Hike to a great Blue Ridge Parkway waterfall to learn about trees and explore historic cabins.
Park in The Cascades Overlook at Milepost 271.9, nine miles north of US 421 at Deep Gap, five miles east of Boone. To start at Tompkins Knob, park at the Tompkins Knob Parking Area, Milepost 272.5, about 8.4 miles north of Deep Gap and US 421.
The easy, 1-mile loop of the Cascades Trail explores the forest that perches on the edge of the Blue Ridge. The path wanders the crest above the Piedmont to Falls Creek just as a water shoots over the cliff. Along the trail, twenty interpretive plaques describe the trees of the Blue Ridge. The main species are all here.
The Cascades Trail starts on a paved trail beside a restroom (open May through October). The paved path becomes gravel; go right at the start of the loop with good winter views of the valley below. There are a few benches on the way and plaques about dogwood, tulip tree, pignut, black locust, serviceberry, mountain laurel, white oak, flame azalea, minnie bush, highbush blueberry, and chestnut oak.
Descend and cross a bridge over Falls Creek. At the junction, go right down the steeper steps to two great overlooks on the cascade. People have died here-do not climb on the falls or sit/stand atop the stone walls. Please watch kids carefully. Coming back, go right at the junction to follow the scenic stream. When you climb back up and reach the trail you started on, turn right back to your car.
The center island and other end of The Cascades parking area contain many picnic tables. A path leaves that end of the lot and goes to the next overlook south, Tompkins Knob, another great destination or starting point.
From Tompkins Knob Parking Area, take the dirt path into the woods to Jesse Brown's cabin-a late-nineteenth-century residence. Peer inside at the impressive fireplace. Downhill by the woods, a spring trickling out of the ground flows through a sagging springhouse. Head down the short distance to examine this interesting structure. See how the 40-some degree water is funneled through the springhouse to nicely chill food stored inside the once weatherized hut.
Farther up the grassy hill is a "Baptist church"-a shelter used when circuit-riding preachers were available. Head left at the sign into the woods past a bench and from here all the way to the Cascades Trail parking and picnic area, it's an easy walk under white pines. This section of trail is about a half-mile, so you could hike to the cabins from the Cascades for a 1.2 mile hike. From the Tompkins Knob Parking Area, the hike to and from the Cascades waterfall is an easy 2.4-miler round-trip.
(For more detail on this or other Boone area trails, pick up a trail guide by local outdoor expert Randy Johnson.)
Zoom in close on the map below (use the plus/minus signs and directional arrows at upper left), or repeatedly double click near, but not on, the map symbols. You can literally dive down to see the parking lots and landmarks for The Cascades hike. Click any map symbol and information balloons pop up. In the trailhead parking map balloon, click "Directions," add your address or location, and step-by-step directions will guide you to the hike from wherever you are!