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 was a great hike and we hiked the exact path that the map followed. From the parking lot up to the falls, then using the connector road, and down Cornelius trail is actually ~7.5 miles. It's a great hike but be ready for the extra mileage!
Date of Hike: Sunday, May 24, 2015
We started at the Sunset Field Overlook (MP 78.4). Our group: Amy and I our three sons (ages 10, 8, and 6) and our black Lab. The trail is in reasonably good shape. Rocks and roots in spots, but generally good with just one small, narrow, mucky stream crossing with rocks to hop across. If you are reasonably-observant and careful, you can do this trail in running or trail shoes. If you're not, you can trip or tweak an ankle.
A stream parallels the trail for a while, and you'll descend a set of wooden stairs and a wooden bridge and see what shall forever be known to me as "Little Apple Orchard Falls." (More on that later.)
The small waterfall area offers places to sit on big rocks, enjoy the scenery, and take a break. From here, the trail starts to descend quickly and constantly through big stands of rhododendron, intermittent views, and multiple sets of wooden stairs. At some point, the voice in your head will say, "Uh oh. We have to go back *up,* but ignore it because at the base of the falls, there's a very nice wooden platform with benches that offers a great view of the 200' falls.
Did I mention that the elevation change from the parking area to the wooden platform at the base of the falls is 1000'? On your return to the parking area, you'll do the wooden stairs, pass the small falls, hit another set of stairs, and then begin a nearly-constant climb back up to the parking area. There are plenty of spots to rest along the way. (Watch for a big rock that looks like it has a bench built into it. On your way back up, the trail veers sharply to the right at that spot and isn't marked very clearly.) If you're hiking with kids, plan on taking a few breaks.
The trail didn't feel crowded, even on Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. It's possible that some folks hit the AT (about .25 from the trailhead) to summit Apple Orchard Mountain. You'll probably see AT thru- or section-hikers taking a side trip to see the falls.
Summary: An easy trail because of its condition, but a tough trail because of the elevation change. Definitely worth the time to see the falls.
Ok, more on "Little Apple Orchard Falls." This was our *second* visit to this trail. On our first trip a week earlier, we got to the stairs and wooden bridge, saw the small falls and a thru-hiker, and just *assumed* that we'd arrived at the falls. After all, if a thru-hiker was stopping to eat and purify some water, this had to be the end of the side trail, right? We took some pictures, marveled at the beauty of it all--and then a couple days later found photos of the *real* Apple Orchard Falls on Google. The decision to go back and do it right came swiftly and with little discussion. It was worth the return trip.
Date of Hike: Sunday, April 12, 2015
Note: The fire road is closed to vehicle traffic 2 miles before the normal parking area, so add 4mi to your total hiking distance/time.
Date of Hike: Sunday, November 09, 2014
I did not enjoy this hike. I found the trail to be very poorly marked in areas. A few markings where misleading and or missing. The ground was fully covered by leaves making it difficult in areas to determine where the trail continues and made it difficult to not twist an ankle. The terrain is very inconstant. The falls where disappointing compared to other VA waterfalls. The Cornelius Creek trail is not scenic at all.. Went through some Bear territory getting back to the parking lot... Took 3.15 hours to do the hike roundtrip and stopping a few times. The series of wooden steps where the highlight of the trail. Wouldn't recommend this hike, at least this part of the year in early Nov. Limited on daylight and easy to get lost, even with the typography map offered here. The trail is clean of trash overall which is always a plus. but the parking lot is down a ways from the campsite. It may have a different aspect in the spring but regardless I Won't be doing this hike again.
Date of Hike: Saturday, August 30, 2014
My 11-year old and I hit the trail for a weekend backpacking trip. We only hiked about 1/4 of the route (from the north end, clockwise to the falls) before setting up camp for the weekend, and although the portion of the circuit that we backpacked on was definitely easy, as you approach the falls the terrain gets steep...and rocky. My son and I just threw on daypacks for that hike up to the falls and the ankle-busting trail was making us sweat like pigs!
At sunrise the coyotes were howlin', and one even ran past the campsite! We saw bear droppings on the trail, but never saw a bear.
If you are looking for solitude, then this probably isn't the trail for you.