The Place: Pinnacle Natural Area Preserve in Russell County, Va.
The Hike: Big Cedar Falls Trail
No one said anything about a suspension bridge but there it was, stretching across the swiftly moving Big Cedar Creek.
I hate suspension bridges. There’s not much I fear, however “heights from an unstable surface” tops the list. Suspension bridges are the worst of the worst.
If the creek had been moving a little slower, I would have just forded it. Unfortunately, the recent rains and the 37° temperature reading from my car’s thermometer meant that wasn’t a option.
I climbed my way up the stairs to the bridge and watched it for a moment before starting a “two step” across. (When I saw two step, I mean I took two steps, stopped until the bridge finished swaying, then took two more steps.)
Across the creek and on solid ground, you first go down some stone stairs before the trail turns along the creek bank. It is quite clear and one can see most of the bottom the entire hike.
After a short time, the trail turns slightly away from the water’s edge. It’s an easy trail, quite wide with pea-sized gravel underneath fall’s fresh carpet of dead leaves. Signs nailed to the tree on one side proclaim that the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries stocks Big Cedar with trout and lays out the fishing license requirements. The other, uphill, side is trees, rock formations and doubtless where a couple of deer were hiding out as I tromped through.
As I continued down the trail, I saw something I had only heard about previously – Osage oranges. At least 20 of them were laying on the ground, some splattered like lime-green brains. I was unsure if they’re safe for humans to eat, so I didn’t try one. However, I felt like a bear may really enjoy the snack, so I kept on hiking.
Farther down, the trail splits. A map and a sign with the different colors of trail blazes keeps things organized. Going past the map, up Big Cedar Creek Trail, you end up at Big Falls and then the Clinch River. If you just go straight and don’t turn, you end up by a pit toilet building (currently closed), a shelter with picnic table and the Sykes Cemetery.
If you’re wanting to head to the waterfall, you keep following Big Cedar Creek Trail. You’ll pass a large boulder on either side of you, followed by a short flat area. It’s from there you get your first view of the falls.
Had the air temperature been warmer, I would have waded this creek in a heartbeat. Even as the water races over the falls, along the banks is calm enough for wading. There’s also what appeared to be a small island directly downstream that I would have loved to explore but didn’t.
The hike is much the same, in reverse, on the way out. Immediately after climbing back to the main trail from the falls, there’s a hill up. However it’s not bad at all.
Overall, this hike is worth the drive, especially if you’re looking for something peaceful and easy. I saw three other people the entire time I was there – one couple walking and a fisherman.