February 2, 2012
What a wonderful winter walk. This short (4 miles round trip) trail runs right along the banks of crystal clear Little Stony Creek, pouring through mossy boulders, shooting through rocky chutes and plummeting over beautiful 69 foot Cascade Falls.
I can see why some 150,000 people visit the trail every year, though I only saw 4 of them on my February day hike. While the trees were leafless during my winter visit, I can imagine the place crawling with people in the summer splashing around in the many cool and shady pools.
The trail runs through an oak forest and is lined with several rhododendron thickets, which must make spectacular sights during autumn color and during spring blossom. The trail is very well constructed and integrated into the landscape.
Photographically, the trail can easily fill half a day or more. Little Stony Creek is very accessible along most of the trail and offers many little watery compositions with mossy rocks, bubbly pools and tumbling rapids. Several sections of the trail itself make good photographic subject matter, with its wooden bridges and stone walls. Then, at Cascade Falls, wooden stairs, platforms and shallow pools can be waded for a variety of angles.
I managed to hike into and photograph the falls just before the cloudy skies burned off. This allowed me to shoot the falls under soft overcast light, providing long water-blurring shutter speeds on the order of a second or more.
On the way back to the trail head, I was under mostly clear skies, though much of the creek was shaded by nearby ridges and occasional passing clouds. This let me shoot some landscapes under a variety of lighting conditions. I was also able to make some shots of green mossy boulders standing above creek waters reflecting the blue sky for an interesting collision of rich colors.
The lack of winter foliage was a mixed blessing. While on one hand the scenery includes a lot of bare branches, on the other hand I was able to create some compositions using the falls as a key background element of a broader landscape without leaves getting in the way.
Every image on this trip was shot through a polarizing filter to remove glare from rocks, water, moss, bark and foliage, thus revealing their rich natural colors.
Basic visitor information:
- Cascade Falls is located within Jefferson National Forest and Virginia’s Giles County.
- There is a $3 entry fee per vehicle.
- Drinking water and restrooms are available at the trail head.
- More information is available by calling 540-552-4641.
- Directions: Drive US 460 north and west out of Blacksburg, Virginia. At about 20 miles, arrive in the town of Pembroke and turn onto Cascade Drive (SR 623). Drive 3.3 miles to the park entrance and trail head.