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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:
6.0 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?)
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: Joe Rating: Date of Hike: Wednesday, June 06, 2018
Hiked this shortly after heavy rainfall hit the area and the falls were quite impressive. The discussion of the presence of bees almost deterred my hike, but while I did see a single yellow jacket and a good number of "other bees," they seemed to be out by themselves and, given some room, flew away without causing any problems. We saw a rabbit and a snake. I only caught the last foot or so of the snake, but it wasn't a dangerous one.

The hike is a spectacular one and well-maintained. It was muddy, with standing water in a lot of places, including between the stone wall and bench at the summit. With record rainfall, this was to be expected and the trails were in better shaped than I had expected.

There was a lot of fresh lumber on walkways, stairs, and bridges. There were even piles of lumber and wheelbarrows off to the side that seemed to be working on current projects. There are still some "pipe" railings up, but there were many more large wooden railings.

I did the hike with my 6 year old, who had no problem tackling the trail. There were a number of others on the trail, despite it being the middle of the day on a Wednesday young, old, and everywhere in between, many with dogs of all sizes. If you have difficulty climbing stairs, or coming down them, this would not be the hike for you: there are a lot and they are steep. Everyone else, there are plenty of places to stop and take a rest, so all skill levels can complete this hike.

Also, the top of the falls (bridge, stone wall) is absolutely worth the view. There is so much discussion of the falls, which are incredible, but the view is just as impressive. Don't miss it.


By: BrianJB Rating: Date of Hike: Monday, June 04, 2018
Did the out-and-back to Spy Rock as an overnight . . .outstanding hike. Falls were going great because of earlier rains, and the weather was perfect, except for fairly strong winds at night. Camped at Spy Rock, only one other site occupied. Fair warning - lots of gain on day one, I measured 2200 feet plus, and thus, lots of down on the way back. Well worth it - the falls are the best I've seen, and the views from Spy Rock are great there are probably 5-6 decent campsites there are well. It's thru-hiker season (hey Mule - hope your food held out until Wayneboro). You can climb Spy Rock on either the right or left sides. . .the right side is shorter, but a scramble, left is longer but easier. Vault toilet half-way is a nice touch (not open in the winter), looked like a number of drive-in campsites at the Meadows (but would say the upper sites probably are best accessed with four-wheel drive). Lots of great places to stop for lunch on the way out as well, including Devil's Backbone brewpub.

By: Andrew Wilder Rating: Date of Hike: Friday, April 27, 2018
Due to the rainfall the previous week I decided to hit a waterfall today and I was not disappointed. I have done Crabtree many times but usually in the winter to avoid the crowds. This time I got there very early (6:30 a.m.) and enjoyed spectacular falls due to the spring waters as well as complete solitude. I followed the trail all the way up to Spy Rock and for once was the only person at the top enjoying the incredible views. On the way back the crowds increased and coming back down the Falls I was fighting a steady stream of people coming up. I also noticed a large number of yellow jackets that I didn't see in the morning. Overall a great hike!

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, December 30, 2017
Conditions were great for a nice winter hike. Went up to the Meadows and back. Lots of ice on the falls.

BE AWARE THE UPPER MEADOWS TOILET IS CLOSED AND LOCKED FROM DECEMBER 15 TO MARCH 15. Why the FS wants to lock a vault toilet I have no clue.


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.

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