Length: 3.6 miles, one way
The Apple Orchard Falls Trail drops nearly 2,000 feet as it passes by the 150-foot falls and goes through a wonderfully isolated mountain valley. After .2 mile, the trail enters Jefferson National Forest. (Camping is allowed. However, this is a very popular trail, so please use common sense in setting up camp. Try to camp a good distance away from the pathway and avoid setting up in any overused areas.)
Many people simply go down to the falls and then retrace their steps back to Sunset Field Overlook, a round-trip of 2.4 miles. Regaining the I ,000 feet in elevation makes this a strenuous hike.
However, if a car shuttle can be arranged, it is possible to make this a one-way, all-downhill trip. Take FSR 8 I 2, which begins at the north end of the Sunset Field Overlook (BRP mile 78.7). This dirt road has only one lane but is well graded and has frequent turnouts. Follow it down the side of Wildcat Mountain to a major intersection with FSR 768. Turn left onto FSR 768 and continue to FSR 59. A left turn onto FSR 59 will lead to the Apple Orchard Falls and Cornelius Creek trailheads [FS 18].
.0 Begin a gradual descent from the Sunset Field Overlook.
.2 Cross the Appalachian Trail and begin a series of long switchbacks.
.6 Come to an old roadway.
.8 Cross a wide, old road (to the left leads to Cornelius Creek Trail [FS 18]).
1 The trail enters a hemlock forest and parallels the creek.
1.1 Pass below a large rock outcropping. Soon descend steeply through rhododendron, and cross the creek on a footbridge, enjoying the small cascades upstream. The trail now veers away from the creek and soon descends steeply.
1.2 Arrive at Apple Orchard Falls, which drops about 150 feet over a stone facing that is surrounded by a moss- and lichen-covered rocky grove. Hemlock trees tower above everything. The water takes many paths down the rocks, so be sure to walk around to get a number of different perspectives of the falls. The trail beyond is rocky, and footing is unsure; it is obvious that many people end their hike at the falls.
1.35 The trail switches back to the left - keep watching for the paint blazes.
.55 Cross a creek.
.7 The trail has been relocated to avoid a very steep incline; be on the lookout for the switchback to the right.
1.8 Cross the creek as the descent becomes gentler.
2 Come onto an old roadbed.
2.1 Cross a creek and descend even more gently as the valley becomes flatter and wider. Good campsites around here.
2.3 Cross a creek.
2.6 An old road comes in from the right; bear to the left.
2.7 Cross a creek. Soon another road comes in from the right; continue to the left.
3.2 Cross the creek on a well-constructed footbridge.
3.6 Cross a creek and arrive at FSR 59 and the Cornelius Creek Trailhead.
The Apple Orchard Falls Trail may be combined with the Appalachian Trail and the blazed Cornelius Creek Trail [FS 18] for an enjoyable 8.2-mile circuit hike. After reaching FSR 59 via Apple Orchard Falls, turn left and ascend along Cornelius Creek and Backbone Ridge for 3 miles (and 1,700 feet in elevation gain) to intersect the Appalachian Trail. Turn left for 1.3 miles to return to the Apple Orchard Falls Trail, where a right turn will lead, in .2 mile, back to the Sunset Field Overlook. Because of the extensive loss and regain of elevation, this should be considered a strenuous hike. Camping is also allowed on the Appalachian and Cornelius Creek Trails.