Cascade Falls is one of the most popular and beautiful hikes in southwest Virginia. This is a common destination for college students attending Virginia Tech University nearby, and for good reason. The 4-mile round-trip hike takes you along the river side with spectacular views on the way to the nearly 70-foot waterfall. Given its popularity, get there early, because the parking lot is relatively small, and the parking attendants don't allow more cars than spots. It costs $3 to park, and flush toilets are located at the trailhead. This location can be enjoyed year round, with each season offering different views and highlights.
This hike is located in Jefferson National Forest, part of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest. The two national forests contain nearly 1.8 million acres, which is one of the largest blocs of public land on the East Coast, according to the official USDA website. The vast majority of these acres are located in Virginia.
There are two separate trails to the waterfalls; the lower and upper trail. After starting on the trail you will reach the first bridge, where you can cross to get to the lower trail. The trail follows the river bed, and the paved sections of the path are intermittent. The path provides ample opportunity to stop and enjoy the view along the river. Taking this trail during the winter also provides views of icicles hanging off tree branches and rocks near the rushing water, creating a serene view.
The lower path crosses back over the river at the second bridge, where you'll have the opportunity to continue along the lower path or join up with the upper path for the rest of the way to the waterfalls. If you choose to stick with the lower trail, you'll be rewarded with an excellent view of the river and waterfalls in the background as you near the area. The rhododendrons hanging along the river bank give a splash of green with their year-round leaves, providing a colorful background that creates a wonderful contrast to the ice-filled river during the winter season.
Once you reach the cascades, there are a number of viewpoints from which to take pictures. During the summer you can swim in the pool at the waterfall, although it stays pretty chilly. From the waterfally, find the stairs that lead you to the upper trail from the cascades to return along a different route. The upper trail gives a different perspective of the waterfalls and river while providing easier footing to walk along than the lower trail. The lack of foliage during the winter season also allows for the river to be seen more often along this trail.