Blue Ridge Parkway (Virginia) – Waterfalls & Rhododendrons

May, 2015 – As we took our RV north through Virginia, hopping on and off the Blue Ridge Parkway, we followed the blooming of the rhododendrons as they blossomed first in the south and then in the north. In fact, we followed the rhododendron bloom all the way from the Smokies to northern Maine over the course of five weeks! We also decided to contine the travel theme we had begun in the southern part of the parkway in North Carolina: Waterfalls.

Rhododendron selife Crabtree Falls Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

Lavender rhododendrons and stairs defined our Blue Ridge Parkway waterfall hikes in Virginia

Seeing waterfall pics is very inspiring, but actually getting to them on a hiking trail usually involves a lot of vertical hiking, either climbing up to the top of a waterfall or scrambling down to the bottom of one. We got some great stair-stepping workouts on our quest for beautiful waterfalls in the Virginia portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway!

APPLE ORCHARD FALLS

The first waterfall we went to was Apple Orchard Falls. This hiking trail crosses the Appalachian Trail, and we were astonished as we approached the intersection with the Appalachian Trail to meet a fellow who was spending his summer hiking from Georgia to Maine!

This hiker, Brian, was traveling light for a 4 month walk in the woods, but he said he was doing great. Unlike most of his fellow hikers, he hadn’t had to replace his hiking shoes yet, and he’d knocked out 770 miles of the trek with another 1,400 or so to go before he reached Mt. Katahdin in Maine.

Appalachian Trail Through Hiker Brian (Porkchop)

Brian is walking from Georgia to Maine this summer, and we met him 1/3 of the way into his trip.

We bounded down the trail to the bottom of Apple Orchard Falls after that encounter, so excited to have met an Appalachian Trail through-hiker in the middle of his journey. At the bottom we found a pretty waterfall cascading over the rocks.

Apple Orchard Falls Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

Apple Orchard Falls

Better yet, there were rhododendrons blooming all around the lower part of the waterfall and even more along the stream that fell loosely over the rocks into the woods. We were in seventh heaven running around taking pics. In no time we in our own worlds, totally separated. It was long after we were out of sight of each other that we realized we’d left our trusty two-way radios in the truck. I had no idea where Mark went, but I followed the rhododendrons!

Rhododendrons Apple Orchard Falls Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

Rhododendrons were blooming all over the place

Rhododendrons are a magnificent flower, and I crouched and crawled and snuck under branches along the river banks to try to find places to get pics of them with flowing water. I couldn’t believe they grew wild in such abundance. Everywhere I looked, they were in all stages of bloom:

04 406 Rhododendron blooming 1

05 406 rhododendron blooming 2

06 701 Rhododendron blooming 5

07 701 Rhododendron blooming 6

When I’d had my fill of rhododendrons and waterfalls, I hiked back to where I’d last seen Mark at the bottom of the falls. I searched around there for a long time wondering where he’d disappeared to along the creek. I yelled his name, bunches of times, but there was no answer. Oh no!

The return hike to the truck was a one and a half miles or so straight uphill. This trail was STEEP, and I was torn. Should I stay at the bottom? Should I go back to the top?

I finally decided to take the chance that he had gone back to the top. It was late, after all, and if he couldn’t find me I figured he’d return to the truck up top. I hiked nervously straight uphill, sweat pouring down my back.

What if he wasn’t at the top? I wondered. Would it make sense to go back down to the bottom to look for him? And what if I couldn’t find him down at the bottom? Should I then hike back up again?

At exactly what point would I try to get help? And how many miles away would help be? And would those helpful people then hike to the bottom to look for him this late in the day or wait til tomorrow? What if he’d gotten injured and couldn’t move? My imagination ran wild.

Apple Orchard Falls Blue Ridge Parkway VIrginia

Apple Orchard Falls

I continued yelling for him periodically, morosely envisioning the headlines, “Dead hiker found at waterfall, two-way radios found in truck.” How foolish of us!

As I hiked the last 100 yards straight uphill I craned my neck looking for the truck. When I finally caught a glimpse of it just beyond the last tree, I saw the door was open and Mark’s smiling face poked out from behind it and we both ran and gave each other a huge hug. What a relief!

Fallingwater Cascade Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

Fallingwater Cascades — with overhanging rhododendrons

FALLINGWATER CASCADES

The next hike proved much more straight forward. Fallingwater Cascades is just five miles away from Apple Orchard Falls, and is a much shorter and easier hike.

Fallingwater Falls rhododendrons Virginia

Fallingwater Cascades

The rhododendrons were blooming here too, but I stayed on the trail this time. The waterfalls were lovely.

Fallingwater Falls Virginia

Fallingwater Cascades

CRABTREE FALLS

Our final waterfall hike along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia was Crabtree Falls. When we saw the name of this waterfall we did a doubletake because we had already hiked a Crabtree Falls in the North Carolina part of the Blue Ridge Parkway a week or so ago.

12 406 Fallingwater Waterfall Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

So we were surprised when the gal at the visitors center who told us about Crabtree Falls in Virginia had never heard of the one in North Carolina. However, the Virginia falls is the tallest waterfall in the east, a claim to fame the North Carolina Crabtree Falls doesn’t have.

Crabtree Falls Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia lower waterfall

Crabtree Falls — Lower falls

We found out that when you hike the tallest waterfall in the east, you are in for a LOT of stair climbing. Crabtree Falls consists of three waterfalls sections that are each unique, and between each section there are staircases and some steep trails.

Crabtree Falls hiking trail Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

Not only is this hike steep, but there are a ton of stairs!

Each staircase brought us to more waterfalls.

Lower Crabtree Falls Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

Crabtree Falls

And then we climbed more stairs!! Some stairs were built into the trail. Others were just plain old staircases!

Hiking trail stairs Crabtree Falls Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

In some places the stairs look natural, and in some places they are just staircases.

After the stairs we saw another bit of the waterfall. Different shape. Same falls!

Middle Crabtree Falls Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

Crabtree Falls

As we climbed higher, we got more and more tired. And obviously the rangers did too, because up near the top they quit building stairs and just let the tree roots be the stair cases!

Root staircase Crabtree Falls Virginia

Nature’s Staircase!

At the very top of the waterfall, the stream flowed between the rhododendron bushes and then fell right out in front of them. Just beautiful. And this time, since we had started the hike at the bottom and had climbed to the top, we gleefully ended our hike by descending down the stairs instead of trudging up!!

Top Crabtree Falls Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

Crabtree Falls

If you take your RV along the Blue Ridge Parkway, the parkway itself is fine for driving except for two low bridges at the far south end in North Carolina.

No matter where you drive in this area, be prepared for steep hills. We were very grateful driving in these hills to have recently outfitted our truck with a diesel engine tuner to improve its towing power and to have outfitted our trailer with electric over hydraulic disc brakes.

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6 thoughts on “Blue Ridge Parkway (Virginia) – Waterfalls & Rhododendrons

  1. Your site is excellent. We referred to it frequently when we bought our RV in 2012 before we travelled. I’m just curious what age you both were when you started full timing. My husband and I want to full time in the future and maybe it will help us to get organized to go if we can say “Emily and Mark were __ when they started full timing. We can do it too!” You both look so youthful. I can’t figure out how old you are! Thank you for your response and your site.

    • I’m so glad our site has been helpful to you, and I hope we can continue to inspire you in your travels. We were 47 (me) and 53 (Mark) when we started. We are now 55 (me) and 61 (Mark). Mark is going to stop getting older after his next birthday when he qualifies for the Senior Access Pass to the National Parks and for Social Security. So at that point I will begin to catch up with him until I turn 62 too and we both remain at that number for another few decades!

      • That made me giggle. My hubster and I are working out our plan too. We weekend now, but want to go full time at some point in the not too distant future. You and a few other bloggers have been so wonderful to share info and stories. I feel like I’ve learned so much from these posts. Thanks!

        • The internet is a wonderful thing, and folks planning to go full-time now have a gazillion great online resources to learn from. Thanks for counting this blog among them! Have fun getting ready for your full-time adventures and good luck with your future travels!

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