Across Virginia

Crabtree Falls Hike in Nelson County

Crabtree Falls top cascade. © 2021 Scott S. Bateman
Crabtree Falls top cascade. © 2021 Scott S. Bateman

Crabtree Falls in Nelson County is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Virginia — certainly one of the top three along with Cascade Falls in Pembroke and White Oak Canyon Falls in Syria.

The rank for beauty may be debatable, but Crabtree is ranked No. 1 east of the Mississippi River for tallest vertical-drop, cascading waterfall in the United States.

Hiking up Crabtree Falls trail is moderate to strenuous, but the view at the top and the various tranquil resting spots along the way make the trek a peaceful one.

Because the falls lie within a national park, plan on spending $3 for parking in the lots at the base of the trail. Some people park along the road to avoid paying the fee.

Picnic tables and restrooms are available around the base of the trail.

The trail is well maintained, but it is a 1,380 foot elevation gain along a 4.4 mile hike from bottom to top and back again. Expect to take four hours to make the entire trip including a break at the top of the climb for the great views.

The trail consists of nine switchbacks that provide access to five major cascades and a series of smaller ones.

Crabtree Falls overlook

The overlook has expansive views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. © 2021 Scott S. Bateman

Along the way, look for a rock formation on the right that looks like a cave and allows hikers to pass through and get back on the trail again.

The major cascades have plenty of photo opportunities and rocky places to sit for a while and enjoy the scenery. The first cascade is only a few hundred feet from the parking lot.

But the biggest cascade and best views lie at the top of the trail, where Crabtree Creek pours and roars over a nearly vertical cliff.

The top of the trail has an overlook with seating along with a footbridge.

It is important to note that the hike can be dangerous for anyone who goes off trail. At the time of this writing, 28 people have died on or near the trail since 1982. But the trail has numerous guardrails, so anyone staying on the trail will have a high degree of safety.

Crabtree Falls is a must-see for anyone who loves great views and a vigorous hike.

Driving Directions

Crabtree Falls is located on State Route 56, which is accessible from the west via I-81 or Blue Ridge Parkway and from the east via State Route 29, which runs between Charlottesville and Lynchburg.

From the west: take I-81 to exit 205 Raphine. Go east on Raphine Road to Route 56. Continue going east until reaching the Tye River Gap Recreation Area. Continue past the Blue Ridge Parkway until reaching the falls.

From the east: Take SR 29 until reaching SR 56, which is located midway between Charlottesville and Lynchburg. Go west on SR 56 until reaching a right turn and then a left turn on the same route. Go straight until reaching the falls.

It is best to arrive early because the parking lot fills quickly, especially on weekends. The park is open from dawn to dusk. Anyone who can’t arrive early because of a long drive might consider a weekday visit, which will not be nearly as crowded as a weekend.

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