Sandstone Falls, the largest waterfall within the New River Gorge, spans the New River where it is 1,500 feet wide. Divided by a series of islands, the river drops 10 to 25 feet at this point. The ledge creating Sandstone Falls is made of Stony Gap sandstone of the Hinton Formation, deposited as sand during the Mississippian Period of geologic time. The falls were created as softer shale and conglomerate eroded beneath the harder sandstone, leaving the overlying stone to form a high ledge which breaks off in sections.
U.S. Chief Justice John Marshall, who was appointed by Virginia in 1812 to head a commission to investigate a water route through the mountains, observed the falls and found them to be the most serious obstacle to boat travel on New River. He wrote, ‘‘A . . . formidable obstruction is the falls at Richmond’s mill. These are designated in the neighborhood by the name of the ‘Great Falls’ of New River.’’ Marshall and his fellow explorers prudently took their boat out of water and let it down by skids. Mary Draper Ingles, who was captured by the Shawnees in 1755, passed Sandstone Falls after her escape.
Sandstone Falls is located eight and a half miles below Hinton. On the east side of the gorge, an overlook on State Route 20 offers a view of the falls from 600 feet above the river. The falls, one of the most photographed spots in West Virginia, is a popular tourist attraction. On the west side of the river, County Route 26 carries visitors to the falls access point. A boardwalk crosses two bridges leading to islands and observation decks below the falls. The area is a favorite fishing spot for smallmouth bass and catfish.
This Article was written by Arnout Hyde Jr.
Last Revised on October 29, 2010