On a warm June Saturday, I was looking for a good hike in the region, and stumbled upon this little piece of heaven... and it wasn't in West Virginia.
Faliingwater Cascades Trail. about 3 miles north of the Peaks Of Otter Lodge on the Blue Ridge Parkway. (milepost 83). A moderate hike that descends to a spectacular falls.
This is a loop trail, 1.7 miles long, but can be shortened (although it could take away some of the magic if you do the trail in reverse)
There are two parking areas for this trail, the first, on the right hand side of the parkway is shared by those wishing to trek the Flat Top Mountain trail. It's a small lot, and with it's dual trail service, it might be better to park at the second lot just a bit further north.
The second parking area is a half mile north on the right. Be careful, it's at a bend in the road, and is not marked as a Fallingwater Cascades trail start point until you are fully in the lot.
The full trail is a 1.7 mile loop. You can shorten this by almost a third by parking at the larger lot, heading 'right' down the trail, and treating it as an 'out-and-back'.
There are two choices, you can take the right loop, which when you arrive at the falls, you will be at the top, or you can take the left loop, which will have you arrive at the bottom of the falls. The natural choice (and I feel much better choice) is the left loop.
When I first took this trail, I had no idea what to expect when arriving at the base. I knew there were some falls at the bottom, but no clue as to the scope of what I was about to see. Upon arriving, I thought I had found a beautiful stream flowing over a moderate falls. Picturesque, and worth the trek to be sure, but I thought this was it. You can't really see, from this vantage, what only a little more trail walk will unveil. I nearly turned around and started back from the direction I came. WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT DO THAT!
There are three levels of falls, and for lack of better creativity, I will dub them 'lower', 'mid', and 'upper'. After you've spent some time enjoying the solitude of the lower falls, cross the stream and follow the trail. It will snake a little higher up the hill, turn a corner, and suddenly you will see the middle falls.
Upon arriving, I truly had thought this was it, this little hike had unveiled it's final secret. A section of falls that for most hikes would be sufficient reward. A great place for pastoral solitude within the Blue Ridge. I enjoyed my time, took some photos, some video, and even contemplated scrambling up some of the rocks on the left to get a slightly higher vantage. But I honestly thought this was it. If there was anything higher up, it was obstructed from view. Time to turn around and head back to the car.
What a mistake that would have been. There was something that kept gnawing at me, the fact that trail maps list this as a 'loop' trail. If I had seen all there was, why would I just head back from the direction I came. That is when I noticed that the trail did, indeed, have a turn to the right. It's deceptive, you think you actually might be heading further into the forest and back the direction you came. But with 'loop' still eating at me, I took this path, and was rewarded with visual and sonic treasure I had no expectation to receive. This portion of the trail led to the 'upper' falls, twice the magnificence to the two lower areas combined. This is one of those 'Pieces Of Heaven' that can only be found right here, in our own back yard, the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The fact that this was a Saturday morning, as well as the start of a holiday week, and that I saw only 4 other people the two hours I was apart of this trail, means that there aren't many others who have found this gem. It is only 3 miles from the most popular Peaks Of Otter Sharp Top Mountain trail (whose peak you can see from the top of the falls). This is a far easier trail, and although you do not get the 360 degree views from you get from Sharp Top, there are just as many wonders and treasures in the Blue Ridge by heading down a mountain as there is heading up one!