My wife had been reading about The Cascades in southwestern Virginia, so she started asking me if I'd like to go hike to them. I never need an excuse to go to our southern high country. I had been to the falls before--twenty-eight years before. But, no prodding was needed.
Southwestern Virginia is one of our favorite vacation spots. The outdoors activities there have kept us busy for years, and there's enough that we haven't seen to keep us busy in that area for many more years. It's home to Virginia's highest peaks and some of its most diverse topography and habitats. There aren't many places in the eastern USA that can compete with it for beauty and recreation opportunities.
We were surprised at how quickly we were able to drive to Blacksburg,
Virginia where we checked in to a hotel. The town is host to Virginia Tech which has a nice campus and which supports a wide variety of restaurants. After hauling our meager luggage to the room we drove in to downtown proper and had supper at a nice restaurant and then did a bit of sightseeing.
Next morning we got up early, grabbed breakfast at the hotel, checked out and drove to the trail head which was about a twenty-mile drive. When we got to the Cascades Day Use area the parking lot was largely empty and we had our pick of spots to park the truck. At roughly 9:30 am we started our hike.
Under the Canopy
The National Forest Service has developed a nice four-mile loop accessing The Cascades. We chose to take the eastern trail up to the falls, opting for the western side for the return trip. The eastern trail is the most scenic of the two sides of the loop, hugging the shores of Stony Creek. Along the way there are many smaller waterfalls and cascades.
The forest is maturing second growth well into recovery from turn-of-the-20th-century logging. You won't see any huge old trees but the diversity of the forest is impressive. Another thing that you will not see are any living hemlock trees. The invasive adelgid pest (from Asia) has been present here for quite some time and so the hemlocks have been completely eliminated from the ecosystem except as rotting mass. In places, Stony Creek is packed with the logs of dead hemlocks.
The trail is also highly engineered. Some of it is paved with native rock, and where the slopes are steep there are stairs also composed of small local boulders, and fine bridges allow access from one side of the creek to the other. It makes for a pleasant stroll for all ages and just about any physical condition short of disabled.
At the middle of the four-mile loop you come to The Cascades. These falls
are considered one of the finest in the eastern USA. Having seen more than my fair share of waterfalls here in the East, I have to say that these are indeed among the most impressive I've witnessed. The drop is almost seventy feet, and the water volume going over the escarpment is generally heavy. And since I dearly love to go swimming in plunge pools, I was pleased to discover that the swimming area below The Cascades is both spacious and deep, making for a truly special swimming experience.
We had lunch on a rock in the middle of Stony Creek, with a great view looking up at the falls. By about one o'clock the crowds began to arrive in earnest and soon the spot was packed with people. Literally hundreds of them. We stayed for a while, swimming, wading, taking photos, and people watching. But after a while the crowds got to be a bit much and we headed back down, choosing the western side of the loop to return.
This part of the walk is pleasant, and not nearly as scenic as the other side. But there's plenty to keep you occupied taking photos. It was on this side that we saw the only wildlife on the hike--a groundhog picking its way carefully around a boulder so that it could duck into one of its dens.
When we reached the parking area my wife and I were suitably horrified to see how crowded the parking lot had become. There was not a single spot left and people had even opted to park their vehicles in some pretty imaginative locations. Even the road leading up to the lot was lined on both sides for about half a mile. If you don't like crowds, then I suggest visiting The Cascades on weekdays.
All things considered, we had a great time and it was good to visit The Cascades again after twenty-eight years.