A wetter-than-usual season can make spectacular destinations of Southwest Virginia's falls
Mark Taylor | The Roanoke Times
A sturdy walkway and platform offers an up-close view of the falls.
The term "waterfall" wasn't the best way to describe some of Virginia's most beautiful nature sites in the spring of 2002. Parched by drought, many were watertrickles at best. Some were nothing more than rock cliffs or steep boulder fields.
Things were different in 2003.
Blessed by a wetter-than-usual spring, waterfalls in western Virginia ran full force. Set amid lush greenery and blooming dogwoods and redbuds, many of the falls were at their most spectacular in the spring.
Here's the lowdown on some of the region's most popular falls:
Apple Orchard Falls, Botetourt County
Plunging through a steep boulder field, Apple Orchard falls is really a series of several waterfalls. Taken as a whole, the falls drop over 100 feet.
Located in the upper reaches of the North Creek watershed on the western slope of the Blue Ridge Range near Buchanan, Apple Orchard Falls can be reached only by foot. Hikers have a couple of options. From a parking lot at the end of Forest Service Road 59, the trail to the falls is about two miles long. A longer drive along forest service roads leads to a parking area about a half-mile below the falls. (Consult a map of the U.S. Forest Service's Glenwood District or the Virginia Atlas and Gazeteer for the exact driving route.) The hike itself is uphill but only moderately strenuous.
Adding to the appeal of Apple Orchard Falls is a recently constructed walkway and viewing platform that stretches across the falls' lower area.
Crabtree Falls, Nelson County
Trying to exactly measure the height of a waterfall can be tricky business. Must the height be a straight fall? Or can it include several drops?
No matter what your measuring criteria, it would be hard to disagree with Crabtree Falls' general designation as Virginia's tallest waterfall. From top to bottom the fall covers 1,200 feet, give or take. The largest single plunge is about 500 feet. That's impressive.
Not only is Crabtree Falls gorgeous, it's also fairly accessible, though a drive over miles of curvy mountain roads is required. The area, easily found with any decent map of Virginia, is on Virginia Route 56, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, in Nelson County. Access to the falls got easier recently when the U.S. Forest Service, which owns the land, expanded the parking area at the site.
The falls' biggest section is easily seen from the lower viewing area. A trail allows access to the upper reaches of the falls.
Cascades, Giles County
Plunging nearly 70 feet into a wide, cold, pristine pool, the Cascades on Little Stony Creek certainly is one of Virginia's prettiest - and most popular - hike-in waterfalls.
The wide falls are reached after a trek of about two miles. The walk is uphill and the trail is rocky in some areas, but it's generally an easy hike by the standards of the region.
There is a large parking area at the trailhead, which is reached by taking Virginia Route 623 north from U.S. Route 460 at Pembroke. Because it is a special day-use area, the Forest Service charges a small parking fee. On nice weekends from spring through fall, the area can be crowded so if you don't want a lot of company, try to slip out there on a weekday.
Falling Spring Falls, Alleghany County
The most difficult thing about getting to Falling Spring Falls in Alleghany County? Negotiating by car the long climb on curvy U.S. 220 heading north out of Covington. About nine miles north of Covington, the waterfall itself is easily viewed from the roadside near the small parking area.
Because the falls are created by a spring, there's always some flow here. The water in the creek seems to have a unique, greenish hue. The fall itself is a drop of about 150 feet off an overhanging ledge, a rare type of fall in a state where most falls are cascades and slides.
Roaring Run, Botetourt County
Compared to other falls listed here, the main waterfall on Botetourt County's Roaring Run isn't that impressive. Combined with the smaller falls and plunges on the stream, as well as its pretty setting and easy hiking access, the area certainly warrants inclusion.
The area's parking lot is just off Virginia Route 621, near the community of Oriskany. From the parking area a wide trail follows the stream upward through a fairly steep gorge. Hikers will pass a series of small but beautiful plunge pools and falls before reaching the main fall less than a mile up the trail.
The primary fall isn't a vertical drop, but rather a steep slide of about 30 feet over rock worn smooth by the rushing water. A cable stretches across the front of the viewing area to discourage hikers from getting too close to the edge. However, many hikers ignore the barrier.
On many weekends - especially in the heat of summer when the stream's cold pools attract waders and dippers - the area can be quite crowded.
Resources and safety
If you'd like to learn more about the region's waterfalls, there are a couple of great resources available.
Kevin Adams' "Waterfalls of Virginia and West Virginia" is a softcover guidebook that includes all of the states' waterfalls worth mentioning. Published last year by Menasha Ridge Press, the book includes detailed maps, a handy viewing and photo rating system, and photo tips. It's available at bookstores and through Internet book sellers.
Forest Service maps and the "Virginia Atlas and Gazetteer" are good sources for detailed driving routes.
Waterfalls are not only beautiful, they are dangerous. People fall and are killed at waterfalls in Virginia every year. For safety's sake, stay on trails and behind barriers.