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Elakala Falls, Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia

Elakala Falls is located inside of Blackwater Falls State Park in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia. Pristine mountain views and a series of waterfalls provide one of the most scenic views in all of West Virginia. The different areas in the park are well marked, and the hiking trails have blaze markers. For obvious reasons, Elakala Falls is popular among photographers, hikers and nature lovers alike. The falls are less than a quarter-mile down the trail. You’ll know you’ve reached them when you come to a wooden footbridge over Shays Run, where Elakala cascades directly under your feet at this point. The trail really doesn’t give you a good look at the waterfall, so take the time to follow the “unofficial” footpath down the ravine to the base. The stream leaving the base of the falls takes a beautiful swirling path across moss-greened rocks, actually cascading all the way down to the bottom of Blackwater Canyon. This location is such a place! The dark, tumbling waters plunge almost 60 feet, creating one of the most photographed sights in the state. The falls are accessible from steps, and several viewing platforms allow visitors to enjoy the falls year-round.

Summers are the most popular season, though the waterfalls are usually at their lowest point when it comes to flow at this time of year. Time it right for late summer, however, and you can catch early fall colors against leftover greenery along the lush embankment. With such a variety of trees, hikers will observe exceptionally colorful vistas in the fall, with temperatures averaging comfortably in the 50s. Blackwater Falls State Park is open year-round, and winters are typically cold with significant snowfall. Cross-country skiing is a popular activity during the winter.

Photo Experience
The best lighting conditions almost always will be on a soft overcast day, where you’ll have a better chance of dragging the shutter to create a silky flow of water while not blowing out the highlights. To create this effect, you can use a neutral-density filter to restrict light for a slower shutter speed, while variable neutral-density filters give you several stops of control. To capture the color of the falls, I use a Hasselblad SWC camera with Fujichrome Velvia film. To keep my camera steady, I mount it on my Gitzo GT3541 Series 3 tripod, which is maybe a little bit of overkill for such a light camera, but in the rushing water, I’m not taking any chances.

Best Times
I’ve seen the park in all four seasons—fast-flowing waterfalls adorned with the fresh green buds of a new spring or surrounded by the soft golden hues of autumn. But never have I seen the falls when they weren’t undeniably attractive and exhilarating. The falls can be enjoyed anytime of the year; however, they’re clearly at their most beautiful during early to mid-spring when the water levels are high, and especially in the fall foliage season in mid-October. Braving the cold winter months pays off, as the landscape takes on a whole new look. Be advised to call ahead when there’s snow or ice on the ground, as the trails may be closed. If possible, plan your visit for a weekday, when crowds are likely to be significantly smaller.

Contact: You can learn more about Blackwater Falls State Park on the website at

Kenko Variable NDX filter

Essential Gear
Neutral-density filters offer semi-opaque optics that limit the amount of light that enters the lens. This gives you far more leverage with both shutter speed and aperture, especially useful for achieving cotton candy-like effects to motion blur with running water. ND filters are available in a variety of densities, while a few models like Kenko‘s Variable NDX filter are capable of dialing in the amount of light loss at up to eight stops or more. Using a single variable ND filter instead of stacking several models also will help to reduce vignetting.