Hiking the Crabtree Falls Trail in Virginia

Located just miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway, Crabtree Falls is not only the highest waterfall this side of the Mississippi River but is also Virginia’s most popular waterfall hike. The trail traces Crabtree Creek and climbs alongside the falls and up to an overlook that shows off the Tye River Valley before ending at the Crabtree Meadows. The hike is short but offers rewarding views of the falls and some of Virginia’s finest scenery.

Crab tree fallshttp://i.imgur.com/flaZ0-jpg.webp

Before heading to the falls, hikers should take a minute to read and hopefully be persuaded to heed the warning signs at the start of the trail. It tells the sad tales of more than twenty-five people who slipped on the rocks of the falls and fell to their deaths. There have also been a number of dog deaths on the trail from owners letting their pets off-leash. The rocks are often covered with a transparent form of algae which looks dry, but proves more slippery than grease in some spots. The short story is you can go off trail, but stay off the falls. It is a long way down.

Quick Stats:

Trail Length: 5.4 miles City/State:   Montebello,
Bikes Allowed: No
Elevation: 1,000 feet gain
County:   Nelson Dogs Allowed: Yes

Getting There

From I-81, take Exit 205 towards Steele’s Tavern. Take a left onto Route 11 and a quick right shortly after onto VA-56. This will keep going for quite some time, past Blue Ridge Parkway and in the nest few miles after that, take the turnoff for Crabtree Falls on the right. There is a parking lot right by the exit so hikers won’t have to drive too far.

The Hike

Although the trailhead is right by this first parking lot, referred to as the “Upper Lot,” the Lower Lot is worth taking some extra time to go visit. The Lower Lot area used to be the start of the trail until development created extra parking for the area. Now it is something of a secret to those who are not familiar with the area. However, it is worth a visit if only to see and walk across the beautiful laminated wood bridge that straddles the Tye River. This beautiful bridge was delivered to this spot in 1978, fully constructed in a single piece all the way from New York.

After crossing the bridge and lingering over one of the thinner sections of the Tye River, hikers should head back up to the Upper Lot and back to the trailhead. The trail from the parking lot starts off paved, walking by a small family cemetery. The plots belong to the Fitzgerald family, an average family from the 1800’s. Their only claim to fame besides their cemetery being along the trail was owning the farm next to McCormick Farm where Cyrus McCormick invented the mechanical reaper.

The trail turns to dirt at the lowest set of falls; from then on the trail will be a mix of dirt and stairs as it gains elevation all the way to the top. Some portions can be rocky and the rocks have a tendency to come loose, especially when the area is wet (which is often.) This section is also where the railings start in order to deter folks from wandering onto the falls.

Shortly after the lower set of falls, the trail dead-ends. Hikers should look for a gathering of rock formations to find a small cave. It goes right through the rock where the trail starts up again on the other side.

After walking along a slightly inclined stretch of trail that traces the creek bed, hikers will begin to hear a roar. Not the roar of some mighty beast, but one that only a very big waterfall could make. Around the bend the trail will soon turn from dirt and loose rock to a staircase built into the rock that winds its way up the side of the falls like a staircase through a skyscraper. At the foot of the staircase, there is an area where hikers can gather and stare up at these massive falls. Though the staircase has railings, hikers can get an up close and personal view of the falls as its waters fall 1,200 feet down to the creek bed below. At some parts, visitors are close enough to feel the spray of the water and reach out and touch it as it comes down. This staircase leads up to the Tye River Valley Overlook, but hikers should get their fill of the falls there while they can.

Once at the top of the stairs, visitors cross over a wooden bridge getting their last glimpses of the falls as they approach the Tye River Valley Overlook. This overlook technically overlooks the falls as well, but hikers cannot see them as they fall away from the vantage point. However, the overlook area is a great place to look out over the Blue Ridge Mountains and the valleys in between. This is usually the portion of the hike where those poor souls that became sad warnings at the beginning of the trail met their end. There is a lovely rock wall that protects the overlook from the slippery area below, however it is not very high. A number of people have jumped the wall to get a different look at the falls, but ended up slipping. As there have been so many deaths along this hike, the forest service takes safety very seriously in this area. If they catch anyone over that wall, they are in some serious trouble.

From here, hikers can either walk a bit up the path to a side trail that heads back to the Upper Lot and go home or press on. The Crabtree Falls Trail continues on for another two miles and drastically flattens out, after all, hikers just climbed up the falls. It runs along the upper portions of the Crabtree Creek and leads all the way to Crabtree Meadows. The meadow is well worth the extra walk, especially in the spring when the flowers are in bloom. Surrounded by a field dotted with flowers with the foggy mountain in the distance, it is an idyllic place right out of your best dream.

To get back from here, it is just a simple matter of retracing your steps. It is highly recommended to go back exactly the way you came primarily to get another glance at the majestic Crabtree Falls in case you took the views for granted the first time.