Waterfall Week II: Crabtree Falls, NC
**DISCLAIMER: While all of the waterfalls featured here on Becauseitzthere can be safely hiked and enjoyed, be aware that there is GREAT RISK involved in venturing off trail near ANY of the waterfalls described here. We advise you to HIKE SAFELY. Please remember that you are responsible for your own safety on the trail. This site and its editors bear no responsibility for any accidents that occur as a result of engaging in any of the hikes described on these pages. Don’t be blamin’ us for it now, hear? END DISCLAIMER**
So far on WWII we have covered a pair of North Carolina’s most famous waterfalls — Whitewater Falls and Looking Glass Falls. Though these are popular places and fine in their own right, neither is among our favorite places to visit. In fact, they are exactly the type of place that most outdoor enthusiasts visit once and generally avoid like the black death thereafter. You can’t safely get close to Whitewater Falls; Looking Glass Falls, on the other hand, is such an easy walk that it is neither challenging nor much of an experience.
For the next two installments we’re going to step up in class and hit two of the lesser visited and more underrated falls in the area, both of which require some effort to get to.
Today’s installment sees us scuttling sideways to Crabtree Falls in North Carolina. This is Not be confused with the somewhat more popular Crabtree Falls (actually a cataract) in Virginia, which is also on the Blue Ridge Parkway, though it is some 300 miles north.
Why is it so many things named after crab trees? Maybe because the name sounds so amusing? At any rate there are not many crab trees growing at the falls anymore, if in fact they ever did.
While it’s not exactly a lonely place, Crabtree Falls is surprisingly little visited considering how very good it is. One of the reasons for this may be that it sits in close proximity to very popular Linville Falls (less than 20 miles away on the Parkway.)
Another reason may be that it’s a bit harder to reach than Linville, Looking Glass or Whitewater Falls. Though it’s just a mile from the road, the trail is steep and slippery enough in places to discourage the timid, the physically challenged and those who consider opening the refrigerator door to be serious exercise.
The trail can be reached from the entrance to the Crabtree Campground at Mile Post 339 on the BRP. From the parking area at the entrance to the falls is about 1.3 miles, but you can shave that down to about .9 miles by parking at a designated lot further into the campground.
Note that you can stay in the campground and hike to the falls…while better than Linville Falls Campground, this campground is not one of our favorites.
The trail meanders down through woods at a gentle grade at first. It crosses Crabtree Creek on a wooden/metal bridge, where is a view of small cascades…after this the trail becomes a bit more muddy. There are some nice spots to descend to the creek and view the cascades, but be careful, the herd trails are pretty steep and eroded.
About two-thirds of the way down there is a rocky outcropping with a view into and across the valley (The falls can be heard below but not seen.) Immediately after the trail descends a slick ledge (where there is a handrail) crosses some more rock ledges and then turns sharply downhill, becoming quite steep at times…you need to exercise some caution on this, probably the toughest, section.
After a few switchbacks the trail arrives at a partial view of the falls. But the best views are below and a little further along…continue down until the footbridge across the creek and the falls themselves appear.
At 70 feet tall, Crabtree Falls can be a VERY impressive sight when it’s flowing strongly. Not much volume of water goes over it, but that which does creates a distinctive ‘bridal veil’ type pattern. And you can get quite close to the falls without undo danger.
When the falls is at high water – in spring, or after a good rain – it’s entirely magical.
Since the falls is LEAST likely to be flowing well in summer as well as MOST likely to be overrun with bathers, daredevils and rocket scientists, we do not recommend visiting at this time.
Compare our pictures to those at the NPS site and note the difference in the flow of water. We were lucky enough to see it on a really GREAT day!
The effective viewing platform for this falls is a wooden footbridge with a convenient chair carved right into it. The best photo spot on the bridge is to the left of the chair; a good-sized birch tree growing in the middle of the creek doesn’t really obscure the falls but distracts from the photos.
Another good spot for a photo is from the bend in the trail above the bridge. But the BEST spot can be reached by walking CAREFULLY out along the rocks of the right bank to just beyond the screen of trees, just as our buddy Leonard is doing in the picture below. Note the rocks here are VERY SLIPPERY so pick your route carefully.
After you have finished taking your pictures you can retrace your steps up the steep portion of the trail (as we did) or continue along to complete the loop. The portion of the loop beyond the falls in the counter clockwise direction is longer (1.5 miles) but less steep and rough, with fine views of the stream.
During our hike to the falls in October of this year we didn’t by any means have the trail to ourselves. But still, there were surprisingly few people on the trail for such an awesome place, and most of the hikers were very respectful both of the falls and each other.
The hike to Crabtree Falls is short but steep and rough in places and is not recommended for the elderly or infirm; children should NOT be left unsupervised here. Most people will find this a pleasant and moderately challenging hike; a pole or two and good hiking shoes will help.
Our recommendation is to strike mid-week if possible, in spring, or maybe fall if the weather has been wet. In fact, as long as you tread carefully on the slippery rocks, the best time to view Crabtree Falls might be right after a soaking rain. Not only will this give the falls some extra oomph, but it should keep the crowds down.
We think Crabtree Falls is one of the underappreciated gems of the Blue Ridge and actually prefer it to crowded and overrated Linville Falls (which you cannot safely get close to.)
It’s one of our favorites!
We’ll wrap up WWII with a trip over the Rainbow.