If you’re looking for a short but gorgeous hike, Crabtree Falls will not disappoint. This loop trail runs about 3 miles total, and hikers should set aside at least an hour and a half. It’s a moderately difficult trail with a few obstacles such as stairs, rocks, tree roots, and creek crossings. The total elevation gain is just under 500 feet.
The Crabtree Falls hiking trail begins as all proper trails should — at a campground. If you’ve ever had the odd experience of driving to some generic unconnected parking lot that’s right next to your trailhead, you’ll know the importance of the ambiance leading up to your hiking experience. Yes, it starts at the Crabtree Meadows Campground parking area, but at least it’s a cool Subaru-heavy campground parking lot.
There used to be a smaller lot that was closer to the trailhead, but it was too small to support the many visitors to Crabtree. Hikers now need to park near the visitor center and take a short extension trail. It’s a nice walk that actually adds to the experience by gradually easing you into the lush green wilderness.
This walk begins on a paved pathway that meanders past the campground’s old amphitheater. You’re then treated to a road through a meadow full of wildflowers. A sign will direct you toward the falls, which is reached via the old parking area. The official trailhead begins here, but by now, you’ve already hiked a satisfying fifth of a mile or so.
If your trek takes place during the warmer months, your hike will open with a gorgeous spectacle — thick, fragrant rhododendron. You will then reach the intersection where the trail loops back on itself. If you head left, you’ll take the longer portion of the loop (about a mile and a half). Instead, take a right. This is the path that takes you directly down to the falls and is just under a mile long.
Once you reach the base of the falls, be sure to take an extra breath or two, because the beauty of Crabtree Falls is going to knock the wind out of you. If you have any left, climb to the top and begin the longer part of the loop back to where you started. It begins with a steep climb, and there’s a bench at the top where you can catch your breath before mounting the steep stairs that come next.
Your return trip is longer, but a much more gradual climb. The trail wanders along the creek bed and offers a tamer walking surface. You’ll get to cross the river several times and use the new bridge that was recently installed. By the time you return to the campground, you’ll feel that you’ve accomplished a worthwhile hike.
-Dogs are welcome at Crabtree Falls so long as they’re on a leash and don’t show signs of aggression.
-The rocks can be slippery, so be prepared and watch your step. Be sure to stay on the trails! Going off-trail is dangerous, especially near the falls. Not to scare you, but a friendly warning that nearly 30 people have died here as a result of straying off the marked trail.
-For an easier and faster hike, make your way to the falls and then double back (instead of continuing on the steep climb past the base of the falls). You’ll avoid the most strenuous part of the trek and the longest section of the trail loop. Your hike will only be about 2 miles, and you’ll still get to enjoy the best view of the falls.
-Whether you’re visiting Crabtree Falls for the first or the fiftieth time, this well-maintained trail is a great day trip destination. Consider staying at Crabtree Meadows Campground so that you can truly savor this luscious slice of protected wilderness and the many other fine hiking trails in the area.