Crabtree Falls

Active & Adventurous - Let Me Out!

A Beautiful Winter Hike

Crabtree_Falls_1400Discover the wonder of winter hiking at Crabtree Falls in Virginia’s stretch of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where frozen cascades present a gallery of beautiful shapes. A creative observer can imagine the rushing water being stopped drop by drop, with each splash and twist and plunge of the water resulting in diverse formations large and small.

Crabtree_Falls_1411Many formations are reminiscent of a cave, whose minerals and water were halted over the centuries rather than the minutes, each natural phenomenon creating its own stalactites and stalagmites, cascades, curtains, crystals, and globes. The frozen falls even present subtle colors glowing from inside the floes, with several mysterious sky blue strips (the cloudy day guaranteed these weren’t mere reflections from above) and pale green sheets dropping from below a mossy ledge.


The variable Virginia temperatures provide different scenarios throughout the season. This particular January day, the falls were thoroughly frozen superficially—a nearly complete covering of huge white slabs of ice, with liquid flows visible at only a few points along the way. At the same time, a great quantity of water rushed beneath the surface, for the persistent sounds of the unseen waterfall.


Crabtree_Falls_1388The Crabtree Falls trail winds up the mountainside, with sufficient switchbacks to keep the grade reasonable, with each switchback returning to another breathtaking view of the falls, often with viewing platforms for close-up views. The 1.7-mile hike (3.4 round trip) is a challenging grade in any weather, but in the winter the challenge provides an effective means of warming up. After the temps and precipitation of the previous few weeks in Virginia, the Crabtree Falls hike provided an extra challenge: a dozen ice floes obstructing the winding path. All of the obstructions were easy to navigate with a bit of careful stepping: sometimes scrambling a few steps up or down from the trail, sometimes clambering over rocks, sometimes stepping ever-so-carefully on the icy patches.

Crabtree_Falls_1405The final platform spans the falls, with the cascades on one side and distant peaks stretching out on the other. Even with the grays of the winter landscape, the summit provides a beautiful view of the mountains, the soft, rolling peaks and valleys of the Appalachian chain.

Winter hikers to the Virginia’s Crabtree Falls should dress warmly and wisely. Remember that temperatures fall as elevation increases, so the mountain hikes are higher and colder. Layer clothes, to provide both insulation and the flexibility to unzip and shed as the body warms. Start with a quality long-sleeve shirt of a wicking material to wick the sweat away and keep the chill at bay. Gloves are important on this hike not just for warmth but for protection in climbing around the ice floes.

Crabtree Falls is a beautiful, well-maintained trail to enjoy any time of year. It’s a little more than two hours from Richmond, near Wintergreen Resort. The parking fee of $3 is nominal for a huge dose of nature’s beauty in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. For more information, including directions, visit Nelson County, Virginia's web site.

Click here to view a video of the falls, with the sounds of water rushing beneath the frozen face. 



Annie Tobey is founder and Director of the Active Woman Traveler, Editor and Co-Publisher of V Magazine for Women, speaker, and freelance writer and editor. Annie’s writing path began as a freelance writer for the Richmond Times-Dispatch special supplements and various other local and national periodicals. She published her first book in 1990, For Any Young Mother Who Lives in a Shoe, and has written for International Training Consultants, Inc., Life Logic, LLC, and Individual Rights, LLC.



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