Known as the tallest waterfall in Virginia, Crabtree Falls is a series of slides and waterfalls on Crabtree Creek, dropping approximately 1000 feet cumulatively. A hiking trail, equipped with well-constructed switchbacks and steps, provides easy access to all of the various drops of Crabtree Falls, each one unique in its own way. As a bonus, the large rock face at the top of the falls provides a great view into the Tye River Gorge. Just make sure to do this hike on a day when the crowds would likely be thinner than they were on my visit. This hike occurred on Sunday, November 27th, 2016. My plan was to hike the Crabtree Falls Trail out and back from VA 56 to the top of Crabtree Falls. This hike was the seventh and final of seven hikes that I did during a four-day Thanksgiving trip to the mountains of western Virginia.
R/T Length of Trail: 3.2 Miles
Duration of Hike: 3:15 (Please note that it took me a long time to hike this trail due to many photography stops. It can be hiked at a considerably faster pace)
Type of Hike: Out and Back
Difficulty Rating: 3 out of 10
Total Elevation Gain: 1120 Feet
Pros: Very well-built trail with no strenuous grades along the extremely steep Crabtree Creek
Cons: The Crabtree Falls Trail can be crowded; it is difficult to take good pictures of some of the portions of Crabtree Falls on a sunny day
Points of Interest: Crabtree Falls - 8 stars cumulatively (this includes all of the drops of Crabtree Falls); Top of Crabtree Falls Overlook - 4 stars
Trail Blaze Colors: Crabtree Falls Trail - Blue
Best Seasons to Hike: Winter; Spring
Fees: There is a $3 fee for parking at the VA 56 Crabtree Falls Trailhead.
Beginning Point: Crabtree Falls Trailhead
Directions from Lovingston, VA: From the intersection of US Route 29 and US 29 Business on the south side of Lovingston, follow US 29 South for 4.3 miles, and then, turn right onto VA 56 West. Follow VA 56 for 4.9 miles, and then, turn right onto VA 151 North/VA 56 West. In another 2.5 miles, turn left to continue following VA 56. Follow VA 56 for 11.7 miles until the entrance to the Crabtree Falls parking area, which is located on the left side of the road. Drive up the short entrance road to the parking area, which consists of an upper lot and a lover overflow lot.
Click here for more information and to download this trail map to view in Garmin Basecamp.
Note: The Crabtree Falls Trail never crosses Crabtree Creek. My GPS bounced around a bit in the Crabtree Creek gorge, so the track shows some brief stretches on the east side of the creek. This is incorrect, as the trail always stays on the west side.
Crabtree Falls is widely known to be the tallest waterfall in Virginia. While it is true indeed, the waterfall is not actually one waterfall. Instead, Crabtree Falls actually consists of four main drops on Crabtree Creek, all of which cumulatively total slightly over 1000 feet. There is also a claim that the waterfall is the highest east of the Mississippi River, but that is pomewhat questionable, as there have been attempts to attribute this claim to other waterfalls (such as Amicalola Falls) as well. All four drops of the waterfall are beautiful, although it is located on a small creek, and it would be best to do this hike during winter or spring, when water levels are typically higher. When I did this hike in late November, water levels were slightly below normal even for fall's usually lower water levels, and as a result, many portions of Crabtree Falls were close to a trickle, but it was still beautiful.
There are two approaches for Crabtree Falls: the "top" approach from Crabtree Meadows on FS 263, and the "bottom" approach from VA 56. The bottom approach is the common way to access Crabtree Falls, as the way back to the trailhead is all downhill. In fact, this was the approach I used on this day. The hike begins at either one of the two parking areas at Crabtree Falls Trailhead. Initially, the Crabtree Falls Trail follows a paved path. Near the beginning of the hike, a fenced off area to the left is home to two Fitzgerald graves. You will soon pass a mileage sign that indicates that the distance to the top of the falls is 2 miles, although my GPS device registered it as less than that. The paved path ends at an observation deck at the 1st (lowermost) drop of Crabtree Falls at 0.15 miles. This is the shortest of the four main drops, and it consists of a cascade that gradually falls down a sloping rock face.
The main trail turns into a dirt path as it switchbacks acutely to the right. There are wooden posts with mile markers every tenth of a mile, and I found these mile markers to be more accurate than the sign at the beginning and much closer to my GPS readings. After another switchback, the trail returns to the creek and ascends a series of wooden staircases past some cascades on the creek, passing an observation deck. From a distance, you can see the entire 2nd drop of Crabtree Falls ahead, although as the trail gets closer to it, you can no longer see the full drop. At 0.35 miles, at a switchback, the trail reaches the base of the 2nd drop of Crabtree Falls. I consider this to be "Part 1 of the 2nd Drop", because you cannot see the full 2nd drop up close until farther up the trail. The entire 2nd drop consists of an impressive rock face, down which the creek steeply slides before ending with cascades.
The trail leaves the creek for some time after the lower part of the 2nd drop, passing a somewhat limited view of the Tye River Gorge. After another switchback, the trail ascends several series' of wooden steps and reaches the upper part of the 2nd drop of Crabtree Falls at 0.6 miles. Here, there is a great view of the impressive rock slab that the creek flows down, although the creek was only a trickle as it spread into several different channels of water that flow down the rock slab. At 0.65 miles, the trail ascends a long wooden staircase near the top of the 2nd drop, before reaching an observation area at the top of the 2nd drop. From here, there are good views of the Tye River Gorge and of VA 56 down in the valley. From lower below, it seemed like the top of the 2nd drop was the top of Crabtree Falls, but once the trail reaches the top of this drop, it becomes evident that there is more falling water ahead.
After the top of the 2nd drop, the trail gradually ascends along Crabtree Creek, which is flatter here with only small cascades. At 0.8 miles, the trail reaches the 3rd drop of Crabtree Falls, and a short side trail to the left leads to the base of the drop. In my opinion, this is the most scenic drop of Crabtree Falls. In fact, the 3rd drop of Crabtree Falls is the cover photo for this trail report. Here, there is a very scenic rock face with a depression in the middle. The creek actually slides down the right side of the rock face, while the depression is typically dry. However, the depression in the rock adds a very unique touch to this waterfall. Also, I like the view of this drop from the side, as it illustrates just how thin the ribbon of water is in relation to the rest of the rock face.
After the 3rd drop, the trail makes two pairs of switchbacks as it gradually works its way up the steep gorge and toward the uppermost (4th drop) of Crabtree Falls. At 1.3 miles, the trail reaches the 4th drop of Crabtree Falls. This is the top drop of the falls, and a sign states that this is the last viewpoint of the falls. This is also the tallest drop of the falls, as the creek cascades down a very wide and tall rock face. During times of higher water, this can be an impressive waterfall, but on this day, the water flow was fairly low.
After passing the 4th drop of Crabtree Falls, the trail makes a final pair of switchbacks as it ascends to the top of Crabtree Falls. The trail reaches the top of Crabtree Falls at 1.6 miles (the mile marker here says that it is mile 1.7 - wonder what is more accurate?). Here, the Crabtree Falls Trail bears right along Crabtree Creek, eventually reaching Crabtree Meadows in a mile and the Appalachian Trail in a mile and a half. While this hike ends at the top of Crabtree Falls, there are multiple options for extending the hike to a variety of viewpoints on the Appalachian Trail. For this hike, at the top of the falls, bear left onto the short spur trail to the overlook of the Tye River Gorge. Cross Crabtree Creek via a footbridge and reach the overlook on the large rock slab on the other side. From here, there is a great view of the Tye River Gorge, with Fork Mountain and Aggies Mountain on the other side of the gorge.
From the top of Crabtree Falls, simply retrace your steps along the Crabtree Falls Trail to the trailhead, reaching the trailhead and concluding the hike at 3.2 miles.
0.0 - Crabtree Falls Trailhead
0.15 - 1st Drop of Crabtree Falls
0.35 - 2nd Drop of Crabtree Falls, Part 1
0.6 - 2nd Drop of Crabtree Falls, Part 2
0.8 - 3rd Drop of Crabtree Falls
1.3 - 4th Drop of Crabtree Falls
1.6 - Top of Crabtree Falls Overlook
Hike out and back to The Priest Mountain via Crabtree Falls Trail and Appalachian Trail - 8.0 Miles
Hike out and back to Spy Rock via Crabtree Falls Trail and Appalachian Trail - 13.6 Miles
A short drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway northward leads to the trailhead for Humpback Rocks, which is a 2-mile hike to a fantastic view. There are also longer variations of it, including a 4-mile loop and an extension along the Appalachian Trail to more views.
Mark Oleg Ozboyd
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