The calendar says it is spring – the weather wants to argue the point. However, the cool temperatures didn’t keep us from the adventure we planned to Apple Orchard Falls in early April. Our intention was to get this hike in before the leaves had an opportunity to obscure the view. Dressed in layers, we enjoyed the warming power of the sun as we hit the trail on one of the most popular day hike destinations in the Jefferson National Forest.
Mark had made this hike about 30 plus years ago, so he knew what to expect. Some improvements have been made along the trail since then – foot bridges mostly, so there will be no wet feet from crossing creeks during high water. We parked in the designated parking area and decided to do the 2-mile hike to the top of the Apple Orchard Falls rather than do the entire loop trail which joins with the Cornelius Creek Trail.
We crossed North Creek on the first bridge where we were greeted by a host of pink trilliums waving gently in the breeze. After stopping to get some photographs of them, we moved on to where the trail veered to the right. As the trail took a gentle incline, we were still following the creek. Mountain waters tumbled over large boulders, creating deep holes where native trout could hide out, but no one was fishing, so the fish were safe.
This trail is rated appropriately as moderate. However, the last scramble is definitely more challenging – steep and rocky. At this point, we had nearly reached your destination – the falls. As we approached the bottom, Mark looked at me and said, “I hope you are not disappointed with this.” I realized immediately what he meant. Instead of a thundering vertical waterfall, Apple Orchard Falls is more of a cascading series of falls. While it is about 200 feet, you can’t see all of it from one spot; let alone photograph it effectively from one vantage point.
Around the bottom of the cascades, trilliums were in full bloom as were Dutchman’s britches. It was certainly cooler at this elevation; there was ice hiding in the shadow of the rocks and little icicles was hanging from the mosey overhangs along the stream, fed by the water spray. I don’t think either of us was expecting to see ice today.
We scrambled to the upper part of the falls to a wonderful platform the Forest Service constructed and were able to get a great view of the upper portion of the falls. As I did some photos, Mark went on along the trail to the upper part of the falls to see if there was another great view from the top.
Upon his return, we decided against the hike up, so we headed back down the trail. It was warming up nicely. Opportunities to revisit some of the flowers and fiddlehead ferns along the trail were welcomed. It was also a time to think about other hikes and adventures we might like to do during the remaining spring and summer season.
I find these thoughts inspiring, but sobering. The nice day speeds. The spring flowers are some of my favorite, but they fade quickly. The fiddleheads unfurl and become lush stands of ferns. Summer advances and speeds ahead into fall. The cycle begins all over again. It is a reminder that I must embrace each day and make the most of it.
As we made our way down, we heard voices – the first of the day other than our own. Coming up the trail were two serious mountain bikers in low gear. They probably had about a 1.3-mile ride ahead of them and then it would be park and walk. “They don’t care.” I thought. It was another adventure to them. No matter what your favorite mode of adventuring may be, get out and make the most of these glorious spring days!
Directions to the trailhead: From I-81, take exit 168 for VA-614 toward Arcadia. Turn onto VA-614 heading east and go 3.3 miles. Turn left onto North Creek Road. Go 2.8 miles and turn right onto a gravel road – it is marked with signage. Follow it for 2.2 miles until you reach the large parking lot.