Most people who are familiar with hiking trails in Southwest Virginia have probably either hiked or heard of the Apple Orchard Falls Trail. One of the most popular ways to hike this trail is to park along the Blue Ridge Parkway, hike down the falls, and then back up to the parkway. A less well-known route is the one we're going to tell you about here.

To get even more out of an already spectacular hike up to Apple Orchard Falls, take the Apple Orchard Falls/Cornelius Creek loop trail. Rather than starting above the falls and hiking down, you start this hike at the bottom of the Apple Orchard Falls trail, follow it up and over the falls, then pick up the Cornelius Creek Trail and follow it down. This is a rare case where the trip back down is as enjoyable as the hike up. This is a great summertime hike with many water features that give you opportunities to cool off.

Directions:

Take exit 168 off Interstate 81 at Arcadia. Turn right on route 614, and follow this road until you see a sign for North Creek Campground. Turn left here and follow the road all the way to the end. Be careful; the road gets a little bumpy towards the end. Park in the cul-de-sac, where you'll see the trail head.  


The Route
:

After you park, take the trail to the left; this is Apple Orchard Falls Trail. You’ll follow the trail for about 2 miles until you reach the falls. The hike up to the falls is shaded and serene, with the gurgling North Creek to guide you. There’s a large wooden bridge and platform by the falls where you can stop to enjoy the scenery and rest a bit.

Most of the trail up to the falls is fairly flat with gradual inclines. When you start to reach the falls, the trail gets a bit steeper and quite rocky. But the boulders act as stepping stones that make your trek up to the falls pretty easy. After you get to the falls, you’ll continue on around and over the falls, where the trail continues to get even steeper. The forestry service has built wooden steps to make the climb a bit easier. After about a quarter of a mile, you’ll reach Apple Orchard Falls Road. Turn right here and follow the road for about a mile until you reach the Cornelius Creek Trail (watch for the wooden sign).

You'll follow Cornelius Creek Trail along the creek for a little over two miles until you get back to the parking area. This last leg of the hike is the really fun part! The trail follows the creek, and there are plenty of places where you can walk down to the creek and wade in the pools. If you’re not brave enough to climb down into the creek, don’t worry. The trail intersects the creek in a couple of places, providing plenty of opportunity to put your feet in and cool off. The Cornelius Creek trail is a real treat—a wonderful reward at the end of a spectacular hike!

What You’ll Need:

To really enjoy the creek (and you’ll want to if you're doing this hike in the summer), you’ll want to wear clothes and shoes that you don’t mind getting wet and that dry quickly. Outdoor Trails has a great selection of synthetic clothing that would be perfect for this hike. And you can avoid soggy socks by opting for a pair of hiking sandals instead of traditional hiking boots or shoes. Outdoor Trails carries a great selection of hiking sandals by Teva, Keen, and Chaco.

You may want to bring a towel and a change of clothes and shoes to leave in your car. If you get wet, you may want to dry off and change after you finish the hike (although, if it’s a hot day, you’ll probably be dry by the time you get back to your car). As with any day hike, you should take plenty of water and a snack for everyone in your group. If you're hiking in the spring or summer months, you'll probably want to bring some insect repellent.

Length:

The entire route is about 5.5 miles total, which will take you anywhere from a couple hours to most the day, depending upon your pace and how long you stop to enjoy the falls and the creek.

Skill Level:

Intermediate. Portions of the trail that are fairly steep, but much of the trail is pretty flat. The terrain is fairly rocky and may not be suitable for very young children. Beginners would probably enjoy this hike too, as long as the they take it easy and stop to rest along the way.  

Overall, the Apple Orchard Falls/Cornelius Creek loop trail is a very rewarding hike. The trail is challenging enough to give you a good workout, the distance is just right for making you feel energized but not exhausted, and the scenery is so magnificent that it makes you feel like you've experienced some of Mother Nature's finest work.