The Priest Through Crabtree Falls Route

The Priest Through Crabtree Falls Route

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 79.07833°N / 37.85083°E
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Jun 24, 2012
Activities Activities: Hiking
Seasons Season: Summer


Crabtree Falls is located in the George Washington National Forest in Nelson County, Virginia, and is one of the tallest sets of waterfalls in the United States east of the Mississippi River. The name of the falls is thought to have come from William Crabtree, who settled in this part of Virginia in 1777. The set of waterfalls is often credited with being 1,200 feet (370 m) high, but topographic maps show the total drop to be closer to 1,000 feet (300 m).[1] Crabtree Falls is a series of cascading waterfalls, with five major cascades, the tallest of which drops about 400 feet (120 m), and several smaller cascades, all over a total distance of approximately 2,500 feet (760 m) horizontally. The cascade with a 400-foot (120 m) drop also gives Crabtree Falls the title of tallest vertical drop in a waterfall east of the Mississippi River. However, the title of tallest free-fall vertical drop goes to Fall Creek Falls in Tennessee's Fall Creek Falls State Park.
There is a trail to the waterfall maintained by the United States Forest Service called the Crabtree Falls Trail. Twenty-three people have fallen to their death from climbing too close to the waterfalls.

Information Source

Sunday Morning

It is an early Sunday morning in the Appalachian Mountains. My father and I decide to summit The Priest through the Crabtree Falls route. The previous day, I had hiked Old Rag Mountain, and the day before that I had finished my fourth match in a national tennis tournament in Fredericksburg. I am pretty worn out from the previous day’s adventures, but am still looking forward to climbing a new summit. We had climbed Old Rag around 40 times already, and I must say, even though it must be the best hike in Virginia, it was beginning to be slightly tedious. I am not exaggerating; I actually may be under-exaggerating.

I am playing Spider Solitaire on my new Galaxy Tablet when all of a sudden my dad starts braking the car rapidly and yells, “Look!” I look up and sure enough I see a large black shape the size of a large dog running in front of us. After a second I could recognize that it was a young black bear, or an older cub. It looked like a large dog, but the legs and paws were much wider and furrier than a dog’s usual lithe legs. My dad stopped the car just in time; the bear was only a yard in front of us, and then it scampered off into the forest before we have the time to look back.

There are a couple of different routes to The Priest, Little Priest, and Maintop Mountain. One of them is by the Appalachian Trail. This route consists of about 3,000 feet of elevation gain so it is an amazing workout. However, it is much less scenic then the Crabtree Falls route that my father and I chose to go on. Across the street from the “Appalachian Trail” route parking lot is a suspension bridge across the Tye River. During the summer, when I will be hiking The Priest, the water is a chilly yet comfortable temperature; and the water is clear, the rocks underneath the water glimmer slipperly. We went on the suspension bridge to see if after the hike there would be a good place to “bathe.” Sure enough, there was. After surveying the area we jump back in the car and head off for the Crabtree Falls parking lot.

The Hike

There is a small fee for parking consisting of $3 dollars. It was 8 a.m. in the morning when we arrive there, and there were only two other vehicles that had just joined us. The first hundred yard section is paved and is “wheel-chair accessible.” The waterfall is beautiful yet not as spectacular as it is near the top. The fall is still shrouded in the shadows of the trees. As we continue to hike up the well-trodden trail, there are more access points to view the waterfall. Twenty-three people died there before, and there are “Slippery Rocks” signs in numerous places along the waterfalls.
Crabtree Falls

Crabtree Falls Path

Gaining Elevation

As we continue to climb higher and higher up the switchbacks and steep wooden man-made staircases, the trees near the waterfall access points began to thin out. The waterfall seems to become more vertical and more beautiful with every lookout point that we came upon while gaining elevation. The rock slabs widen out and the water slides over the solid rock with ease. Soft green mosses stretch out over the rocks near where the endless spray of water makes the environment moist and hospitable for such humidity-loving plants. The morning sun filters through the trees to create this light green glow that seemed to hold the forest in its breath. The shadows of the leaves dapple the ground; and the sun shines a golden yellow from between the fronds of ferns and branches of tall oak trees. The air hangs in a soft humid mist, and small insects buzz through the air. The area is just serene, and it makes the hike all the more worthwhile.
Mystical Forest

Crabtree Falls Route to The Priest

Crabtree Falls

Crabtree Falls

The view from the top of the waterfall is spectacular. The Blue Ridge Mountains stretch across the horizon in their own demeaning way. What I think is even more beautiful is the creek that descends down the cliff face to become the waterfall. The water is cool and crisp. I shiver as I slide my hand into the water; but it soothes my sore battered wrist from the grueling tennis matches it had to endure. The rock underneath the creek is orange color like a late sunset, and the pure water sliding over it looks beautiful. The whole morning scenery at the top of the waterfall is just idyllic. The lighting, and the way the sun gently stroked all of the leaves and fronds with its golden rays made me not want to stop taking pictures. I want to keep this memory of the bright sun through the green leaves forever in my head. (A month before this trip I had even painted my room light green, dark green, yellow, and brown to match the colors of the forest.)
Idyllic Mossy Stream

Appalachian Mountains

After eating the rest of our Chipotle bowls, and drinking some strawberry-watermelon Gatorade; we continue on up the trail. After a few hundred meters, the trail divides in two. One section goes upward to the right and the other is flat to the left. The trail that we took to The Priest is the one ascending to the right. That trail widens out and becomes a straight, flat, and wide trail that leads to a parking lot…It is only accessible by four-wheel drive cars apparently; so we did not want to push our old Suzuki Esteem too much. Besides, it would be such a waste to miss the beauty of the record-high waterfalls. There are bathrooms straight ahead at the edge of the large gravel-covered parking lot. The trail we take veers to the left and becomes a normal 4x4 road. A couple of cars pass us on the way up to the actual hiking trail. As we continue on there is a family with dogs to the left camped out and sitting in their portable chairs. Just sitting there, eating, and creating smoke from their fireplace.
Trails Veers Left to The Priest

The rocky 4x4 road continues on for about 1.5 miles in a straight stretch. At the top of the wooded ridge there are two trails, one to the left, and one to the right. They are guarded from cars and motorcycle bikes by large rocks. The trail to the right is to Maintop Mountain, and the left is to The Priest, an Appalachian Trail cabin, and Little Priest. We continue on the trail to the left to The Priest. After a while there is an intersection and a few camping spots. One of the trails leads left and up the mountain, while the other leads right and downward to the cabin and a fresh water source.

View from the Summit

The Priest

The trail is basic after that and winds through forests. Near the top of the summit ridge the trees become a little shorter and more stunted, but not significantly. Deep-green ferns fill the forest and make everything look like a fur coat splashed with a dazzle of greenness that is kind to the eyes. The summit is not too apparent; and I am not sure if we were on the right summit either since there was no specific summit marker where we were. But what seems to be the summit is a large outcropping of large boulders to the left of the trail. We continue on to see if there is something else that looks like a summit; but this seemed to be it. The views from the top were very nice, and the boulder outcroppings are good places to sit and eat lunch. We also see a snake near a rock at the summit. As I sit down the eat, annoying ants try to crawl under me and my backpack and I end up standing to eat lunch to avoid their tiny black bodies crawling on me.
Appalachian Flower

Common Garter Snake

Flowers of The Priest Summit Ridge


During the descent back down the mountain, we go see the cabin. My dad informs me that during our trip in August to the 100 Miles Wilderness, it would be a blessing if we could sleep in those. There are four mid-20 year old guys with full beards at the cabin. They all look the same and stare at us blankly, eating. After we look at the water sources, we continue on back down and to our car, and even race for a while back down, I almost fall flat on my face but manage to maintain my balance. The race itself has a great storyline to it***It is below this report***. I have a graduation party to catch back near the Atlantic Ocean! I cast a glance back at the men and wonder what it is like the actually hike such long sections of the Appalachian Trail. Well, I guess I will be finding out in August!

My dad’s backpack has a chest strap. However, he refused to clip it together. I was going to make sure he does so. So (no exaggeration) when we were going at our full-speed descent speed, my goal was to clip this backpack chest strap together. For an hour, I tried to. Jumping from side to side and grabbing him from behind I tried to clip it. For an hour, I basically tortured him while laughing like a crazy person. I am sure his hands and arms must be sore from him trying to protect himself for having his backpack’s chest strap clipped together. After this hour, I think he must have gone insane from me acting like a 5 year old. He screamed at the top of his lungs and started to sprint full speed down the mountain. I, of course, not giving up on my goal, sprinted after him. This continued on for a while, I do not know how I lasted as long as I did but I guess it was because it was downhill and in my favorite place in the world, the mountains. After a while, it started to get pretty ridiculous. We were getting back to Crabtree Falls at a sprint and when people showed up in front of us we would abruptly stop the manic laughter (well, I would) and sprinting and nonchalantly walk past. I had to bite my tongue not to burst out laughing. So, since there were people, and I did not want them to think that my father and I had a mental illness, I decided to wait. So closer to the bottom of the falls I conjured up a plain to achieve my goal of clipping the chest strap. I asked my dad to take a picture of me next to the waterfalls. He did so. Then I very non-suspiciously and with no intent walked up very close to him and told him to give me the camera so I could take a picture. In that second I reached across and speedily clipped the strap. Victory! He stood still for a second, and then gasped, looking down at the clipped chest strap. We were very competitive people even in the nonsense things we do. The look on his face was of pure dismay, and I boasted to him triumphantly while he told me I am a sneaky and sly creature. Hey, at least I won!

Thank you for reading! Any comments on how to help make my writing better and criticism are appreciated! Happy Hiking!


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Beata - Jun 29, 2012 11:51 am - Voted 10/10


Great report and beautiful pictures!

Wiktoria Plawska

Wiktoria Plawska - Jun 29, 2012 3:58 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Awesome!

Thank you so much!

Viewing: 1-2 of 2



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