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Crabtree Falls/Spy Rock - Nelson County, Virginia


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Length Difficulty Streams Views Solitude Camping
3.8 mls N/A
Hiking Time:
Elev. Gain:
3.0 hours plus a half hour for lunch
1,380 ft
13.9 mls
Hiking Time:
Elev. Gain:
5.5 hours plus 1hr for lunch and breaks
3,610 ft
Links:


Resources:
George Washington National Forest
Montebello Camping and Fishing Resort
Printable Topo Hike Map (PDF)
Montebello Weather Forecast
Garmin (GDB), GPS eXchange (GPX) (What's this?)
3D View of Route
From:

By Trail Contributor: Zach Robbins ()

Crabtree Falls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Virginia, and certainly the tallest. It is commonly referred to as the tallest waterfall in the East. This is a mistake because Crabtree Falls is actually a series of waterfalls, all beautiful and tall but not one distinct drop. Crabtree Creek flows from Crabtree Meadows through a rare hanging valley for this region before plunging 1,080 feet towards the Tye River.

There are 3 distinct sections. The lowest section is the tallest and consists of many drops, the lowest right near the parking lot. The middle section is a single drop through a crevice surrounded by trees and moss, it is wildly different than the lowest section. The upper waterfall is the largest single drop over a massive cliff. You could spend an entire day here taking pictures, soaking up the scenery, but there is so much more to explore.

Beyond the upper waterfall the trail climbs through a hanging valley on its way to Crabtree Meadows. From the meadows it is a short hike to the Appalachian Trail where you can choose to hike to The Priest or Spy Rock. This hike takes you south on the Appalachian Trail to Spy Rock. Spy Rock is an incredible rock dome on the east side of Maintop Mountain with 360° views of the Religious Range, Mt. Pleasant, The Priest, Three Ridges and St. Mary’s Wilderness areas, and the eastern foothills. You can do Crabtree Falls and Spy Rock as separate short hikes or you can try this hike for a wonderful day combining waterfalls with incredible vistas.

  • Mile 0.0 – Hike begins in the Crabtree Falls parking lot. Take the paved trail at the far left of the lot beside the information board.
  • Mile 0.2 – Reach a viewing platform at the base of the lower section of Crabtree Falls. For the next 0.7-mi the trail switchbacks up the lower falls. The lower section consists of multiple drops totaling over 350 feet. Mile 0.4 – The trail follows a large staircase below a boulder to the base of a beautiful drop. The water is funneled to the far left side of a cliff while the rest of the cliff is covered in moss and ice (in winter).
  • Mile 0.7 – Reach the largest drop of the lower section, well over 200 feet.
  • Mile 0.9 – After 0.7-mi of climbing the trail passes by an observation platform at the top of the lower falls. Crabtree Creek flattens out beyond this viewpoint on its way to the middle falls. There is a large cave on the right formed by fallen boulders.
  • Mile 1.0 – The trail reaches the base of middle falls section. The middle falls is a single drop ~90 feet where the water flows through a moss-covered crevice near the bottom.
  • Mile 1.6 – Arrive at the base of the upper falls. Crabtree Creek plunges over a towering cliff on a double drop over 200 feet high.
  • Mile 1.9Cross a wood bridge over Crabtree Creek at the top of the upper falls. There is a long, stone wall guarding the viewing area from the vertical cliff. From here you can barely see the water flowing over the rock face, but there are great views of the Tye River Gorge. Do not stray beyond the wall, the rocks are covered with a very slippery algae, and according to the Forestry Service sign, many people have fallen to their deaths climbing out onto the rocks.

    To complete the 3.8 mile out/back Crabtree Falls hike only, return down the trail. If you are hiking the 13.9 mile Crabtree Falls/Spy Rock route continue with the directions below.

    Beyond the waterfalls the Crabtree Falls Trail follows Crabtree Creek for 1.4-mi through a hanging valley. There are many wonderful campsites beside the creek.

  • Mile 3.3 – Crabtree Falls Trail ends at the upper parking lot at the Crabtree Meadows campground. Go left on the forest road heading uphill towards the Appalachian Trail.
  • Mile 3.4 – Pass by Crabtree Meadows, a large field at the headwaters of Crabtree Creek. The forest road climbs above the meadow passing by multiple campsites on each side of the road.
  • Mile 3.8 – Junction with Appalachian Trail (white blaze), turn right heading south.
  • Mile 4.8 – Pass through a junction with an unmarked forest road to Cash Hollow.
  • Mile 6.1 – The trail passes over a series of large rock faces that have open views to the southeast of Spy Rock and the peaks of the Religious Range. The rock face looks to be the result of a landslide.
  • Mile 6.5 – A small campsite on right in a grass clearing.
  • Mile 7.0 – Spy Rock Trail branches left away from the Appalachian Trail and passes through a very inviting sparse, flat forest with many campsites.
  • Mile 7.1 – Reach the base of Spy Rock. There are no trails to the top and you will have to find scramble routes. The summit of Spy Rock is a huge rocky dome with 360° views. Due west Black Rock is clearly visible on the south side of Maintop Mountain. The southern view includes the Religious Range and Mt. Pleasant. The best view is arguably to the north of The Priest, Little Priest, and Three Ridges Mountain. The scramble down is tougher than going up. Pick your footing carefully. In the winter there are large patches of ice.
  • Mile 7.3 – Turn right heading north on the Appalachian Trail.
  • Mile 9.5 – Cross the intersection with the forest road to Cash Hollow and avoid the slight right on another forest road than wasn’t noticeable from the other direction.
  • Mile 13.9 – Hike ends at the Crabtree Falls parking lot.
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Hiker Reviews For The Crabtree Falls Hike (5 Most Recent)
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By: Dennis Loufik Rating: Date of Hike: Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Beautiful day for hiking. Crabtree Falls was worth the 3 hours. No yellow jackets. Just lots of nice views and fresh air. If you have a National Park pass it is free. Otherwise a $3.00 fee is required.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, November 19, 2017
Woke up Sunday morning and decided to brave the elements and hike Crabtree Falls. It was surprisingly easy, so I kept on walking and ended up on top of The Priest, the highest point in Nelson County. Spy Rock seemed a bit to far, but this was very doable. The wind was blowing 30 to 40 mph at the summit, so I just took a few pictures and headed back down the trail. According to comments on my Facebook post this was approximately 9 miles with 1,312 feet in elevation. My survival wear included four short and long sleeve t-shirts, a hoodie and a windbreaker which turned out to be overkill. It was nice to be walking past a water feature most of the way. The trees were mostly stripped of their leaves and the colors of the day were brown and gray. On the other hand they opened up the views to neighboring summits. The hike back down the falls was difficult as by then my legs had turned to rubber. Still I had a great feeling of a accomplishment. I highly recommend it. Next time I'll bring a pair of gloves. If you care to see some picture, they are on the Virginia Hiking Adventures Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/groups/2240461305/

By: Jason_Viper Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, November 18, 2017
I did the 13.9 mile route listed here from Crabtree Falls parking area to Spy Rock and back. Be aware that there is a $3 fee to park at the lot, which I didn't have on me, but luckily didn't cause me any troubles. I was the first vehicle in the lot at around 730am, but when I got back shortly after 1, the entire lot was full and people were having to park along the grass. I enjoyed the hike alot. First time seeing the falls, lots of available water, at least through Cash Hollow Rd, and the climb up and view from Spy Rock was really cool. I had a nice wind on me all day to keep me cool. It's a relatively tame hike, nothing too steep or technical, so many can enjoy it. I was pretty much in solitude the entire way to Spy Rock and had the top to myself. On the way back, people were starting to make their way towards Spy Rock and the area near Crabtree Falls was a zoo. I can see why so many people die on the falls. They look so tame and my first thought was, really, that doesn't look dangerous at all. Just be careful out there and most importantly, have fun!

By: NovaHiker Rating: Date of Hike: Monday, October 16, 2017
A few friends and I recently did an overnighter leaving from Crabtree Falls lower parking lot. We spent the night at Spy Rock and did the return trip the next morning. We had a great time an it's got some great sights along the way. I will say that the bees were a bit crazy but since the weather chilled down a bit, they were manageable. We were warned by the owner of Crabtree Campground (we stayed their the night before) that the bees were crazy along the second set of steps. So I do agree with previous posters that it far less than ideal. If you are continuing onto Spy Rock, plan for no water along the way, and some more climbing since it's pretty much uphill all the way...but makes for a much less strenuous and quicker hike out. Spy Rock was amazing and spending the night there on a Tuesday was quiet and relaxing. Would definitely recommend this to those who want a challenge with a rewarding light at the end of the tunnel.

By: Friend of the outdoors Rating: Date of Hike: Monday, October 09, 2017
I have hiked spy rock and crabtree since I was little, last time I went to the Montebello fish hatchery to hike Spy Rock the trail head was closed since it is private property. Apparently they've had problems with trash and human waste. It is still accessible through crab tree falls, although this route does take longer.

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