For those that want to get outside and recharge in the wild of nature, one of the best options in the area is Crabtree Falls Hiking Trail. Located in the George Washington National Forest in Nelson County, Virginia, Crabtree Falls is one of the tallest sets of waterfalls in the United States east of the Mississippi River. And it’s only about an hour’s drive southwest from Charlottesville.
The name “Crabtree” is thought to have come from William Crabtree, who settled in the area in the late 18th-century. Before the land was given to the National Park System in 1968, there were plans to make a resort area that would take advantage of the local beauty and monetize the rejuvenating powers of the falls. Thanks to the generosity of LA Snead, a former US Assistant Fuel Administrator during WWI and a notable environmentalist, the land surrounding the falls was secured. Under the National Forest domain, continued improvements have made Crabtree Falls a major tourist destination in Nelson County.
Whether you’re looking for a moderate to somewhat strenuous hike, or a quick walk to take in this scenic wonder, you really can’t go wrong at this beautiful, flowing oasis, just six miles off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Crabtree Falls features a series of five major cascades and a number of smaller ones that fall a total distance of 1,200 feet. The first overlook is just a few hundred feet from the upper parking lot along a relatively flat paved trail, making it an excellent destination for travelers of all ages and abilities. The overlook area at the end of the paved trail shows water cascading down from a 60-foot rock cliff. Various types of ferns and wildflowers thrive in the hollow, benefiting from the waterfall's cool spray. This view alone is well worth the three dollars to park. Please note the parking lot requires a voucher you can slip on the dashboard of your car, which you can get at a self-service kiosk in the parking lot (parking is free during federal holidays, similar to most national parks).
For those who are looking for a more serious hike, you can continue along the 2 and 1/2 mile Crabtree Falls Trail to four other overlooks offering striking views of the Falls and splendid vistas of the Tye River Valley. The trail is made up of wooden stairs, rocky paths, and railed overlooks along steep ridges. In one area, giant boulders and fortress-like rock formations form along the trail, remnants of geological slides that helped form the Appalachian mountains. One rock formation, in particular, really grabbed my attention, forming a cave-like entrance that you could walk through, reminding me of something you’d see in the western half of the U.S. For me, nothing gets you fully immersed in the wonders of the geological world than peering into the darkness of these natural portals in the ancient earth.
From the upper falls, the trail follows the creek another 1.2 miles to the Crabtree Meadows parking lot. Altogether, the 2.5-mile loop trail around Crabtree Falls can be strenuous at times, with steep inclines and rocky terrain. Hikers should allow 1.5 to 2.5 hours for the entire hike, or more if you stop for lunch or rest your dogs at the many overlooks. Speaking of dogs, the trail is pet-friendly, but leash your dogs. You don’t want Fido to slip on the mossy rocks. In fact, there is a warning sign along the trail that reminds you that over twenty people have died while climbing on the slippery rocks. So be warned and stay ON the trail.
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