Blue Ridge Parkway | SUNSET FIELD / APPLE ORCHARD FALLS (MP 78.4)

Packed parking lot at Sunset Field on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Packed parking lot at Sunset Field on the Blue Ridge Parkway

View: ♦ / 5
Trails: Appalachian Trail, Apple Orchard Falls Trail
Picnic Tables: None

The view at Sunset Field on the Blue Ridge Parkway is almost completely obscured by tall trees, but the view is not what people stop here for. Sunset Field’s main purpose is to serve as parking for the Apple Orchard Falls Trail, a popular out-and-back trail to a waterfall. You can also access the Appalachian Trail from here. It crosses the Apple Orchard Falls Trail .2 mile from Sunset Field. This parking lot will be packed with hikers on a nice day during the tourist season.

All that remains of the view at Sunset Field on the Blue Ridge Parkway

All that remains of the view at Sunset Field on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Apple Orchard Falls Trail

Length: 2.6 miles round trip
Time: 2 hours
Difficulty: Strenuous

To start the hike to Apple Orchard Falls, take the paved path that runs across Sunset Field and disappears down the hill in front of you. The path curves around to the right and, no longer paved, passes a trail bulletin board. According to the directional sign at Sunset Field, the Appalachian Trail is 1,000 feet away (around .2 miles). In precisely this distance is a four way intersection. Left or right puts you on the AT, so stay straight to hike to Apple Orchard Falls. This intersection, and all others on the trail, is clearly marked with a directional sign.

Intersections on the Blue Ridge Parkway's Apple Orchard Falls Trail are well marked with directional signs

Intersections on the Blue Ridge Parkway’s Apple Orchard Falls Trail are well marked with directional signs

Apple Orchard Falls Trail is pretty much straight down all the way to the falls. However, it descends via a series of switchbacks, so while it’s still steep, it’s not like you are going directly from Point A to Point B down the side of a mountain. The trail is also strewn with small rocks, so be careful because such terrain is easy to twist an ankle on. This is an out-and-back trail, so you will see everything again on your way back up.

Typical terrain of the Apple Orchard Falls Trail at Sunset Field on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Typical terrain of the Apple Orchard Falls Trail at Sunset Field on the Blue Ridge Parkway

At the .75-mile mark is another intersection, again one that is clearly marked. Stay straight to get to the falls a half mile ahead. You will soon hear the pleasant sound of rushing water as you begin to make your way along a creek. At the 1-mile point is a flight of stairs that leads to a bridge that crosses the creek. Water cascades down the rocks, but this is not Apple Orchard Falls. It is, however, a precursor to the falls. If you get here and the water is barely trickling down the rocks, that’s about how it’s going to be at the waterfall. It may not even be worth going farther if the flow is minimal, unless you are out of exercise—this trail will certainly provide that for you.

Cascades at the first creek crossing on the Apple Orchard Falls Trail at Sunset Field on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Cascades at the first creek crossing on the Apple Orchard Falls Trail at Sunset Field on the Blue Ridge Parkway

When you leave the cascades you will begin hiking back into the woods, away from the creek. It had me wondering if I had missed a turn, or perhaps the cascade I had just passed was Apple Orchard Falls and I was now hiking to who-knows-where. Don’t worry. You are still on the trail, and you have not passed the falls. From these cascades you have another .3 miles to go.

The view of Apple Orchard Falls is from the base, which means you have a very steep descent ahead of you. This is conquered by an extensive series of staircases (162 steps) that cut through a grove of rhododendrons. If you hike the trail in June or July when the flowers are blooming, the site would be something special. I, however, hiked the trail in the early fall, even before the leaves were changing color, so I had nothing to take my mind off of the stairs.

Roughly 160 stairs lead down to the base of Apple Orchard Falls at Sunset Field on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Roughly 160 stairs lead down to the base of Apple Orchard Falls at Sunset Field on the Blue Ridge Parkway

At the bottom is a boardwalk that takes hikers over the creek for a view of the Apple Orchard Falls. Benches are located along the boardwalk, providing rest for the weary.

Boardwalk at the base of Apple Orchard Falls at Sunset Field on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Boardwalk at the base of Apple Orchard Falls at Sunset Field on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Apple Orchard Falls, unfortunately, was nothing special when I visited. In fact, I pretty much felt like I had wasted my time…and the thought of a 1.3-mile uphill climb began to weigh heavily on my mind. But as I said, all depends on the flow of water, so the falls might be spectacular when you visit.

Apple Orchard Falls at Sunset Field on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Apple Orchard Falls at Sunset Field on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Cascades at Apple Orchard Falls at Sunset Field on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Cascades at Apple Orchard Falls at Sunset Field on the Blue Ridge Parkway

There is one point of confusion on the walk back up that is not present when coming down. When you are walking up the stairs and you think you have finished with them, you’ll come to one last set of fourteen. Shortly after that is a giant boulder, and it clearly looks as if the trail cuts around it to the right. However, it actually takes a very sharp left. If you are daydreaming, you will end up going right and will soon find yourself on a trail that doesn’t look too familiar (yes, I did this). Other than that, it’s a straightforward hike back to the car.

On the way back up the Blue Ridge Parkway's Apple Orchard Falls Trail, turn left at the boulder

On the way back up the Blue Ridge Parkway’s Apple Orchard Falls Trail, turn left at the boulder

The Apple Orchard Falls Trail is definitely a strenuous hike, though the inclines and declines are of a moderate grade due to the switchbacks. However, the simple fact that you have a constant 1.3-mile uphill climb pushes the trail into the strenuous territory. It took me a little over two hours to complete the hike, but most people pass me by when hiking, so figure anywhere from 1.5 to 2 hours for the round trip for most people. Unless the water is flowing super fast, you probably won’t spend much time at the waterfall. Overall, I would not recommend this trail unless fall foliage is in full swing or the rhododendrons are blooming, and then only if the water is flowing at a heavy pace, which, unfortunately, you won’t know until you get there.


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Last updated on December 14, 2023
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