Crabtree Falls is a beautiful waterfall, the highest east of the Mississippi. At 1,200 feet in total, it is impressive by any standard. While not just one big drop, this waterfall of many big and medium cascades all in succession makes a very worthwhile 2-3 hour day hike. Located in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, this waterfall attracts a lot of people in the warmer months. It's not too far from a few cities and the drive along the winding roads is very scenic. This could also serve as a nice route to access the Appalachian Trail. Supposedly these falls were referenced several times as a weekend getaway in the old tv show "The Waltons". After visiting, I can see why!
There are 2 trailheads to reach the top of the waterfall:
Rt. 56 Trailhead (Elevation 1,600 ft.): This trail takes you from the base of the falls to the top of the falls with about a 1,200 ft elevation gain. From Charlottesville, VA, travel west along I-64 to exit 99. Go South on the Blue Ridge Parkway to milepost 27. Go East on Rt 56 approximately 6.5 miles to the parking area of the falls, which will be on your right. There are about 55 parking spaces here and restrooms. This is, without a doubt, the more scenic of the 2 trails. Distance: 3 miles round trip.
Crabtree Falls Area Map
Crabtree Meadows Trailhead (Elevation 3,050 ft.): This trail takes you on a 1 mile hike through the woods to the top of the falls with no views of the 1,200 ft of falls below. Take the same directions as for the other trail, but after about 5 miles on Rt 56, take a right onto Meadows Ln. You'll see a sign recommending only 4x4 vehicles, but I've seen cars on the road, just go slow. There are a couple small seasonal streams crossing on this road. Follow Meadows Ln 4 miles to the trailhead, which will be on the left. This route is easier and more direct with about a 300 ft drop in elevation along the way to the top of the falls. Distance: 2 miles round trip.
Rt 56 Trailhead Route:
The first thing you'll have to do is obtain a self-issuing trip ticket for $3.00. Remember to hang the ticket on your rear view mirror. (I don't believe there's a fee at the Meadow's Lane parking area.)
Begin by taking the 1/4 mile paved trail almost to the base of the falls. On your right will be a sign for "Crabtree Falls". Trail length is approximately 1.5 miles. The first 1/4 of the trail has numerous steps and overlooks to the falls. Numerous switchbacks and more overlooks along a well cared for trail lead you to the top of the falls. Along the way there are wooden and metal railings and several benches. Signs warn against climbing the rocks on the falls, which can be deceptively slippery. 23 people have died climbing on the rocks, but the trail is absolutely safe. Other notable features along the way include several small cliff areas not on the falls (hard to resist an easy climb!), some boulders which make a neat little cave and a few huge trees fallen across the falls.
The top of the falls is unmarked by any sign, but you'll know you are there when you reach a large deck overlooking the top of the falls and the valley. Just past that a stone wall with some benches overlooking the top of the falls gives a nice view.
Another unmarked trail leads from the deck back 1 mile to the Meadows Rd trailhead.
Summer: No special gear needed in summer. Bring plenty of water along, or some form of water purification as the summers can be 90+ degrees. Bug spray, lunch and a good camera should be about all one would need.
Winter: Warm jacket, hat, etc. Plus always check the weather. After the Valentines Day storm of February 2007, the entire trail was nothing but ice. I used some strap on ice cleats (Stabilicers) and they did great. Snowshoes could be needed too depending on conditions.
Nice Ice, February 18, 2007
When talking about ice climbing, Virginia is probably not one of the top states that comes to mind! However, there can be some good ice climbing on the falls in winter. February 2007 saw some very cold weather come through most of the month and the falls were frozen up very well. I'm not aware of any restrictions on ice climbing here, but you may want to call the rangers in advance in case things change. Be wary of the icy parking lot also, it didn't seem as if they had plowed of laid any sand down and it was very slick.
External LinksNelson County Virginia, Crabtree Falls Page
Charlottesville Virginia Tourism, Crabtree Falls Page
Oh, remember to stop by the little store in the town of Montebello nearby and get a bowl of chili...good stuff!