[Updated August 12, 2021] The Blue Ridge Parkway is the most visited national park unit in the USA, attracting more than 15 million visitors each year.
It’s far more than just a beautiful scenic roadway, encompassing nearly 500 miles in NC and VA and protecting wilderness areas extending far beyond the road’s shoulders.
There are jaw-dropping vistas that disappear deep into the multi-hued horizon. There are flamboyant North Carolina wildflowers in spring and flaming fall colors. And dotting pretty much every majestic mountain, you’ll find wondrous waterfalls.
Located near the cozy Alpine town of Little Switzerland, Crabtree Falls in North Carolina (not to be confused with the Crabtree Falls in Virginia) ranks amongst the spectacular waterfalls near the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The magic happens when Crabtree Creek, having snaked its way through the rhododendron-infused forest, takes the 70-foot plunge over a magnificent rock face.
To say the sight of it jolting and jaunting its way down rocky ledges to a picturesque pool is worth a few miles of hiking is an understatement of the highest degree.
Crabtree Falls is truly a potent reminder of just how powerful—physically and emotionally—nature can be. Read on for our guide to one of the premier Western North Carolina waterfalls.
Crabtree Falls NC Info
ADDRESS: Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 339.5, Little Switzerland NC 28749
COST OF ENTRY: Free (including free parking)
HOURS: Always open
AMENITIES: Hiking trail, Campgrounds, Picnic Area
Love North Carolina Waterfalls? Check out these guides!
Crabtree Falls & Little Switzerland History
Historically, the Blue Ridge Parkway was one of several large-scale public works meant to help communities struggling to make ends meet during the Great Depression.
Part of Franklin D Roosevelt’s New Deal initiatives to provide jobs and improve America’s infrastructure, the 469-mile BRP is the longest singularly planned roadway in the United States.
The parkway creeps and curves its way from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. At almost exactly the middle of the journey, you’ll find Crabtree Falls & the nearby town of Little Switzerland.
In 1909, the Switzerland Company (founded by a former NC Supreme Court Justice) set out to build a resort village in the NC wilderness. The tiny town of Little Switzerland was established in 1910, a full quarter-century before construction on the Parkway began!
Today, Little Switzerland is the only BRP exit (Milepost 334) that leads directly to a commercial district. It’s also the narrowest part of the parkway, due to right-of-way disputes with the Switzerland Company during the Parkway’s construction.
Crabtree Falls is a cascade where Crabtree Creek tumbles over a cliff edge and rumbles down ledges some 70 feet into a boulder-strewn pool below.
It has historically been confused with Big Crabtree Falls and Murphy Falls quite often, and has alternatively been called Upper Falls.
Suffice it to say, hiking to Crabtree Falls is one of the most popular things to do in Little Switzerland NC, and one of our favorite waterfalls near Asheville NC.
Hiking the Crabtree Falls Trail
There are two alternatives when hiking to Crabtree Falls, taking an out-and-back route or a (personally recommended) loop. Either way, getting to the falls is basically the same.
The hike begins with a pleasant route past the amphitheater, then on through the Crabtree Falls Campground.
From there, it proceeds down a sometimes challenging, often slippery trail that takes trekkers through a lovely thicket of rhododendron before reaching the foot of the falls.
It’s the return part of the Crabtree Falls hiking trail that’s up to your preference. Either way you go, it’s definitely a climb back to civilization.
The out-and-back hike retraces the steps that got you there. It’s slightly shorter (around 2 miles) and draws out the ascent such that it doesn’t feel as steep.
The Crabtree Falls loop trail is a little longer, and the climb up to the top of the falls is more arduous. But after 20-30 minutes the trail mellows out and criss-crosses over the creek for some beautiful understory vistas.
Whichever adventure you choose, note that the trail does require some caution in terms of footing, and it will make hikers breathe heavy at least a time or two.
Crabtree Falls Viewpoints
Essentially, all of the hiking in the Crabtree waterfall area crescendos at a wonderful pool where the falls reverts back to Crabtree Creek.
In my opinion, the best view of the Crabtree Falls is on the bridge that crosses over the creek just below the falls.
On the other side of the bridge, able hikers can venture onto the boulders that have collected at the sides of the pool.
This is a great spot for a snack and a drink before making the hike back.
The lesser experienced viewpoint of Crabtree Falls is from the top.
This view is only available to those who take the loop hiking trail, and it is a fine reward for reaching the top of the rigorous switchbacks leading you up the mountain.
READ MORE: 30 Fascinating Blue Ridge Mountains Facts
Other Waterfalls Near Crabtree Falls
Crabtree Falls ranks among the most beautiful North Carolina waterfalls. But honestly, there are many here that it’s hard to narrow them down to even a top ten.
In fact, there are several other stunning waterfalls within 30 minutes of this one.
Linville Falls, another top tourist destination in Western NC, is just half an hour drive north of Crabtree Falls. It also has an extensive campground.
Nearer to Little Switzerland, Grassy Creek Falls is a two-tiered waterfall located on private land.
For years, the owners have allowed visitors to take the short walk to the falls.ut please be respectful and follow the leave no trace principles.
South of Crabtree Falls, two miles off the Blue Ridge Parkway, Roaring Fork Falls is a supine cascade that dances its way down a beautiful formation of mossy rocks.
A couple of miles further, Setrock Creek Falls is the showstopper of the Black Mountain Campground.
Crabtree Falls Directions
Driving directions to Crabtree Falls are fairly simple, as there’s only one road leading to them: The Blue Ridge Parkway.
For those coming from the south around Asheville, take Tunnel Road east to the Parkway. Head north, and the Crabtree Falls parking lot will be on the left, just beyond a nice picnic area (on your right). It’s at Milepost 339.5, about 43 miles from the city.
Whether it’s from Asheville or the NC High Country, the drive to Crabtree Falls— which including some of the best Blue Ridge Parkway overlooks—is a pleasure all its own.
Staying at Crabtree Falls
There are plenty of overnight accommodations near Crabtree Falls, starting with the Crabtree Falls Campground, which surrounds the trailhead to the waterfall.
Up-close-and-personal Crabtree Falls cabins aren’t really available, but there are nearby cabin rentals in Little Switzerland, Linville Falls, Spruce Pine, and Burnsville.
It’s also a perfect mid-way stop when traveling from Asheville to Boone or Blowing Rock. —Jonathon Engels, photos by Emma Gallagher unless otherwise noted. Featured image via Canva.