Nelson County, in central Virginia, is home to one of the highest waterfalls east of the Mississippi: Crabtree Falls. Crabtree Falls is also the tallest waterfall in Virginia, with five large cascades that fall a total distance of 1,200 feet. The 2.5-mile trail to the upper falls offers spectacular views of Crabtree Falls.
Open from dawn until dusk, the parking lot at the start of the trail has daily parking, and the fee is only per vehicle. Dogs are welcome, but they must be kept on a leash. It is a gorgeous destination for hikers to visit.
The Crabtree Falls Hiking Trail circles around Crabtree Falls, and is moderately challenging to hike. It takes about 1.5-2.5 hours to follow the entire trail. The scenic hike passes through a lush oak and hickory forest, dotted with thickets of rosebay rhododendron. View the trail map and get directions here.
Besides the gorgeous falls, the trail also gives a majestic view of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Tye River Valley. Once you’ve walked about 1.5-1.7 miles in, the trail crosses a wooden bridge over the top of the highest cascade.
But, do not attempt to climb over the wall that separates the trail from the rocks around the falls. The rocks are covered by “clear” algae, which makes them extremely dangerous. Thirty hikers have died attempting to climb the rocks for a better view. The wall is in place for your safety.
The spray from the Crabtree Falls allows for many types of wildflowers and ferns to thrive along the cascades, so even though this trail is open year-round, it is especially beautiful to enjoy in the summer.
History of the Tallest Waterfall in Virginia
In 1777, a pioneer named William Crabtree settled in the area, and many believe he is the namesake of Crabtree Falls. In the late 1960s, development plans began to turn the land below the falls into a resort. However, L.A. Snead, former U.S. Assistant Fuel Administrator during WWI and environmentalist, secured land deals for that area. Snead transferred the deeds in 1968 to the National Forest System, thus protecting Crabtree Falls and the surrounding valley from further urban development.
Although the trail now starts at the upper parking lot, it used to begin at the lower parking lot where hikers could cross the unique laminated wooden arch bridge. This remarkable bridge crosses over the Tye River before descending down to the falls. This bridge was constructed and delivered from New York in a single piece and has been part of the trail since 1978. But, as the trail was improved, the parking lot expanded, and bathrooms added, developers redirected the start of the trail to the upper lot.
Another claim to fame for Crabtree Falls is that it is often referred to in the television show The Waltons. Although the falls never make an appearance, the Waltons referred to it several times, often having a family outing there on Sundays.
Camping by the Tallest Waterfall in Virginia
Visiting the tallest waterfall in Virginia is certainly an attraction of Nelson County. But, if you would like to stay longer than a day, you can camp nearby as well! The Crabtree Falls Campgrounds are 0.4 miles from the Crabtree Falls and offer many kinds of camping sites.
The waterfront sites along the Tye River are walk-to only and are some of the prettiest sites at the campgrounds. While there is no water or electricity, these waterfront sites aren’t far from the store, bathhouse, and parking lot. There are other walk-to sites that are nestled in the woods, though they still offer a great view of the Tye River. Most of the sites only accommodate one tent, but there are bigger sites that you can reserve.
The drive-to sites do have water and electricity available, and you are able to park close to your tent. These sites are also closer to the bathhouse, store, and playground, but do not have much of a view of the river. And, along the road of the campgrounds, there are multiple sites for pop-up campers and RVs as well.
But if you are not a tent camper nor own an RV, you can rent a cabin. Each of the four cabins has a full-sized bed, loft, electricity, heating, and a table for dining. The cabins sleep 2-4 adults or 2 adults and 3-4 small kids.
Wildlife Around Crabtree Falls
Search for over 20 species of owls, grouse, hawks, and warblers that enjoy the habitat around the tallest waterfall in Virginia. White-tail deer and black bears also inhabit the area, as well as rattlesnakes and copperheads. Here are a few unique animals to spot:
Although copperhead bites account for many of the snakes bites yearly, there’s no need to fear. The bites are rarely fatal and usually, happen when someone accidentally steps on a copperhead or unknowingly touches one.
So, though copperheads are the most venomous snakes in the United States, avoiding them is fairly easy. If you make a good amount of noise while you are hiking, the copperhead will generally flee. However, if you do spot one, give it space.
During the summer, copperheads are nocturnal, but they become active during the day when spring rolls around. That’s because copperheads typically mate in the spring. However, mating in the fall can also occur. If mating in the fall, a female copperhead can store sperm and defer fertilization until she comes out of hibernation in the spring.
For more amazing facts about copperheads, check out this article.
Black bears are talented swimmers and can swim 1.5 miles or more. Also on their list of skills is tree-climbing, with which they are so comfortable, you can even find a black bear sleeping in a tree. The black bear’s impressive claws will grow the length of a dollar bill, also adding to its spectacular climbing ability.
Black bears are also pretty fast, considering their size. A black bear can run almost 25 miles per hour. That’s faster than retired sprinter Usain Bolt, who can run 23 miles per hour. That is very impressive, especially when a male black bear can weigh up to 660 pounds!
They aren’t picky eaters, and since they need to store up fat for hibernation, black bears will eat berries, roots, salmon, deer, moose, insects – even leftover meat abandoned by other predators. Garbage is also an attraction for these hungry bears, so make sure you are disposing of your refuse in the safest ways.
The red-shouldered hawk gets its name from its reddish-brown shoulder patches. Being a covert hunter, the red-shouldered hawk doesn’t spend much time in clearings or open spaces, which are favored by other hawks. Instead, it prefers to dwell along streams, muddy meadows, swamps, and damp forests.
These hawks definitely do NOT get along with crows, and you may often see them fighting over stolen food. However, red-shouldered hawks will sometimes team up with crows to attack a common enemy, such as a great horned owl who is looking to raid the hawk’s nest.
Red-shouldered hawks are birds of habit, and they often occupy the same nesting territory year after year. In fact, one such hawk inhabited the same territory in Southern California for 16 straight years. These hawks hunt chipmunks, voles, amphibians, snakes, fish, and more. As the largest waterfall in Virginia, Crabtree Falls offers a variety of animals that pique the hawk’s palate.
Make a plan this summer to visit the tallest waterfall in Virginia – either as a day trip, or spend the night camping. You should also check out this list of 10 Breathtaking Waterfalls in Virginia to visit as well. The peace and beauty of these natural wonders are well worth checking out. And, the Crabtree Falls make for incredible selfies.
Where is Crabtree Falls Located on a Map?
Nestled near the boundary of McDowell and Yancey Counties in North Carolina, Crabtree Falls is a stunning waterfall that captivates visitors with its natural beauty. Cascading from an impressive height, the waterfall presents a picturesque view and attracts many hikers and nature enthusiasts who come to explore the area.
Here is Crabtree Falls on a map:
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