Crabtree Falls, North Carolina: Blue Ridge Parkway waterfall hiking
Hike the Crabtree Falls Trail to one of the most stunning waterfalls off the Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville, NC.
This hike on the Crabtree Falls Trail dives through a scenic forest to reach the trail’s main attraction, Crabtree Falls, at just over a mile. Climbing from the falls, the hike climbs through a forest filled with mountain laurel, visiting the small cascades of Upper Crabtree Falls and trailing through a creek valley filled with rhododendron, wildflowers and grassy creek banks. Trailing just under three miles, the hike scores a whole lot of scenic beauty in a relatively short (and moderately challenging) distance – and the view from the base of Crabtree Falls is simply stunning.
North Carolina’s Crabtree Falls Trail: the hike
The hike departs from a trailhead near the Crabtree Falls Campground visitor center (view maps and driving directions), hiking northbound, passing an old wooden amphitheater. The hike crosses a paved at .25 mile, passing through the campground and the hike’s former trailhead. (Due to the trail’s popularity, the hike was recently re-routed from the main parking area at the visitor’s center, to help eliminate parking issues in the campground.)
The trail drops elevation steadily, descending through a dense forest canopy of hardwoods, mountain laurel and rhododendron. The hike reaches a fork at .45 mile, veering to the right and continuing the descent. The trail meanders through the forest, carving through switchbacks and crossing several sets of rustic stone stairs.
The sound of tumbling water echoes through the forest as the trail arcs to the southwest, making a final drop to the base of Crabtree Falls. A wooden bridge spans the base of the enormous waterfall, offering a great place to snap a few photos and take in the waterfall’s beauty.
For many hikers on the trail, the waterfall’s base marks the end of the trail, and they turn to make the arduous, steady climb back to the trailhead, doubling back on their outbound route. That’s an option, for sure – but this loop hike offers a much more scenic return – and there’s a second (though smaller) waterfall upstream, too.
After crossing the bridge at the base of Crabtree Falls, the hike ascends sharply, carving through sharp switchbacks, climbing stone stairs and passing several old-growth, broad-trunked hardwoods. The trail passes a shallow cave at 1.35 miles, the sound of Crabtree Falls echoing across the large rock expanse. Reaching the top of this small knob, the trail briefly levels in a rocky grove of gnarly-branched mountain laurel.
The trail descends, tunneling through dense mountain laurel (a gorgeous sight when they’re in bloom in late spring). The trail arcs to the southwest and then due south, reaching Upper Crabtree Falls at 1.5 miles. Though considerably smaller than the downstream giant, the upper waterfall is beautiful, tumbling over a craggy, moss-covered rock outcrop beneath a twisted canopy of leathery-leafed rhododendron.
From the upper waterfall, the trail continues its southerly journey, resuming a steady climb. The trail crosses a wood bridge spanning Big Crabtree Creek at 1.65 mile, catching upstream views of the tumbling creek, its grassy shores, and the pebble-lined creek bed. The scene is tranquil, and the creek’s flow is gentle… it’s amazing to think that this same creek creates such an enormous, thundering beauty downstream.
The trail loops eastbound, crossing a small wooden bridge and passing a towering old-growth oak. The hike passes a junction at 2.3 miles, crossing through the Crabtree Falls Campground and following signs to the amphitheater. After crossing the paved campground loop road twice, the trail passes the amphitheater and reaches the trailhead at just under 2.7 miles, completing the hike.
Note: slippery rocks and fast moving water can be extremely dangerous! Please don’t climb, stand on, swim near, or jump from any waterfall.