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  • Writer's pictureDiocese of WNC

Crab Orchard Falls Trail Extension Makes Hiking in the High Country Easier

A green ribbon being cut by a group.
L-R - Jane Blackburn, VCCC board president; Brenda Lowman; Margaret Love, VCCC director; Charlie Brady, executive director of the Blue Ridge Conservancy; Wright Tilley, executive director of the Watauga Tourism Development Authority (the funder of the trail project).

VALLE CRUCIS, NC– June 2024: The Valle Crucis Conference Center (VCCC) is pleased to announce a new trail leading to Crab Orchard Falls at the Valle Crucis Conference Center.

The new trailhead is approximately 50 feet from the existing trailhead, and adds a quarter-mile to the distance between the VCCC main campus and Crab Orchard Falls. The new trail provides a gentler slope up the mountain, as well as more sustainable surfacing and more opportunities for native plants to flourish near the trail.

The old boardwalk to the falls has been replaced with beautiful stone steps. Hikers can choose an up-and-back path on the new trail, or use the old trail to return to the main campus, for a total loop of 1.3 miles and an elevation gain of 324 feet. While VCCC trails continue past the turnoff to the falls all the way up to the top of the VCCC campus at the Hermitages, the focus for this project was on the much-traveled portion leading to Crab Orchard Falls.

The Crab Orchard Falls trail project was the result of community impact studies and advocacy by local company Destination by Design, which led to approval and funding by the Watauga Tourism Development Authority. Design and implementation of the trail was a joint effort by Destination by Design and Greenville, SC-based Benchmark Trails, Inc. Work was completed over a 3-month period by a crew of 2-3 trail experts from Benchmark Trails.

VCCC executive director Margaret Love praised the initiative and resourcefulness of Destination by Design, as well as guidance by the Blue Ridge Conservancy. She continued: “This trail renovation is in perfect keeping with the mandate to preserve and protect the natural beauty entrusted to us, and we are proud to offer this renewed way of enjoying the gift of nature to everyone.”

Crab Orchard Falls was a local secret with little traffic until the Covid-19 pandemic, when the trail's popularity soared with tourists looking for an outdoor place of great beauty that was also accessible and safe. When the Falls was listed on the word spread rapidly, and the trail is now one of the most popular destinations in the High Country. This popularity – and the fact that the VCCC allows and encourages free access by the public on private land – was a major factor in funding decisions.

The VCCC is a ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina. It is a full-service conference and retreat center, located about a mile past the Mast Original Store on Hwy 194 S. The Conference Center is housed in the historic Mission School, featuring buildings dating from the late 19th Century and early 20th Century, many of which are on the National Historic Register. The VCCC is open year-round to accommodate groups of 5 to 150. Meeting and event space and (delicious) food service are also offered.

Deana and Terry Coleman, guest services manager and property manager.

Know Before You Go: Both trailheads to Crab Orchard Falls are located behind Johnson Hall (263 Skiles Way, Banner Elk, NC 28604). Turn left into the upper parking lot at Holy Cross Church. Walk just past Johnson Hall and up the gravel path. The old trail starts to the left and the new trail is to the right, a short way into the tree line. The path can be muddy and slippery after rain or snow. There is a portable bathroom located at the beginning of the trial; no other public toilets are available. The VCCC is a non-profit that relies on donations to make improvements like these possible; please consider contributing a little or a lot using the QR code at the trail sign. Visit for more information.


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