Some years back I was speaking with Tom, a friend who had just retired from the United States Forest Service as an Engineer. Now Tom is an amazing resource for all things National Forest. He spent his life designing trails and campgrounds in our nations park system. So I wasn’t surprised, when I told him about my upcoming hike at Apple Orchard Falls in the Jefferson National Forest, that he said he helped design that trail. He went on to share some interesting information about the trail, the falls and the caves in that area. He also told me I wouldn’t be disappointed with the hike or its beautiful surroundings.
Tom was absolutely correct. I really enjoyed the hike and it has become one of my favorites. This 3.32 mile out and back hike has so many interesting things to see and experience along the way. The first gem I experienced was the location itself. This trail-head is nestled in the Jefferson National Park in an area known as Arcadia. The road on the way to the trail head (Rt. 614) begins by crossing over the James River with a view from the bridge of the mountains which will take your breath away. Once you cross into the National Forest you are following Jennings Creek which is known for great trout fishing. You will take a left heading to North Creek and along the way will pass a small primitive campground called North Creek Campground ($10.00/ night).
At the trail-head you will notice free camping spots along the creek. These are first come, first serve. While there is no camp host, its not uncommon to see a Ranger drive through once a day. This hike has a lot of variety and progresses in difficulty the further you get. The trail follows the creek most of the way and if you are a trout fisherman bring your rod. The first 3/4 mile is fairly rocky and you spend a great deal of time looking down so you don’t trip. I had my border collie Charlie with me and he didn’t have a problem with the rocks. Eventually the ground smooths out and its easier to enjoy your surroundings.
As you get closer to the falls you’ll notice some caves and larger rock formations. Usually when people see caves they think bears. Rest assured, there are plenty of bear in the forest. In fact, I’ve been on this hike many times now and roughly 2 out of 5 times I see a bear. Don’t worry, Virginia is home only to the black bear and they are going to look for the fastest way to get away from you. With that said, still be careful, a mother bear with cubs will be in protection mode as will a bear who believes itself to be cornered. The best remedy is to make noise as you hike. Purchasing a small bear bell to put on your back pack will ensure no bear encounters.
When you reach the falls there is a observation area which provides a great spot for taking pictures. Depending on the time of year, the water can be a slow trickle to a fast moving rush of pushing over the falls. At this point you will also notice the trail continues. Apple Orchard Falls actually has two trail heads, North Creek and the Blue Ridge Parkway. I have hiked both and prefer the more scenic route from North Creek.
The alternative trail-head begins on the Parkway at mile marker 78.4 at Sunset Field. This hike is a strenuous 1.5 miles down to the falls. The trail consist of mostly wooden stairs but the decline will challenge your knees and remember, you have a 1.5 mile climb back up the mountain.
* 1 Mile North of Buchanan, Virginia take exit 168 onto state route 614/ Arcadia rd.
* Travel in the direction of the shell station.
* Follow State Rte 614 to N Creek Rd, approximately 5.5 miles.
* Turn left onto North creek road and follow for 2.2 miles to the trail head.
* There is an information station and to the left of it is a wooden foot bridge which marks the beginning of the trail.
- Trail Length: 3.32 miles
- Blazes: Blue
- Trail Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
- Connecting Trails: FT #18 – Cornelius Creek, FT #1 – Appalachian Trail
- Elevation: Beginning at an elevation of 1480 feet at the parking lot on FR #59 and climbing to 3400 feet at the trail-head at Sunset Fields on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
- Trail Access Points (Approximate LAT/LONG):
- North Creek Trailhead: LAT 37.53 LONG -79.55
- Sunset Fields on Blue Ridge Parkway: LAT 37.51 LONG -79.52
- Lat/Long Conversion Table
- Trail Etiquette: Trail etiquette for multiple use trails calls for horses to have the right-of-way. Hikers should yield to horses. Bicyclists should yield to horses and hikers. Horse riders are responsible for the control of their horse at all times.