls trailhead on the right. There are several wide spots along the road shoulder that can house roughly 6-8 vehicles. The best pullout is about 75 yards before the trailhead. FR 44 is in good shape and suitable for all passenger vehicles, but keep in mind it does not appear maintained in winter.
Click the link below to download a .GPX file with a track of this hike.
The start of February brought a blockbuster winter storm to West Virginia's Potomac Highlands. One to two feet of snow fell area-wide, with the highest totals observed Tucker County WV, Preston County WV, and Garrett County MD. My goal was to photograph a waterfall during the snowstorm, but lacking snowshoes at the time, I tried to stay away from the epicenter of the storm. Nevertheless, it turned out that at least a foot of snow had fallen further south in Randolph County (where High Falls is located) as well; needless to say, this made for one grueling hike given the length and elevation gain. I had never seen a snowy picture of High Falls before and was excited to see it in these conditions. The mile of driving along FS 44 was one of the more nerve-wracking winter drives I've done, as I was the first vehicle on the unmaintained road since the storm. Having chains and a shovel with me helped me feel more comfortable, but I still think heading out here solo in extreme winter conditions was probably not my brightest decision!
The High Falls Trail (#38) begins at a large wooden sign and drops down the west side of FS 44. After 50 feet, turn left onto an old roadbed. The trail follows the roadbed for a little while before bearing right into a small opening and coming to a wooden footbridge across West Fork Glady Fork at 0.2 mile. West Fork is an exceptionally beautiful and clear stream, meandering across the flat bottomlands amongst snow-claden spruce trees. After the crossing, the High Falls Trail begins a gentle ascent. Entering a broad open meadow, the trail reaches a junction with the West Fork Rail Trail at 0.4 mile. This trail runs from north to south along a former railroad bed for 22 miles from Glady to Durbin, much of it along the West Fork Greenbrier River. In addition, the Allegheny Trail, West Virginia's master trail, follows the West Fork Trail northward from this junction to Glady. The High Falls Trail and Allegheny Trail run together for the next 1.2 miles as the path climbs Shavers Mountain.
Past the junction, the High Falls trail continues ascending through the beautiful meadow, which offers fine panoramic views of the West Fork Glady Fork valley and Shavers Mountain. Perhaps more importantly, these meadows denote the site of the former community of Beulah. Once upon a time, houses stood proudly and cattle grazed in these fields. Today, all that remains are a few wobbly wooden fences, and nature is slowly taking over with shrubs and hawthorne trees. Once the trail leaves the vast meadow, it begins a moderate ascent up Shavers Mountain. Thanks to numerous switchbacks, the grade is never steep. The trail starts to level out around 1.2 miles and contours along the slope before arriving at a saddle on the crest of Shavers Mountain at 1.6 miles. A nice mountaintop campsite lies to your right. Just ahead, the trail enters a shady spruce forest and arrives at the Allegheny Trail's split.
The Allegheny Trail turns left and continues a rather steep climb up Shavers Mountain on its 330-mile journey. This hike continues straight on the High Falls Trail. You've now reached the high point of the hike; I was surprised at how significantly the snow was deeper here, despite the modest elevation gain. The trail meanders through the spruce forest and crosses a couple rivulets that form the headwaters of Deer Lick Run. After a gradual descent begins, turn right onto an old roadbed at 1.9 miles. Follow the roadbed for 0.2 mile and then turn left to begin a steeper descent. This turn is rather easy to miss, because the broad roadbed continues ahead. The trail soon crosses a small stream and passes a conglomerate of boulders at 2.35 miles to the right. As the High Falls Trail approaches the Shavers Fork Cheat River, the forest changes back to mostly hardwood, and the understory becomes increasingly overgrown with rhododendron. The trail reaches the gorge floor and arrives at the Tygart Valley railroad tracks at 3.1 miles. I found the trail on the west side of Shavers Mountain to be generally steeper with fewer switchbacks than on the east side.
The rest of the trek to High Falls is along the railroad tracks. You are asked to walk alongside the tracks, not on them, and to pay close attention to incoming trains in the summer. The tracks are inactive in the winter though, which was evident on this day with numerous fallen trees and the tracks buried under a foot of snow. The tracks are flat, so this part of the hike is easy without snow. As you walk, you will see numerous views of the Shaver Fork's scenic cascades, especially as you approach High Falls. One of the best views is at 3.7 miles, showing a vast stretch of the river in the upstream direction. At 3.85 miles, you will arrive at the small track-side depot alongside High Falls (where the tracks make a sharp right curve). You will find a pair of dilapidated pit toilets and picnic tables here. Take the boardwalk to your left, which follows a wooden staircase down to High Falls. The path splits; the left fork leads to an observation deck at the top of High Falls, while the right fork leads to the base.
I recommend checking out both views of High Falls for the complete picture. The horseshoe-shaped waterfall is 20 feet high and 100 feet wide. The waterfall is named High Falls not because it's a tall waterfall, but because it is located at the highest elevation of all major waterfalls in Monongahela, at 2,900 feet above sea level. An extensive gravel bar lines the giant pool at the base. The pool is popular with swimmers in the summer, and I have seen videos of people jumping off the top. On this day, dozens of icicles lined the overhanging bluffs on either side of the waterfall, and a heavy snow squall blew in while I photographed High Falls. Once you've seen all of High Falls, simply retrace your steps back across Shavers Mountain, concluding the hike at 7.8 miles. Be extra cautious returning along the railroad tracks when they are active in summer - trains generally approach from the north. The community of Bemis is located five miles to the north.
Mark Oleg Ozboyd
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