Are you looking for a hike with lots of streams? If so, this is a hike you should do, and is one of the most popular hikes in the Jefferson N.F. You will either be right next to streams or within sight of a stream for about 90% of this hike. The highlight of the trail is the 200’ Apple Orchard Falls with a very nice viewing area constructed by the Forest Service in 2000. Shane “The Mountain Lab” joined us on this hike and true to Lab nature, he was wet most of the trip!!
There are some great camping spots within the first mile of the trail and a really good one near the end of the Cornelius Creek Trail just prior to the parking area. For such a short hike it has some of the best stream views of any hikes we have done in Virginia.
From the parking area take the bridge to the left of the kiosk to begin the hike on the blue blazed Apple Orchard Falls (AOF) Trail. In 0.2 miles you will come to an intersection, bear right and stay on the AOF Trail. About 1.0 mile later you will arrive at two bridges and another campsite, take the 2nd one over the creek continuing up on the AOF trail. The next 0.75 miles starts climbing more steeply until you reach Apple Orchard Falls. You will want to stop here and have lunch and get some good photos of the Falls.
Beyond the Falls you will start to climb a series of wooden stairs coming very quickly to the only overlook with a wooden bench of the whole circuit, and just beyond that another small waterfall. Go another 0.3 miles to the intersection of the Apple Orchard Falls Road (a seeded fire road) and take a right. Follow it 1.0 mile to the blue blazed Cornelius Creek Trail. The Fire Road bears to the right but stay straight to go on the Cornelius Creek Trail.
Follow the Cornelius Creek Trail for 2.2 miles to the parking area. The trail follows Cornelius Creek and will include two crossings. The creek was flowing well on our trip and made for difficult crossings and some wet feet. There are also some very good swimming holes on the way down. There are multiple places you will want to stop and take photos of the creek flowing over the rocks.
Warning: Be careful of the plentiful stinging nettles near the creeks and ticks on the fire road.
Note: An alternative parking area if all you only want to see the Falls is at Sunset Field, near Milepost 78.4 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It is approximately 1.5 miles down to the Falls from Sunset Field.
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Reviews For The Apple Orchard Falls Hike (5 Most Recent)
This hike punches above its weight in difficulty, but is worth the work! We set out from the upper trailhead (Sunset Field, on the BRP) around 8:30 intending to hike this loop clockwise, with a small detour. From the intersection of the AT and Cornelius Creek Trail, we continued Southbound on the AT for just over a half mile, up a modest hill, to the Black Rock Overlook. I think it offers a better view of the valley than anything you'll see on the loop itself, and is absolutely worth the sidetrip.
Continuing back along the trail, we found the descent along Cornelius Creek Trail to be a leg-burner (this would be a theme for the day) as it was pretty steep, prolonged, and had plenty of cobble-sized stones to mess up your footing. Hiking along Cornelius Creek was lovely, with an abundance of swimming holes, shelfs, cascades, etc. There were a few large-ish trees down across the trail here, but nothing we or the dog couldn't navigate.
Heading up Apple Orchard Falls Trail was less remarkable both in views and character until we got closer to the falls. The trail steepens considerably below the falls, so we took a long break for water and snacks at the platform there. Following this, it was 1.5 miles back uphill to the trailhead. We'd hiked down the falls and back before without any complaint, but doing the same trail after 7 miles is a much harder story. A very worthwhile hike, but not as easy as you may think looking at the mileage and elevation if you're hiking from the top.
Date of Hike: Saturday, January 09, 2016
This is a wonderful hike which is alongside of a creek a majority of the way. We went on a day which was very foggy and cool which meant two things: no other people and no view(s). Although we weren't able to see anything where the overlook was, this was still a phenomenal hike. There were a couple of areas which could be used as swimming holes during much warmer weather. Also, there were two areas with creek crossings that almost guaranteed some wet feet.
It's important to note that it is fairly easy to get "lost." We had to retrace our steps a couple of times. The blazes were spread out far too much and at one point misleading. There was a blue blaze on a tree on what looked like where the trail could go, but it turned out the trail kept going a different direction which had no blazes. This trail then led to fire road. From there it was fairly straightforward. Just keep walking on that road until you reach a sign which will lead you in the right direction.
Despite needing to backtrack a few times the hike only took a little more than 4 hours with several small breaks to enjoy the falls.
Date of Hike: Saturday, August 22, 2015
Great hike even if I took a wrong turn, which led me covering some of the same trail twice. The falls are beautiful and the walk on Cornelius was quite relaxing with all the solitude.
Date of Hike: Saturday, August 22, 2015
I'm a 61 year old photographer and a moderate hiker. This was a great hike with water everywhere. So many great photo opportunities. A steady uphill trek to the Falls with many photo spots of the stream. The hike down the mountain on the Cornelius Creek Trail was very rocky and dry. Upon arriving at Cornelius Creek for the rest of the hike out was awesome with many falling water scenes and several nice pools. Review said swimming holes but water is mountain stream cold and just right for soaking your feet and splashing your face. I will be returning just to do the Cornelius Creek Trail again. Great photos ! I'll add for people with pets that a hikers dog took a 20 foot fall near the small fall above the big falls. It was not on leash and actually seemed ok, hard to believe. The owner put it back on leash and continued on. Great solitude and peaceful hike with lots of water.
Date of Hike: Wednesday, August 12, 2015
I hiked down to the falls from the Blue Ridge Parkway. We enjoyed the crispness and coolness of the air. It was 85 F in Roanoke that day but it was crisp and cool on the mountain. The trail is completely enclosed in a shade canopy, which is especially good for my heavy coated dog. It was a Wednesday and we saw only four couples on the train during our down and back. I'll be back during the autumn colors!