Crabtree Falls, located in Nelson County, Virginia is one of the state’s most popular and scenic waterfalls. Located in the heart of the Blue Ridge in the George Washington National Forest, the falls are actually a series of 5 falls totaling a drop of over 1200 feet, which makes it arguably the tallest waterfall east of the Mississippi and undoubtedly the tallest waterfall in Virginia.
Like so many of Virginia’s scenic destinations the drive alone is worth the trip. Scenic Rt 56, known as Tye River Road is peppered with unique homesteads reflecting the character of their owners. Your vehicle engine strains as you climb along this steep twisty mountain road and you can’t help but feel that you are entering a much simpler place and time tucked neatly away from the stresses that surround most of the modern world. It would not take much imagination to envision the Walton family from the old television series hiking along the road on their way to Crabtree Falls for a Sunday picnic. In fact, if you look carefully high up on the rocks above the roadbed you are guaranteed to see a black bear standing guard. Though it is only a statue, it seems such a natural part of the area, you will find yourself having to look twice to be sure it isn’t real. Though the falls are only 12 miles away, it seems much further as you pass through such interesting places with names just as interesting as Vesuvius and Montebello. All along the way you have the opportunity to visit a fish hatchery, rent a pioneer cabin, camp, try your hand at trout fishing or stop in at a local country store.
As you reach the Crabtree Falls entrance, you realize that the interesting drive is only the beginning of the adventure. Below the trail is an unusual 110-foot arched footbridge that was shipped from New York in one large piece and placed over the Tye River in 1978. You will also find a pay phone, an unexpected site any where these days, especially in the middle of a national forest. In reality this is a necessity as cell phones do not work in this area – a pleasant reminder of just how far away we are from being interrupted from our peaceful journey by any ringing, beeping or annoying ring tone. There are also picnic tables available if you decide not to hike to the top of the falls.
Before you begin the approximate 2.2 mile roundtrip hike to the top of the falls, there are a couple of things to keep in mind: bring water, wear sturdy shoes and stay on the trail, do not climb on the rock around the falls (23 people have fallen to their death). The beginning of the trail is paved. With minimal effort visitors can reach the first spectacular photo opportunity of the lower falls located only 700 feet away. From there the Crabtree Falls Trail becomes a little more work. Even though it is only 1.1 miles of well-maintained trail to the top, most of it is vertical. You also had better really enjoy steps, lots and lots of steps.
The hike, though steep, is not very difficult in terms of obstacles. In fact, we were surprised at the number of families with small children making their way up the trail. You may be tempted to be discouraged when a switchback leads you away from the falls, but rest assured, you are never far from another spectacular view and there is seldom a time when you won’t be able to hear the rushing water encouraging you upward. The trail offers convenient benches throughout. Offering you the opportunity to catch your breath or just soak up the atmosphere. If you get discouraged, keep reminding yourself how easy the trip back down will be.
After about 1.5 to 2 hours, you finally reach the top of the falls and realize the destination was definitely worth the journey as you take in a spectacular overview of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Here you can bask in the victory of your hike with others who have arrived before you by dipping your toes in the mountain stream or perhaps enjoy a picnic lunch.
If you decided not to take a picnic lunch to Crabtree Falls, VirginiaWind recommends stopping at Gertie’s Country Store and Deli in Vesuvius. Here you will discover some the local charm as well as support a local mom and pop operation. This self-proclaimed “Biker Friendly Establishment” actually refers to the human powered bicycle; however we took it to be a positive sign that we would be welcomed as well. We were not disappointed. Once inside we were greeted warmly by the person we assumed to be Gertie, who struck up friendly conversation as we admired the walls decorated by graffiti from folks passing through. As it was a nice day, we decided to eat outside. After the food was brought out to our picnic table, we were told “if you need anything else all we had to do was holler.”
Crabtree Falls offers you the opportunity to make your own memories. Whether you choose to hike to the top or just enjoy the first overlook, you will find breathtaking views of the falls. The unique area offers many other attractions making it perfect for either a quick daytrip or a weekend stay.
Directions: I81 to exit 205, left onto Raphine Road for 1.6 miles, left onto Rt 11 for 1/8 mile, right onto Rt. 56 Tye River Road for 12 miles to Crabtree Falls Trail parking.
Requirements: Sturdy shoes and bottled water. First aid kit, sunscreen, snack food recommended
Hike: 2.2 mile trail roundtrip - Approximately 3.5 hours