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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
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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?)
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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: 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.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, October 07, 2017
WARNING - Bees! We only made it about a mile up the Crabtree Falls trail from the parking lot, as we got stung by yellowjackets that seemed to be nesting in ground holes in a narrow section of the trail after the first viewpoint of the lower falls. There was literally no way to avoid them - I got stung 3x and my hiking partner got stung 10x and ended up in the emergency room later that day. For a very popular, otherwise family-friendly trail that charges an entrance fee, I'm shocked that this issue isn't dealt with - at least a few signs warning of the bees are needed. The lower falls had some water in it, but wasn't that impressive or fast-flowing.

By: George Dordal Rating: Date of Hike: Thursday, September 14, 2017
Fantastic short strenuous hike! There were variable levels of difficulty depending on how far you went up. There is a nice asphalt trail for about 1/4 mile which is perfect for all. After that it gets a bit tricky- with some minor rock scrambles and very steep stairs up. Definitely winded and wanted to stop in a couple of places, but didn't. Once near the 1.7 mile mark it got easier. The way down was more treacherous than I thought because there were lots of slick rocks. I'd rate this as moderate- I have hiked Mt Rogers in VA and several of the 5-7 mile loops hikes in the Shenandoah. Best place in VA!

By: Bill Jenkins Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, September 03, 2017
This is not a waterfall, it is a stream that goes down a rock. The most the water ever free falls is about 5 feet. There were also yellowjackets everywhere. If you do go, bring a can of yellowjacket spray. The view at the top is mediocre. Also, there was a $3 parking fee.

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