George Washington National Forest (near Lovingston, VA)
Distance: 3.8 miles
Views: Waterfalls and the Tye River Valley
Trailhead: Parking area on VA Rte 56
Type: Out and back
Dogs: Yes – leash is a must on this hike!
Notes: Beautiful Waterfalls, $3 parking fee
There are several ways to get to Crabtree Falls from Charlottesville, VA; I always prefer the route with less winding roads. I take 29 South from Charlottesville about 40 miles. When you get to Lovingston, VA start to keep your eyes peeled. You will pass the Lockn’ site (on your left). Oak Ridge Farm shout out! After passing Oak Ridge Farm, hang a right on Route 56 W. Stay on Rte 56 for a bit and look for signs for Crabtree Falls Parking Area (on your left). Note: Resist the urge to park at the Crabtree Falls Campground – pass this, it is not the hike parking area.
Difficulty and length: This hike is slow going on the way up. It’s steep, which means a lot of ‘breathing’ breaks. There are a lot of photo opportunities that may also slow you down. The way down is much quicker unless you get a late start and the trail is full of people. Most recently, this hike took me about 2 hours to complete. It may take longer if you have small children or slower hikers.
A very popular hike alongside several cascades that make up Crabtree Falls. This hike is very straightfoward. Park in the Crabtree Falls Parking Area and don’t forget to pay the parking fee ($3) and hang your parking pass. Yes, they enforce this! You will find the trail head after the information kiosk on your right. There are non-flushable bathrooms at the start, so be sure to use these before starting the climb. The hike begins on a nice paved trail. If you have little ones, you could easily bring a stroller on this part of the hike. You can get to the first waterfall viewpoint on the paved path and turn around if you are just in it to see a waterfall (or short on time). If you want to do some work and see the rest of the falls, continue up. The trail follows the waterfalls up for just under 2 miles with overlook areas at the base of several stunning cascades. Stay on these designated areas when taking pictures, don’t be tempted to climb over the railings onto the rocks near the falls.
This is a fairly steep hike with several stair climbs and a few switchbacks. When you reach the top, you will cross a wooden bridge to a viewpoint looking over the Tye River Gorge. Enjoy the views, have some lunch and make your way back down to your car the way you came. If driving back to Charlottesville on 29, don’t forget to stop at one of my favorites, Dr. Ho’s Humble Pie, for a pizza. I hear ‘The Fat and Sassy’ is delicous!
Note: There are warning signs about people falling to their deaths on these falls. This is no joke, please take this seriously. Please do not hop over the railings to take pictures. You are putting your life in danger. The signs fail to mention that dogs have also died on this hike. The rocks are very slippery and even your furry friends can lose their footing. Be sure to put your pups on a leash before starting this hike.
Tips: Get here early to avoid serious crowds. There are railings and stairs on this hike and these areas can cause a lot of bottlenecking when the trail is crowded. Hike this trail after heavy rainfall for most stunning waterfalls.
I have to be honest…this isn’t my favorite hike. Yes, the waterfalls are beautiful and there are great views at the top, but for some reason, I just don’t enjoy this one very much. It may be the crowds or all the people hopping over the railings to take pictures (despite the warnings). I’ve been to these falls several times over the years and I do really love them in the winter! Frozen waterfall = amazing. My recommendation…do this one in late fall or early spring.
On my most recent trip, this spring, we got to the trailhead by 9am. There were only a few cars in the parking lot and we had a lot of the waterfall viewpoint areas to ourselves on the way up. The way down was a different story. By now the masses had reached the hike and we ended up standing still waiting for large groups of people to pass by on the stairs. I highly recommend getting to this hike at 8am or earlier. When we returned to the parking lot it was completely full and someone was checking cars for hang tags and handing out tickets. Keep these tips in mind before you venture to Crabtree Falls for your own adventure!