Cascades Trail and recreation area in Pembroke, Virginia is a little over 20 miles northwest of Blacksburg. Drive on US 460W for 13 miles, take a right turn onto SR 623/Cascade Drive, and drive for four miles to the parking lot. Primary activities include hiking, fishing, and leashed dog walking but camping is not allowed. Parking costs $3/vehicle and is abundant. Although, we have been there when cars were overflowing into the street. Water, picnic tables, and really nice restrooms are provided. Cell phone service strength is moderate while in the park. The following Google Map shows estimated GPS coordinates for both the lower and upper trails. Zoom in and click the markers to see pictures of the two bridges and waterfall.
Hiking to the Cascades waterfall is over 2 miles so out and back is almost 5 miles. The trail starts at 2,200 feet and the waterfall is around 2,800 feet. The following is an elevation chart for the entire loop. It illustrates the 600 foot ascent to the waterfall.
There are two trails that lead to the waterfall: the lower trail and upper trail. Both trails share the initial tenth of mile, which is wide and smooth.
You can make a loop by hiking on the lower trail to the waterfall and returning on the upper trail. Take a right onto the first bridge to head up the lower trail.
The lower trail is very rocky in some areas and includes rock steps in others and, thus, it can be slow hiking. In addition, it hugs the shoreline of the Little Stony Creek. On a hot day, the creek provides cool, moist air that can take the edge of off heat and humidity.
Crossing the second bridge means you have reached the half way point to the waterfall.
We have hiked this twice, once when our daughter was three and again when she was four. When she was three she sat in a Kelty child carrier for most of the way because the rocks made it difficult for her. When she was four, we only needed to carry her on the last leg of trail because that is when it is the steepest.
The rocks near the creek can be wet and slippery, especially after a rainfall. On both of our visits, the Little Stony Creek was thunderous; generating a peaceful white noise that blocked out sounds from other hikers.
After crossing the last bridge (seen in the following picture and not marked on the trail map), the last quarter mile to the waterfall is a steady ascent. The first fishermen we saw was on this last stretch. A sign near the trail states that fishermen must use single hook artificial lures, release all trout under nine inches, and take home six or less.
The base of the 66 foot waterfall includes a shoreline that can support lots of people relaxing and/or picnicking.
The next picture was taken on our second visit and after weeks of steady rain. The waterfall had a stronger flow and some of the trail near the base had been washed out.
The following video was recorded during our first visit and shows people walking in shallow water to the right of the waterfall. We saw a lady slip and take a pretty bad fall. Although she appeared uninjured, it was a reminder that rocks under water can be extremely slippery.
The next video was taken on our second visit and with a better camera.
In addition to the shoreline, there is a wooden platform that is eye level with the top of the waterfall and provides a nice view of the gorge.
The subsequent video was shot from the wooden platform on our first visit.
The upper trail is wide and smooth and, thus, can be hiked significantly faster than the lower trail.
The upper trail can be hiked in both directions to shorten a trip, be used for trail running, and/or to make it easier for kids.
A drawback of the upper trail is that it is father away from Little Stony Creek. As a result, it is less scenic and the temperature is considerably warmer. The segment shown below is one of only a few that includes a view of the creek.
The hike ends where it began, which is in a beautiful mature forest with ground cover plants and tall trees. Notably missing are mid-sized shrubs and trees which are likely absent as a result of intense foraging by deer. Forests with a greater diversity in structure support and are home to a more diverse set of wildlife. The lack of mid-sized plant species means that some species of birds (migratory or year-round residents), insects, and mammals are unable to find habitat.
In sum, the Cascades hiking trails and 66 foot waterfall make for a very enjoyable outdoor adventure. Hiking along the Little Stony Creek is fun because of its cool air, pleasant sounds, and meandering trail. Other similar trails in the area include: