It was the perfect spring day. Not too cold and slightly overcast with a chance of rain in the forecast of which never materialized. We were about to take in the Cascades Gorge Hike at The Omni Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia and from all that we had heard, it was a fabulous hike.
Allen Cleek of Allegheny Outfitters was the naturalist who hosted the three hour hike that covers approximately 2.8 miles. The hike is rated as intermediate with an elevation gain of only 700 feet. Beginning at 1700 feet, the hike ends at the Cascades Golf course at 2300 feet. Allen has worked in outdoor activities for 15 years and prefers the Gorge Hike to any of the other activities he has conducted. His knowledge of the gorge and the flora and fauna of the area is captivating and the hours flew by.
One of the most drastic changes to the area in the last 15 years is the loss of the Hemlock trees. This species is slowly being killed out by an invasive aphid which was brought into this country from Asia during the 1800’s. This die off has allowed other types of plants and trees to grow more prolifically in the gorge thus changing the dynamics of the environment.
Some wildlife habitat is present in the gorge. Evidence of beaver life was pointed out, though no dams or lodges currently exist on the waterway in the gorge. Some of the trees show scars where beavers had gnawed the bark around the base of trees to keep their teeth in check and some trees had not survived this. A black bear was spotted on a recent hike as a group was stopped viewing the stream and the bear scurried up a tree to a perfect den hollow in the top. We didn’t get that lucky.
Allen pointed out that mid-April through June is his favorite time of year in the gorge. The water flow is usually good due to the abundant natural run off from spring rains and the naturally occurring underground springs that feed into the gorge stream. Also, the wild flowers are prolific during this time as the earth comes back to life after a long cold winter. He pointed out plants such as black cohosh, blue cohosh, greenbriers, various species of ferns in their fiddlehead stage, and wild ginger. Spring flowers were magnificent such as the trillium grandiflorum (great white trillium), red trilliums, trout lilies, jack-in-the-pulpit, large flowered bellwort and bloodroots to name a few.
Plants and flowers are always wonderful but the highlight of this hike is the stream. For a waterfall lover, this Gorge Hike is Zanadu as it features 13 major falls and cascades along its stretch to the top of the gorge. These are viewed from different vantage points as numerous bridges cross the stream and falls along the upward grade. Only the final cascade is named – Bridal Veil – and all others are appropriately unnamed. All along the way, massive rock formations tower upward and Allen pointed out some perfect fossil formations in some of them along with some geology of the area.
The stream is also home to native trout and we met up with a fishing expedition trying their luck in luring out the fish from some of the deep holes in the stream. Allen also pointed out that the presence of snails on the rocks in the water is a good indicator of the health and purity of the waters flowing in the gorge stream – no chemical runoff or pollution. The snails also help to keep the waters clean and healthy for fish and wildlife.
Lisa and I give this hike an enthusiastic Thumbs Up and highly recommend it to anyone who loves waterfalls and wildflowers. The Cascades Gorge Hike is available to anyone and can be booked by calling Allegheny Outfitters at The Omni Homestead at 540-839-7760. Weather permitting, hikes are offered at 9:30 and 1:30 daily.
Published in Daytripper – May 2014