Cornelius Creek in mid-April runs fast . . . and cold.
With near-record rains on Friday evening, we set out for that hiking water wonderland, the Apple Orchard/Cornelius Creek loop. And even along FR 59 on the way in, the stream rushed by full of fast white flow.
At 200-foot Apple Orchard Falls, the volume was by far the highest we've ever seen it, with a great sheet of white and noise cascading down. The smaller falls above and below were substantial enough that one couple we crossed – likely walking down from the Blue Ridge Parkway – asked us as we stood in front of a 40-foot cascade if the falls further down was any prettier than this one.
All the way up the Apple Orchard Trail were new rock hops over temporary flows heading down the mountainside to build the flow of the major creeks; and along them the hellebore clusters were new and green and healthy. In fact, it was green-letter day for wildflowers, with enough variety and great specimens that The Day Hiker's pace slowed to the point that I could keep up all afternoon long!
Across the 1.6-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail to Black Rock Overlook, the star plant was Dutchman's breeches – to the extent that a couple headed the other direction stopped us to ask Gail what they were.
At Black Rock for lunch, we tried the outer rocks with the most-open views, but the wind was strong enough to chase us back behind the biggest rocks and the limited-view seats.
This loop done in this sequence provides one of the easiest after-lunch walks of any longish hike we do: The Appalachian Trail eases back down from the high point, skirting along the Cornelius Creek headwaters to get to the Cornelius Creek Trail, which, aside from one steep section, heads gently down beside the creek.
There was no doubt, on this day of waters flowing fast and everywhere, that the last crossing of Cornelius Creek was going to involve removing the shoes and rolling up the pant legs. And as streams in spring tend to be, the flow was not just swift but also cold; but all in all a perfect water complement to a hike full of the rush of spring.
Apple Orchard Trail to Appalachian Trail to Black Rock Overlook to Cornelius Creek Trail. 8.3 miles
How to get there: Exit 168 from I-81; Va 614 to FR 59 to the parking area.