Adventure Us: Stiles Falls at Alta Mons
Start out from Roanoke in any direction, and you’ll find some new adventure. Heading southwest on Route 11 and into the country at Shawsville, you’ll find a lovely waterfall and wildlife hike on the property of Alta Mons Retreat Center.
Alta Mons is a Methodist camp and retreat center that encompasses 850 acres of woods and mountains, including the beautiful Stiles Falls trail. From dawn to dusk, this trail is open to the general public for free. Setting out from the visitor parking area, follow the gravel road past the gate, then past the various cabins and retreat buildings, following the signs for Stiles Falls.
This 3.2 mile hike is full of adventure and interest, especially for families with active kids. The trail follows Purgatory Creek upstream – a picturesque creek that cascades over massive boulders and flows surprisingly strongly in places. The trail criss-crosses the creek at least three times with no bridges, making for extra adventures and possibly wet feet (although there are plenty of rocks and logs to help). Though well marked and not terribly steep, the path does navigate some rough and rocky terrain on its way up the mountain to the main destination – 40 foot Stiles Falls. While the falls may not set any height records, it is a striking and beautiful setting. You have to scramble across rushing water and up some massive boulders to get the best view of the falls. Through a gap in the rock, the water tumbles down into a small pool, from which it rushes out in many paths through cracks in the boulders. The sunlight sparkles on the mist, and the falling water provides a refreshing breeze.
In the lush forest along the trail, you can find a profusion of native plants, wildflowers, and wildlife. Along with salamanders and millipedes, our kids’ favorite discovery was a young snake that (though suspiciously resembling a copperhead) we identified as a harmless banded water snake.
A few signs along the way point out interesting aspects of the history of the land. From the time of the American Indians, the waters here were reputed to possess healing qualities; during the 1890s, water from the springs were bottled and sold across the country. Resorts and hotels attracted city dwellers during the summer months. In the 1950s the property was bought by the Roanoke district of the United Methodist church and developed into a retreat and summer camp. Over the years, much has been done to preserve the land in its original mountain beauty.
Hikers should sign in at the visitor parking kiosk across from the office. Due to the pandemic, don’t enter the office unless absolutely necessary. The restrooms are open. Though the retreat facilities could use some TLC, there are several cabins you hike past that look like they provide wonderful opportunities for rest, nature enjoyment, and solitude. You’ll hike by a small pond well appointed with fish and frogs. There are a few weeks in summer during which the trail will not be open to the public, so check the Alta Mons website or Facebook page before planning your trip. We appreciate the generosity of the Roanoke district of the United Methodist Church for opening their beautiful property to be enjoyed by the public!
Name: Alta Mons Summer Camp and Retreat Center, Stiles Falls Hike, 2842 Crockett Springs Rd, Shawsville, VA 24162
Time from Roanoke: ~45 minutes
Activity Options: Hiking, waterfall, wading, wildlife, picnicking; cabins and camping available at the retreat center
Nearby Food: Options in Shawsville and Christiansburg
Nearby Attractions: Alta Mons Retreat Center; nearest shopping and parks are in Christiansburg
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