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The West Virginia. Cyclopedia


Sandstone Falls

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The New River thunders over upper Sandstone Falls.
An angler casts into a pool below the lower falls.
The river cascades over the treacherous upper falls.

In Summers County, 10 miles north of Hinton, WV, Sandstone Falls is among the most visited natural landmarks within the territory of the New River Gorge National River, according to the National Park Service. Also known as "The Great Falls of the New River," the waterfall thunders over the thick shelf of the Stony Gap Sandstone in photographic spectacle.

NPS Sandstone Falls Natural Area

Downstream of Sandstone Falls, the National Park Service has established observation areas with wayside exhibits throughout the Sandstone Falls Natural Area, connected by an elaborate boardwalk with rest stations. The wheelchair-access Sandstone Falls boardwalk leads visitors across a series of forested islands to the highest part of the falls on the eastern half of the river. The walk passes several smaller falls, pools, and rivulets, more-typical of the gentle western half of the river's descent. Picnic tables and public toilets are located near the Sandstone Falls parking area at the boardwalk entrance. Formerly a West Virginia state park, the park service acquired the falls area and began to develop the site in the late 1980s.

Sandstone Falls Ecology

The ecology of the Sandstone Falls Natural Area is classed as that of an Appalachian Flatrock Ecosystem, defined by continuous flats of sandstone. The edge of this sandstone layer creates the falls and is exposed among the islands and shoals above and below. This sandstone, the Stony Gap Sandstone, extends upstream for more than 12 miles. Its smooth rock top lies just below the surface during low water. Brooks Falls, six miles upstream, is created by a pitch in the sandstone. Waders enjoy plodding through the shoals along the western side of the river: the water above the falls is warmed to bath temperature by early summer as it flows languidly over the broad rock surface.

Flatrock ecosystems share similar characteristics, namely a lack of soil. At Sandstone Falls, frequent spring floods rage over the falls, shoals, and islands, tearing at roots and carrying off what little soil is available in deep narrow fissures. Only the hardiest plants survive here -- including Virginia pine and Red Cedar.


Use Caution Wading at Sandstone Falls: Fishing and wading are popular pastimes in the warm water of the shoals and shallows above the western side of the falls, but both waders and anglers should use extreme caution and understand the nature of currents, which may follow deeper crevasses above the falls. Several people have drowned at the falls.


Directions: From Interstate 64 exit 138 (Sandstone-Hinton exit), follow WV Route 20 (WV-20) south eleven miles through Hinton to River Road. Follow River Road (WV-26) 8.5 miles. Brooks Falls is located about six-miles upstream of Sandstone Falls. The falls may also be observed at a distance from the Sandstone Falls Overlook along W.Va. Route 20.


See also: Topo Map showing Sandstone Falls

Photos

A fisherman angles the lower falls at Sandstone
Water fills a pool in the flats above the falls
Sightseers stroll a boardwalk to the falls observation area
A trail leads hikers through woodland below the falls
Topo map of Sandstone Falls and vicinity