The Slow Gentle Climb
As the trail parallels the creek, hikers are totally immersed in the lush beauty of the mountain stream as it cascades past them down a 742 foot change in elevation. Along the trek to the top of the creek, hikers may take in the splendor of several beautiful waterfalls which give way to large deep trout filled pools. Most of the trail is cloaked by mature deciduous trees which filter out all but dappled sunlight, creating a lush damp understory environment all along the gradual incline. With a constant layer of fresh leaf litter for protection, numerous small plants, mosses, lichens and ferns take refuge along the stony edges of the paths. The well worn rocks are often covered in moss and offer the perfect background for amazing photography. Hikers are encouraged to consider hiking shoes with adequate tread as many areas of the trail remain damp and slippery year round.
Little Stony Creek in the Cascades Conservation Area, cropped and enlarged, Image source:
Goodyera pubescens, "Downy Rattlesnake Plantain" tucked safely in the rock crevices
Rubus odoratus, "Purple Flowering Raspberry" in a sunny patch
Lilian superbum, "Turk Cap Lily" just off the trail
Built in the 1960's, the stone staircases throughout the park are well worn and moss covered
Small cascading waterfalls are found all along the trail
Nearing the summit, the ledges become quite steep with rivulets of water streaming over them
Reaching the Summit
hikers complete the climb to the summit, they will find an amazing 66 foot tall waterfall which cascades down from the water source above, offering a refreshing place for a swim or a quick dip in a large pool of water. The summit is a favorite spring and summer hike for students at both Virginia Tech and Radford University.
The Cascades Day Use Area and Hiking Trail
The is a remote tract of land within the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest just outside of Blacksburg, Virginia. The area itself is a designated hiking trail, carved out along a narrow gorge paralleling Stony Creek. The trail begins at the Cascades Conservation Area Parking Lot which requires a modest fee of $3.00. Hikers can then enjoy the day hiking along a 2 mile well trodden stony path up the side of the mountain.
Beyond the Summit--The Trail Extension to Barney's Wall
Once you have arrived at the summit of the Cascades, you may continue climbing a short distance to a large "Falls Observation Deck" where you can peer down at the 66 foor waterfall below. If you bypass the deck and continue for roughly 200 yards along the trail, you will reach a trail sign directing you along a fire road to find the Conservancy Trail. Hikers will notice a dramatic shift in the trail's plant life rare grove of highland Hemlocks. Majestic weeping boughs covered in tiny clusters of cones make this species markedly different in appearance than most other coniferous trees. With the recent threat of the pest Adelges tsugae, "Hemlock Woolly adelgid, the populations of Eastern Hemlocks are significantly declining. As hikers reach the top, the view from the edge of the 700 foot mountain cliff is exquisite as it provides a panoramic view of the New River gazing back towards Blacksburg. The total hike from the Cascades Parking Lot is an 8.4 mile "up and back" hike.
Virginia Tech students enjoying a "rite of passage"--a dip in the large pool at the base of the waterfall
Rhododendron maximum, ,
Spring Along the Trail
In the spring, hikers are treated to a vast assortment of flowers as well as dense thickets of Rhododendron and Mountain Laurel. The flowering shrubs produce heavy clusters of blooms which help to dampen the ambient sounds, giving the trail an exquisitely surreal feeling.
All along the edges of the trail, hikers can peer into the mossy woodland understory
Tsuga canadensis, "Eastern Hemlock"
Click here for a link to Hikingupward.com which provides printable topographical maps of both trails as well as Garmin MapSource Files