Shining Rock Mountain via Art Loeb/Ivestor Gap Trail

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Synopsis

Hike the peaks of 3 mountains that are over 6,000 ft. on your way to Shining Rock Mountain, whose summit is jeweled by giant boulders of white quartz.

Features

6,000 ft. summits, Appalachian balds, amazing views, Shining Rock.

Length

11+ miles round trip.

Rating

Strenuous; Very rugged and remote in places.

Description

I can’t say enough about this hike. It has it all. Rugged and remote wilderness, high mountain peaks, breath taking views, and so many other goodies. The rub is you’ve got to work for it.

I’m going to issue a few words of caution up front. Have a map of Pisgah National Forest/Shining Rock Wilderness and a compass. Know how to use them both. There are numerous side and phantom trails and except for trail wands, none of the trails in the Shining Rock Wilderness are marked. Don’t attempt this hike if you’re inexperienced and unfamiliar with the area. It’s a beautiful and rewarding trek, but physically demanding. Know your physical limitations. Be sure you carry enough water/filtration system, and wear supportive footwear.

This is my hiking route on this day: Black Balsam > Tennent Mountain > Ivestor Gap > Grassy Cove Top > Flower Knob > Shining Rock Gap > Old Butt Knob Tail > Shining Rock Mountain > Ivestor Gap. This hike follows the Art Loeb Trail and Ivestor Gap Trail in a loop.

To begin this hike, turn off the Blue Ridge Parkway at MP 420 onto FR 816. Drive to the end and park at the parking area at Ivestor Gap. There is also a pull-off on the right at the Art Loeb trailhead, parking permitting. If you park at the parking area you’ll have to hike back down the road to the trailhead, about .5 mile.

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The first part of the hike follows the Art Loeb Trail and takes you up to the summit of Black Balsam Knob (6,240’). From here you can enjoy 360 vistas that will take your breath. You can see the Blue Ridge Parkway, Graveyard Fields, and Sam Knob.

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Continue along the ridge and down around Black Balsam Knob. You’ll catch views of Big East Fork and Same Knob, as well as Ivestor Gap on your left. Wind down through thickets. Since I was hiking in the morning, the dew off the bushes literally soaked my clothing. Tennent Mountain and its hooked summit will come into view. After a while you’ll come to the first of 3 of what I call “chicken feet.” This is an area where the trail splits three ways off a main trail. Take the obvious trail that heads up Tennent Mountain, this is still the Art Loeb Trail. It bears to the right.

Once you’re at the summit of Tennent Mountain (6,040‘), enjoy even more amazing views. Looking Glass Rock is very visible from here. You’ll also catch a glimpse of Shining Rock Mountain gleaming in the distance.

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Follow the trail down Tennent Mountain to the next “chicken foot”. This is an open area that is an obvious “gap” between mountains. From here, you can take the trail to the right, which is the Art Loeb Trail, and has a wand. It leads you up over the hill. The left trail, which looks like an very old road (because it is), is Ivestor Gap Trail. Both trails will wind up at the entrance to the Shining Rock Wilderness. You’ll know you’re at the entrance because there is a wooden sign saying so. There are several fences here. This is a good place to rest and get your bearings. The mountain in front of you is Grassy Cove Top. There were signs that trails to the summit were closed due to erosion. You probably don’t want to climb here, anyway.

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This is another “chicken foot”. Pay close attention here, because this is where I became disoriented and added a couple of miles to my hike that I didn’t need to. The far left trail is still Ivestor Gap Trail. You could take it and wind up at Shining Rock Gap. It’s relatively flat. You can see Big East Fork area to the left of it. I took the trail right, which is the Art Loeb Trail. The trail winds around Grassy Cove Top, then climbs the far side of it. Ignore all other side trails here! There seems like hundreds of them. Wind a narrow path until you come to another (surprise!) “chicken foot”. This one is probably the most confusing gap on the hike.

The right trail heads down and toward Cold Mountain. The trail straight ahead skirts Grassy Cove Top. The trail left climbs up Grassy Cove Top toward Flower Gap. This is the trail I took because it seemed the most traveled. It climbs through sawing blackberry thickets on a narrow trail. The point of reference you’ll want to look for is a huge, old double fir tree. You’ll know you’re on the right track. Continue to follow the trail to the backside of Grassy Cove, barely skirting the summit. You’ll get a very good view of Shining Rock as you come down the trail. The trail winds down to Flower Gap. There are several campsites at the gap and great high meadow open views.

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Continue on up the trail toward Shining Rock Gap. The trail winds through evergreens and rhododendron. There are more campsites on each side of the trail. When you come to Shining Rock Gap there is another “chicken foot”. Pay attention to just TWO: Left is Ivestor Gap Trail and leads you back to the entrance of the Shining Rock Wilderness. You will want to take this trail on your journey back. The trail straight/right is Old Butt Knob Trail. This is a deeply worn, steep trail that winds up the mountain through thickets. It’s dark and damp, and you’ll soon start seeing shards of white quartz, from whence Shining Rock gets its name.

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As you climb the trail, a huge white boulder will be on the left. Before you, appearing suddenly, is Shining Rock. It’s a huge rock wall, about as big as a two-story house. Continue up the trail to the summit of the Shining Rock (6,000‘). Enjoy great views back toward Flower Gap and Grassy Cove Top. Be careful, as the rock has sheer cliffs on every side.

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I enjoyed a snack here with a nice couple from Greensboro, North Carolina. After they left, I enjoyed the solitude. Interestingly, the giant white rock was considered a sacred place to the Cherokee. It is a unique formation to say the least. I could sense the history there. After eating my snack and enjoying the peace and quiet and gentle mountain breeze.

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Climb down Shining Rock and hike back down to Shining Rock Gap. Take the far right trail (left as you were coming in) which is Ivestor Gap Trail. This trail is relatively flat and shaded. I had the entire trail to myself. You will come to a split in the trail. Continue left. (Right leads you to the Daniel Boone Campground.) Enjoy the quietness. The trail was very soggy and muddy in places from seepage. There are some great views of the mountains and valleys to the right. After a while, you’ll see Grassy Cove Top, and you’ll return to the Shining Rock Wilderness entrance.

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Continue on the Ivestor Gap Trail, which is on the right. It is an obvious old road and is wide and rocky. Another word of caution: Ivestor Gap Trail, though level, is extremely rocky and is punishing after a long hike. Follow this trail back to the parking area. I’d parked on the roadside at the Art Loeb trailhead, so I had to walk (limp) another half mile back to my Jeep.

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Overall, this was an amazing hike, and I don’t use the word “amazing” lightly. It has everything. Again, be careful of all the unmarked side trails. When in doubt, take the trail most followed. Enjoy the dramatic scenery from the mountain peaks and the remoteness of a true wilderness hiking experience.

See you on the trail!

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Mt. Craig + Big Tom via Deep Gap Trail

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Synopsis

Alpine-type hike in the Black Mountains of North Carolina beginning at Mt. Mitchell to the 6,000’+ summits of Mt Craig and Big Tom.

Features

Alpine landscape, semi-technical trail, rock climbing, rare plants and fungi, breathtaking views.

Length

2.5 miles round-trip

Rating

Moderate – Strenuous

Description

The Deep Gap Trail is a classic Black Mountains hike that begins at the picnic area of Mt. Mitchell State Park and continues on to Deep Gap campground. Deep Gap boasts a stunning FOUR peaks that are above 6,000 ft., five if you include Mt. Mitchell. For our hike, we decided to include just the summits of Mt. Craig (6,663 ft.) – the second highest peak east of the Mississippi – and Big Tom (6,580 ft.), both of which are the first two peaks encountered on the trail.

Deep Gap Trail is accessed at the Mt. Mitchell picnic area. Look for the giveaway trail head:

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The first 1/4 mile or so of the trail is relatively level. Soon you’ll begin to start the first ascent down rock stairs that trail volunteers have kindly put in place.

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As usual, the weather atop the Black Mountains is unpredictable. Below Mt. Mitchell the Blue Ridge Parkway was 73 degrees and sunny, but on the Deep Gap Trail, the air was chilly and fog was rolling in. Thunder clapped in the distance. Mountains this high are perpetually moist. These are two things to consider when hiking at heights such as this. Always carry proper weather gear (light jacket/poncho/rain jacket), and wear shoes with good traction. The Black Mountains are rocky and rooty – a slip or ankle twist is always a step away.

After making our way through the moss-covered forest, we came upon a cluster of dead evergreen trees, victims of the woolly adelgid, a non-native pest that feeds almost exclusively on the sap of evergreens. With the fog, the scene was quite surreal.

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We wound our way in and out of dense, moss-covered alpine forest, catching a few views to the left. As the trail begins to ascend to Mt. Craig, there are several rocks and rock outcroppings that you’ll need to traverse. Most of them were ice slick with the moss and water. Be careful on these.

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The trail then becomes fairly level as you continue along the ridge line
before ascending again to the first amazing overlook. The sun had broken through and the valley below was wide and green. This is a great place to rest, picnic, catch a cool breeze, or just soak in the beauty around you.

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After resting here, continue up to the true summit of Mt. Craig, being careful to stay on the trail so as not to harm any of the rare alpine plant species.

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There is a plaque around the corner as you head toward Big Tom, which commemorates North Carolina Governor Locke Craig, who played an important role in the establishment of Mt. Mitchell State Park.

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From here continue on along the trail another 1/4 mile or so to the summit of Big Tom.

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There is not much of a view here, but there is another plaque letting you know you’ve reached the summit:

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As you can read on the plaque, Big Tom was a colorful character who found and helped retrieve the body of Elisha Mitchell, for whom Mt. Mitchell is named, after he fell to his death during a geological survey.

Here was the terminus for this hike. If you continue on the trail, you’ll summit Cattail Peak and Potato Hill, then ascend down into Deep Gap. To get back to the trail head, simply retrace your steps. If the weather is clear, you’ll find it hard to not stop and take in one more view of the valley below from the summit of Mt. Craig and if you’re lucky, Mt. Mitchell to the south.

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See you on the trail!

The Pinnacle: Crowders Mountain State Park

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I confess I’ve never thought about hiking Crowders Mountain until recently. I’ve passed by it on I-85 for years, and though Crowders Mountain State Park near King’s Mountain, NC is only about 30 miles from my home, it never occurred to me to go check it out. Thankfully, several friends posted pics of their hikes there, so I decided to check it out.

I was glad I did!

I heard the various trails around the park made it a very popular destination, so I got there early. I started my hike at around 9:30 a.m. I decided to take the Pinnacle Trail, which is roughly 2 miles one way. It carries you to the summit of The Pinnacle, a peak in Crowders Mountain State Park (1,705 ft.), which is an ancient monadnock, and the highest peak in Gaston County, NC. In addition to hiking, it is also a popular area for rock climbing/bouldering.

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The Pinnacle is not Crowders Mountain. Crowders Mountain is adjacent, and is accessed by the Crowders Trail.

The first part of the trail is well-graded and easy. After a short while, you begin to climb, but you haven’t seen anything yet.

I laughed to myself when I saw the trail rated as “strenuous” and the mountain less than 2,000 ft. However, the mountain got the last laugh.

At around the halfway point, you begin to encounter numerous boulder fields, and the trail begins to ascend a little more sharply. There are some good views to the left. I spent some time hopping around the giant boulders and exploring. It’ll become evident that you’re walking a craggy ridge line.

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After the boulder field, the trail takes a u-turn. Here’s where the fun began. The next half mile or so is brutal.

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The trail ascends steeply, and is rocky and slick from all the fine sand. The craggy ridge line/summit of The Pinnacle becomes apparent above the right side of the trail. To the left there are some openings and more nice views.

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At around the last quarter mile or so, I noticed several of hikers tuckered out and resting beside the trail. I’ve hiked a lot of high mountains and steep trails, but something about this section knocks the wind out of you. My quads felt like they were going to blow up!

I, too, took a short rest, and carried on. As you get closer to the peak, the left side of the trail opens up for some great views of the valley below. The rocks around you are jagged and weathered.

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Take a right and climb up through the boulders. You’ll pass a familiar overlook on the left where everyone and his mother has taken a selfie. It was kind of crowded here, with maybe 15 other hikers waiting for their turn to get a pic.

But this is not the summit. Continue on up through the rocks.

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You’ll know you’ve reached the true summit when you come to a concrete pad with a pole sticking out of it. There are 360 views here of NC and SC. I climbed down a rock edge and found a nice, private overlook to rest and have a snack. I watched three turkey buzzards circle right in front of me. I sat here for nearly an hour and never saw another person.

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After resting, I explored a bit more, and had a good conversation with an older hiker, a local. He told me about a “secret” trail down, and about the tragic deaths that had occurred at Crowders Mountain/The Pinnacle recently. With all the jagged rocks and drop-offs, this is not a place to take chances.

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We talked hiking a bit more, and went our way. On the way down, several people asked me “Am I close yet?” I’m telling you, that last .25 mile is tough!

On the way down, I turned off at the Turnback Trail. I took this trail down. I didn’t pass anyone on it. I enjoyed complete solitude. When the trail levels out, there is a small stream that follows the trail. I then turned off on the Fern Trail, and took this back to the parking lot. By now the parking area was crowded to capacity. If you want to hike in solitude, get here early!

I made my hike a loop by combining the Pinnacle Trail, Turnback Trail, and Fern Trail. Total hike was about 5 miles.

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See you on the trail!

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Green River Gamelands: The High Trail

08c I’ve always wanted to hike in the Green River Gamelands in Saluda, North Carolina. I finally had the opportunity to do so this past weekend with my friend Josh. We only hiked a portion of the trails (there are 9 “official” ones), mainly to get a feel of what the terrain is like. I’ve heard the Gamelands trails were rugged in places, and they certainly were! The trails form a sort of loop that is around 10.5 miles in length, with a total of 16 miles of trails throughout the Gamelands. We decided to take the higher ground and hike the Bluff Trail, Turkey Gut Trail, and Stair Step Falls Trail. I’ve got no idea how many miles we logged, probably around 5, as our entire route took about 4 hours round trip.

The trailhead.

Take I-26 to Exit 59. If you’re coming from South Carolina, the exit will be on the right. Take a right at the stop sign onto Holbert Cove Road. Drive a short distance and there is a sign for the Gamelands on the left. Turn here and follow the descending road into the gorge. Drive safely as there are a number of hairpin turns. After reaching the bottom, continue on Green River Cove Road crossing the bridge over the Green River. Parking is on the right. It’s simply a small gravel pull-off (additional parking is across the bridge in a larger parking area).

The Green River Cove trailhead is across the road from the parking area to the left of a residential driveway. We missed it the first time because weeds had grown up over the trail sign. Also, we got our map online, and from a book by Danny Bernstein. Interestingly, several of the maps diverged from one another slightly. So be aware of that. 07 The hike.

We decided to take the higher trails hoping to catch some good views of the gorge and river below. We began on the Green River Cove Trail. The first thing you notice is a set of stair steps. The trail ascends up with views of the Green River below on the left. After a short distance, there is an obvious offshoot trail and marker for the Bluff Trail on the right. The Bluff Trail is a very strenuous, narrow, and rocky 1 mile hike up a mountain side. The elevation gain here is 700 feet over one mile! There are a few places where the steepness might even make scrambling necessary for some. 13a The end of Bluff Trail is the intersection with the Turkey Gut Trail. The Turkey Gut Trail goes either right or left. We initially wanted to take a right to look out over Pace Cliffs, but the trail was overgrown. 17 This would be a nice trail to revisit in the winter. So, we turned around and head left toward the Stair Step Falls Trail. Turkey Gut Trail is about 3 miles in length. As it ascends, there are overlooks on the left and rocky outcroppings above the trail on the right. After a while you’ll hear then see Stair Step Creek on the left. Be careful here because there are several sheer drop-offs. You’ll see Stair Step Falls Trail on the left. The trail crosses over the creek here. We continued on around Turkey Gut for about ¼ of a mile into a clearing. We had a snack here and then turned back and crossed onto Stair Step Falls Trail.

The Stair Step Falls Trail is a moderate-to-strenuous 1.5 mile long connector (It connects with the Long Ridge Trail). As soon as you pass over the creek, the falls will be below you on the left. The only way to get to the falls is to sit and slide down a steep ravine. Or use a rope. The falls themselves were nothing to get excited about, at least they weren’t with our legs burning from the climb we‘d just made! I didn’t take pictures. The falls are basically three or four narrow, small cascades that aren’t easy to view. Perhaps after a good rain they’d have been more enticing to climb down and view. 20 We continued on the trail. To the left is Loobie Cliffs. The trail winds in and out of coves and crosses a couple of small streams. At the last of these streams is a very short but steep climb up and around to a fairly level area filled with blooming mountain laurel. We stopped here on the ridge, rested, ate another snack, then retraced our steps back to the trail head. 25 This would be a much more scenic hike in the winter or fall, as the higher elevation views are obscured by foliage. This is also not a “pay off” type of hike, meaning there’s no exciting destination until you descend back down along the Green River. Stair Steps Falls would be nice if it were fuller. This was simply a rugged hike for hiking’s sake. I enjoyed the challenge and the scenery and the solitude. Next time the plan is to continue on the Green River Cove Trail and go view the famous Narrows. Again, the route we took was steep, rocky, and strenuous. After we finished we drove and stopped at a little roadside fruit stand across the interstate. The owner informed Josh that the route we took had been known to see significant rattlesnake activity. Thankfully, we missed those!

I’ll blog part 2 when we make it.

See you on the trail!

Sam Knob

Want to bag a 6,000+ ft. peak the easy way? If so, then you should hike Sam Knob! Sam Knob measures in at 6,050 feet, but the trail is only 2.2 miles long. Even better, the total elevation gain is just under 600 ft. because the trailhead itself begins at one of the highest altitudes in the region. The views from the base and summit of Sam Knob are unparallelled!

Sam knob is located in the Pisgah National Forest and borders the Shining Rock Wilderness area.

I was working in Asheville and didn’t have to be in until 1:00pm, so I left my home in South Carolina, drove up to the Black Balsam parking area off the Blue Ridge Parkway, did the Sam Knob hike, enjoyed the views a while, had lunch on the summit, hiked back down, drove to work and STILL had half an hour to spare. (I used this time to change clothes and freshen up, in case you’re wondering.)

For my money, this is one of the best hikes in the area.

The trailhead.

The trailhead is located in the Black Balsam parking area. This is located on road 816 past mile post 420. Interestingly, the Parkway beyond this point was closed on the day I hiked Sam Knob. If you’re coming from Asheville, 816 (Black Balsam Road) is located on the right. Turn onto 816 and drive to the end of the road (it’s a short drive). The parking area is on the left, complete with restrooms. The Sam Knob Trail is located at the upper right end of the parking lot, next to the restrooms.

01The hike.

Follow the trail immediately on the other side of the gate. The trail was having repairs performed on the day I hiked here. There was obvious seepage and erosion, and the forest service had began filling some areas of the trail with crushed stone. On the right across the valley is Black Balsam. You’ll pass a couple of primitive campsites on the left, with the Flat Laurel Creek valley below. After a short walk, Sam Knob comes into view:

Here the trail gets a little iffy because the forest service was building steps down into the meadow below. I took a left here and followed a side trail down to the valley floor. You can also walk beside the stair construction. Hopefully, by the time you read this and get to Sam Knob, you’ll have a nice set of stairs to climb down on.

There is a single trail that crosses the meadow to Sam Knob. You can’t miss it. If you look closely at the pic below, you’ll see a group of hikers on the meadow trail.

09Once at Sam Knob, you’ll take the right trail. If you go left, you’ll end up at Flat laurel Creek. It gets a little confusing here. Just stay right. The trail takes you up through a dense hardwood forest. It veers slightly left after passing a rooty, rocky section. Watch your footing here. After climbing over rocks and seepage, the views start to open up to your left. At one point, you’ll come upon a set of stairs graciously built by the forest service. After the stairs, the views are really nice of the adjacent mountains and valleys below.

22The trail winds up past rocky outcroppings and amazing views. As you climb higher, the trail also becomes quite eroded, becoming a muddy ditch in several places. Near the summit is a huge piece of white quartz. I’ve read this is why the area is referred to as the Shining Rock Wilderness.

31I detected two summits on Sam Knob. The trail splits after the quartz boulder, and you can go right or left. Both summits provide spectacular views in the direction of Black Balsam (another 6,000+ ft. mountain), Little Sam Knob, the Shining Rock Wilderness, and Fork Ridge, among others. If it is a clear day, as it was on the day I was here, you can make out the Blue Ridge Parkway and Devil’s Courthouse on the other side of the parkway!

I spent time enjoying the views and talking with a group of fellow hikers I’d met at the trailhead, and of course, taking a selfie.

A2 After having a peaceful, solitary lunch, I hiked back down. I chose the right time to hike Sam Gap, because aside from the small group of hikers I mentioned, there was no one else on the summit. On the way down, I passed several hikers making their way up.

I highly recommend this hike! I can’t stress just how nice the views are. I look forward to going back when the Spring wildflowers and rhododendron are in full bloom.

I wouldn’t classify this as an “easy” hike, but it wasn’t very difficult. I think ‘moderate’ is a good rating, mostly due to the steeper, wet, and rocky sections of the trail.

See you on the trail!

 

Crabtree Falls

Crabtree Falls is a nice 70 foot waterfall located off the Blue Ridge Parkway. The trail is not very long – it is a 2 mile loop – however, it is moderate to strenuous, especially depending on the weather conditions. The trailhead. The trailhead is located at mile marker 339.5 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It is located in the Crabtree Meadows recreational area. Simply pull into the area and look for the trail on the upper right corner of the parking lot. I’m sure trail maps are available inside the center, but I’ve never seen it actually open! The first section of trail leads you to the campground, then to the main trailhead. The hike. The trail is sometimes gated. On the day we visited in April, the gate was closed. It’s easy to walk around. The first few hundred yards are pebbled and level. You’ll pass an amphitheater on the right, and under some power lines. Continue up to the campground area and locate the trailhead at the far end of the campground. The first thing you’ll notice is that the trail has a gradual descent. You are hiking down the side of a ridge, after all. There are plenty of logs and steps to keep your footing. 04 On the day we hiked this trail, it had been raining and once we made it closer to the falls, the trail became very rocky, slick and boggy, so take the weather into consideration before hiking – trail conditions can change, especially when it’s a rocky, descending trail like Crabtree Falls. We also had to contend with a couple of downed trees that looked like a fresh washout. 33After around .75 of a mile, you’ll come to a set of stone stairs. After the stairs, the Crabtree Falls comes into view in the distance, but the trail also becomes even more rocky and steep. Climb down the rocky trail to a nice observation bridge. You can continue on around the trail to complete the loop, or you can backtrack to the trailhead. Either way, be sure to spend some time taking in the beauty of this nice waterfall! See you on the trail!