Holly River State Park’s Beautiful Waterfalls

Water cascades over the Upper Falls in Holly River State Park

We had chosen to visit Holly River State Park in the middle of winter because we were hoping to visit frozen waterfalls. We prepared by purchasing Yaktrax, ensuring we still fit into our winter-weight hiking pants and purchasing silk sock liners to add a thin layer to our woolen hiking sox. We took off the rubber tips of our hiking poles. We purchased hand warmers. We were ready.

Holly River State Park is a state park located in Webster County, West Virginia. Situated on the Left Fork of the Holly River near the town of Hacker Valley, it is the second largest park in the West Virginia state park system with a total of 8,294 acres.

The stairs and board walk down to the Upper Falls.

Located in a narrow valley in the Mountain Lakes region, the park is surrounded by heavily forested mountains, some reaching more than 2,800 feet in height. The 42-miles of trails through the park’s dense forests provide hikers peaceful solitude and access to some of nature’s spectacular beauty.

Only, it was 50 degrees the day we left home. Despite watching the weather forecasts anxiously and doing the snow dance, the weather resolutely stayed warm. Oh well. Winter hiking is a thing in and of itself; we didn’t need snow.

As it turns out, we were ill-equipped for snow hiking anyway, something I realized as I slipped on a north-facing slope on a hike just before we visited the Upper Falls, almost throwing my hip out and almost ruining our visit to this delightful state park. 

Navigating ice-covered foot bridges and stairs down to the Upper Falls was adventurous enough, we decided. 

You get to the Upper Falls by driving out of the main section of Holly River State Park, turning left onto Route 20 until you come to Route 3, where you turn left onto what seems at first to be a narrow, paved road. Logging trucks come thundering down this road — exercise caution around those narrow curves!

But as you climb up the mountain side, soon the pavement runs out, although you can see evidence of where the road had previously been paved. After passing several driveways and a road on the right, you eventually come upon a gravel road leading downward to a parking lot. It’s not the best marked — we almost dismissed the turn as not relevant to our goal of seeing the falls.

There’s ample parking, evidence that the falls, Fall Run and Left Fork of the Holly River are popular destinations during warmer weather.  To get to the Upper Falls, you take the stairway down to the base of the falls; there are a couple of observation decks along the way.

Even in February and without leaves on the trees, the Upper Falls are beautiful, nestled as they are “in a cove full of rhododendron, evergreens and moss-covered rock, and lush with greenery even in winter,” as the West Virginia State Park’s website advised us.

The river enters Shupe’s Chute.

Next, we headed to Shupe’s Chute, one of the most unusual waterfalls in West Virginia. Unfortunately we didn’t get good photos, because the water was too cold to go into to get a good view. It is actually a circular, chute-like channel that funnels the entire water-flow of the Left Fork of the Holly River.

The swimming hole at the base of Shupe’s Chute.

The day we were there, the snow melt made the water run fast and high — with the river furiously slamming through Shupe’s Chute before dumping into what looks like would be a lovely swimming hole (in warmer weather). It is named after Walter Shupe, who served as park superintendent from 1966 to 1984.

Shupe’s Chute

Next we decided, because why not? to attempt to go see the Lower Falls, which meant following the “trail” along the side of the river, except that it was actually, more or less, in the river, which was running a bit higher than perhaps it might in the summer. It was also very cold, so we were hesitant to take the risk of getting our feet wet or worse, slipping and falling in completely — down in that valley, with the wind blowing and not in direct sun, it was a chilly 40 degrees. After trying to make our way for a hundred yards, we finally gave up. We hope we will return to Holly River State Park — it was a really lovely park — and if so, then we’ll try the hike again when we won’t mind doing some wading!

Getting there: 680 State Park Rd, Hacker Valley, WV
Hours: 6 a.m. to 10 p.m./daylight
Website: Holly River State Park; trail map