Crabtree Falls: Hike to the Top of Virginia’s Highest Cascading Waterfall

For those who love a good waterfall hike, add Crabtree Falls in Nelson County to your ever-growing list of must-do hikes in Virginia.

I’ve done a fair number of waterfall hikes lately (Roaring Run Falls, Little Stony Falls, Cascades Falls…), but Crabtree Falls is in a league of its own.

This waterfall tops them all at a height of 1,214 feet tall. It’s literally as tall – maybe taller – than an actual skyscraper. Now that’s tall.

According to Nelson County, Crabtree Falls is the “highest vertical drop cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi River.” Seriously, so tall.

Crabtree Falls puts on a good show too thanks to five tumbling cascades that are within view nearly every step of the hike along burbling Crabtree Creek.

This 3.3-mile out-and-back hike has a good bit of elevation to reach the top of the falls, but this view-packed hike will put a smile on your face with each step.

Trail Stats
Length3.3 miles
Trail TypeOut-and-Back
Elevation Gain1,122 feet
Duration2.5-3 hours
TerrainA mix of dirt trails and stone or wooden steps
Driving DirectionsClick Here

Arriving at the Trailhead

Crabtree Falls is located at the Crabtree Falls Day Use Area, which is tucked away in the George Washington National Forest. It’s $3/car, so be sure to bring cash.

Crabtree Falls-Day Use Area Sign

If you have a U.S. park pass your entry fee is covered. Simply scribble your pass number on the payment envelope and deposit. Place the receipt on your dashboard.

Proceed into the day use area as far as you can. For parking, there is both an upper lot and a lower lot. The upper lot is closest to the trailhead, but not by much.

Crabtree Falls Trail-Restrooms

As you close in on the trailhead you’ll find his and hers vault toilets to the left, a massive trail kiosk to the right. There are also several wooden benches.

The First Steps

You will quickly learn that Crabtree Falls is accessible to those of all ages and abilities. From the trailhead, the Lower Falls is a mere 500 feet ahead on paved trail.

Crabtree Falls-Trailhead

The Lower Falls is a beauty, too. At the .1-mile mark, you’ll reach a wooden observation deck to soak in every ounce of the falls (not literally, of course).

From here, a trail sign directs you to the right to proceed along the switchback-laden Crabtree Falls Trail to be awed by the cascades as you ascend to the top of the falls.

At the .3-mile mark, you’ll reach another observation deck, then a set of wooden stairs. At the .6-mile mark, there’s an area to walk out close to the falls.

In a few more steps, there is another wooden overlook, and thankfully, a bench to sit for a spell before proceeding to the upper levels of Crabtree Falls.

At the .75-mile mark, you’ll see a large cave to the right of the trail. Allegedly, this was formed by fallen boulders. Kids will love this, for sure.

You’ll get to three more overlooks (steps, then trail, steps, then trail) before reaching a trail sign at the 1.4-mile mark noting this spot as the last spot to view the falls.

Crabtree Falls Trail-Last View Point of Falls

At this point, you can either turn around or continue on another .3-mile to see what else there is to see. I was curious, so of course I pressed on to the end.

At the 1.7-mile mark, you’ll reach a bridge that goes right over top of the falls. There’s also a wooden overlook. Then, a stone terrace and eye-pleasing mountain views.

Crabtree Falls Trail-Bridge to Cross Upper Falls

The views across the Blue Ridge Mountains and Tye River Valley are spectacular. I only wished I could have been there for sunset. As it was, we arrived post-sunset.

As this is an out-and-back day hike in Central Virginia, simply re-trace your steps to the parking area.

Hike Options

Since there are so many waterfalls and cascades, it’s a snap to shorten this hike by re-tracing your steps once you’ve gotten your fill of the falls.

From upper falls, tack on an extra 2.4-miles by hiking to Crabtree Meadows.

As you reach upper falls, look to your right. The trail continues on to Crabtree Meadows, which then leads to Spy Rock, which wows with gram-worthy summit views. 

Wrap-Up Notes

From the parking area, the Crabtree Falls hike took us nearly two hours, including time spent ogling and snapping loads of photos of the falls and mountains.

Eager for more? Check out my favorite hikes near Staunton, hikes near Charlottesville and hikes near Lexington.