James River Water Levels

Westham Gauge
Gauge Height: 11.34'
Flow: 37300 cfps

Trail Conditions: Richmond

  • All trails open and in good shape except Poop Loop. Poop Loop is still very wet and could use another day to dry out.

Todays Tides: Richmond Locks

High Tide: 7:06am
Low Tide: 2:24pm

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Summer roadtrip series: The Cascades

Andy Thompson

June 2, 2014 1:19pm
One of many small falls/pools on the way up to the Cascades. Good looking trout hole, no?

One of many small falls/pools on the way up to the Cascades. Good looking trout hole, no?

Sure, we outdoors lovers have it good here in the RVA, with our parks and trails and river (and more). But that doesn’t mean the wanderlust doesn’t strike us every now and again. Sometimes you just want to light out for the mountains or the beach or a lake or river somewhere and get a change of scenery.

It’s with that spirit that I bring you this report from a recent RichmondOutside.com roadtrip (If you follow us on Instagram, you might have seen some of these pictures and others). And I intend this to be an every-now-and-again series.

For the past year, I’ve been traveling Virginia in search of its best waterfalls. I’m doing this for a guidebook I’m writing, and it occurred to me, as I explored one beautiful corner of the state after another, that many of these hikes to waterfalls and swimming holes are absolutely perfect for summer road trips.

So, here it is, entry # 1 in the RichmondOutside.com Summer Roadtrip series. Where are we going? It’s 15 miles north of Blacksburg. One mountain over from where they filmed Dirty Dancing. A place every Virginia Tech grad has probably been to multiple times….A place called the Cascades.

Getting there: Take US 460 West from Blacksburg and drive 15 miles to the town of Pembroke. Turn right on CR 623 (you can’t miss the signs) and follow it 3.5 miles to the large parking area.

Hike specs: Distance: 4 miles roundtrip; surface: rocky singletrack; land status: Jefferson National Forest.

One of a couple of bridges along the hike.

One of a couple of bridges along the hike.

It’s no hyperbole to call this one of the iconic outdoor destinations in Virginia, and yet many Piedmont/Coastal Plain peeps I know have never heard of it. The Cascades hike has it all: A gorgeous stream (the Little Stony) that crashes over huge boulders through a narrow mountain valley; a well-maintained, but challenging trail; no possible way of getting lost; a blow-you-away, mostly-sheer falls that plunges 65 feet into a giant swimming hole. It’s just crazy beautiful.

I went over Memorial Day Weekend, so there were a ton of people hiking along with me, but this hike would have been worth it if there were twice as many people. Crabtree might be the most well-known falls in Virginia, and the highest in the East, but the Cascades is the total hike/falls/swimming hole package. For my money — and I’ve seen a lot — this is my favorite waterfall in the state.

The forest service has done an amazing job keeping this well-used trail sustainable. They’ve built hundreds of stone steps from the boulders in the area to keep the trail from meandering into the surrounding forest. But the hike is by no means easy. You’ll work to get the payoff. But check out the payoff…

The Cascades, a Jefferson National Forest gem north of Blackburg.

The Cascades, a Jefferson National Forest gem north of Blacksburg.




About Andy Thompson

I was the Outdoors Columnist at the Times-Dispatch from 2007 to 2013, writing twice a week about mountain biking, fishing, hunting, paddling and much more. I live a 1/4 mile from the James River, close enough to see bald eagles soaring over my house on their way to find a meal. Pretty cool, eh?