My first hike when I first moved to Southwest Virginia was to the Cascades and it is part of the typical initiation for Virginia Tech students to the area. Through my years here, I’ve hike this multiple times and it is different in each season. With peak foliage upon us once again, I headed back for another hike.
In comparison to my report last week in the Northern Park of the Shenandoah and earlier this week in the George Washington National Forest, the Cascades are further west and predicted to reach peak foliage earlier. And indeed, I hit the peak right on for the first time on this hike.
- name: Cascades Trail and Barneys Wall (gps track – alltrails wikiloc)
- type: in & out / loopish
- distance: 8.16 miles
- elevation change: 2302 ft ascent and descent
- time: 3:30 hours (2:48 hours without breaks)
- location: Jefferson National Forest near Pembroke, VA (google map directions)
Most hikers that visit will only hike the Cascades Trail to the 66 foot Cascades Falls, which is the best part of the hike. The Cascades section is the first section on the hike and Barneys Wall and Upper Cascades portion can be added onto The Cascades section a short distance from the falls.
- name: Cascades Trail – FT# 70 (USDA FS; alltrails)
- type: in & out / loopish
- distance: 4.0 miles
- elevation change: 1046 ft ascent and descent
- time: 1:21 hours without breaks, though typically a longer hike due to pictures
For the Cascades section, there are actually 2 trails that you can take to reach the falls at the end. The lower trail follows the banks of Little Stoney Creek crossing it twice allowing you to get up and close with the stream. It has more small ups and downs and plenty of large rocks put in to make up the path as part of the trail work, which seems to be a little slippery at all times even on a dry day. The upper trail is a wide dirt trail on a ledge about the creek that continues up toward the falls at a steadier elevation change. There are 3 separate points the upper and lower trails connect before a final time at the falls should you change your mind on your choice later on.
My recommendation is in line with most hikers to take the lower trail up and the upper trail down. This allows you to view upstream on Little Stoney Creek as you are working your way up seeing all the pour overs and cascades in it. Meanwhile, coming down the upper trail will allow you to see the open forest over the creek. Also, it’s easier to walk down the upper trail when you are tired.
Since The Cascades are one of the more popular hikes here in Southwest Virginia, there is a USD$3.00 fee per car to help maintain the trails and their work is very evident. For instance, flooding took out part of the lower trail in 2018 leading closing it temporary until the USDA were able to fix it recently. More than ever, support is needed for our public lands.
Since USDA is a national land management agency, your fees are covered with the USD$80 America the Beautiful Annual Pass.
I arrived pretty late on a Saturday afternoon just after 3pm. Even though the parking area is huge, it was near capacity. This was expected as The Cascades are one of the most popular hike especially for Virginia Tech students. My recommendation is to hike it on a weekday if possible.
At the beginning of the trailhead, there are bathrooms and water available. There is also a lost and found and several picnic areas for use.
From the very beginning, you can already hear the rushing Little Stoney Creek. There are a few spots you can get down to the creek in the first few steps along the trail. It is not uncommon to see anglers fishing the creek. After a few hundred feet, the lower and upper trail split. I took the right to go over the footbridge and toward the lower trail.
For the next mile of the lower trail before the next bridge, the elevation gain is about 5.6%, but uneven as it undulates following the stream.
About a half mile, you’ll pass the remnants of a metal boiler used to provide power for a mobile sawmill operation here.
The real start of this section is Little Stoney Creek itself. There are plenty of spots that will make you stop and admire the pour overs, cascades, and pools. There are also some large boulders in the section to add to the scenic creek.
At the 1.1 mile mark from the start of the hike, the lower trail crosses over Little Stoney Creek.
There is a junction here with the left trail connecting to the upper trail, but I continued on the lower trail.
The elevation gain picks up a little bit more during the next 0.85 miles to the falls at a grade about 8.2%. Most of incline is over stairs made from large rocks. Further up, Little Stoney Creek drops into a slot making. The trail continues over the slot over a wooden footbridge.
Immediate after that, a small runoff falls can be seen on the other side of the creek.
At about the 1.75 mile mark, there is another junction trail connecting the upper and lower trails. Again I continue forward on the lower trail.
The scene here give you a feel that you are in the nature’s cathedral with the such open space above the creek and the overarching trees seemingly forming the flying buttresses.
And just as you round the a huge boulder at the end of the cathedral, you are hit with the surprising sight and sounds of the 66 foot Cascade Falls serving as the crucifix.
There are plenty of areas to explore around Cascade Falls and the large pond at the bottom of the falls.
On a hot day, it’s common to see swimmer jump in for a cool down. However, care is needed here as the rocks are very slippery and there are undercuts in the pool.
People have died here, which is why you see the warning signs at the beginning of the hike now.
Continuing onto the stairs here to the right, there is another overview of the falls and down river.
It is possible to climb (literally) up above the falls, but there is a quiet dangerous move above exposure. A sign is present here from time to time warning of the dangers and past death here, but it seems to have been destroying this time around.
I’ve done it once in the past and don’t plan to again in the future.
I headed up the other side of the stairs to continue on my hike to the Upper Cascades and Barneys Wall. At the top of the stairs is a junction to head back to the parking lot via the upper trail to the left and the way toward Upper Cascades and Barneys Wall to the right on the Conservancy trail.
The next 0.4 miles is on a wide disused fire trail at an incline of 7.3% without much of a view except for the forest.
After a muddy patch, there is an unmarked wide disused fire trail branching down to the right. This leads back to the Little Stoney Creek.
Once at the creek, there is a trail through the woods to take you to the Upper Cascade Falls and below it.
To continue to Barneys Wall, I returned back to the junction and the junction for Barneys Wall branches off the original fire road to the left as indicated by a sign.
The initial 2/3 mile uphill to get on the ridge of Butt Mountain is the steepest of the hike at 15.3%. There are plenty of loose fist sized rocks, dirt, and downed trees to make it more difficult. The peak foliage here made it a much more enjoyable hike on this day.
There is one last water source here in the form of a stream crossing the trail surrounded by evergreens.
Once you are on the ridge, the elevation gain mellows out for the next half mile at about a 5.1% grade. Again, the foliage stole the show here on this day. It was the perfect fall scene with the yellow leaves drifting down to the wind gusts. Otherwise, it would have been just another typical walk in the woods.
At the junction for Barneys wall, turn left to head downhill for about 1/3 of a mile. There is a fire ring and campsite here.
Look to your right when you see the fire ring and there is a small trail that leads to the outcrop of Barneys Wall.
The view here from Barneys Wall is down the Little Stoney Creek drainage that you walked up to reach the cascades. The colors were on full display for me on this day.
To return to the trailhead, I retraced my steps until the junction with the Upper Cascade Trail and took it down.
The trail itself is pretty interesting as you pass a huge boulder with an underhang.
Other than that, you are treat with open views of the forest, which was particularly enjoyable with the peak foliage.
- views: 3. The high point of the hike is the 66 foot waterfall, I find the entire trail next to Little Stony Creek is an important aspect that makes the hike great. The way the creek winds through the valley creates many open looks with the forest providing an arching tunnel. Barneys Wall and the Upper Cascades by themselves would be a 2 as they are good view points though the trail to get to them may just be in a tunnel of trees, but they can provide additional solitude to juxtapose against the typically busy Cascades trails.
- Cascades Trail and Barneys Wall: 2. The whole hike is greater than 2000 ft with several blowdowns and muddy areas once you leave The Cascade trails. The trail is also less groomed with loose rocks and dirt.
- Cascades Trail only: 1. The Cascade sections are pretty mild with plenty of trail work on areas with steeper incline.
- technical: 1. The trail is well marked with sign posts and there is no technical sections. However, do note that the rocks on the lower trail are typically slippery even during a dry day, so care is needed.