Graveyard Fields Hike
A unique loop trail winds through this high-elevation, flat valley. Two spurs lead to some of the most photographed and enjoyed waterfalls in the state! You'll pass through alpine-like meadows, stands of Mountain Laurel and Rhododendron, and young northern hardwood forests. Between the falls is a relaxing, lazy section of stream. This is a truly unique and highly recommended hike!
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Total Length: 3.2 mi
- Trail Tread Condition: Some Obstacles
- Climb: Hilly
- Lowest Elevation: 4960 ft
- Highest Elevation: 5320 ft
- Total Elevation Gain: 450 ft
- Trails Used: Graveyard Fields Loop
- Hike Configuration: Loop, out-and-back extension
- Starting point: Graveyard Fields Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 418
From Asheville, take the Blue Ridge Parkway South past Mount Pisgah. The Graveyard Fields overlook is at milepost 418; park here. The trail starts at the right side of the large map.
Note: The Graveyard Fields area trails underwent significant rerouting during the summer of 2005. Another major project is planned in the area, to include more parking, a trailhead restroom, and more trail improvements. No date has been communicated for construction, but expect closures when it happens.
This hike starts at one of the most popular overlooks along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Visit on a summer weekend, and you will likely find it overflowing - cars parked up and down the parkway and on every patch of grass big enough to fit four tires. There is good reason for this; if you can't visit on a less popular day, don't let the crowds deter you and squeeze into a spot anyway. This is a truly spectacular area, and you will never forget a hike here!
Begin the hike by descending the stairs on the right side of the parking area. The path below the stairs down to the stream is actually paved due the high volume of traffic it receives, and it travels through a dense rhododendron thicket. Their blooms will carpet the trail after a good wind storm in early June. At the end of the pavement, a nice new wooden staircase with a couple of viewing platforms has been built. It descends to a bridge.
This bridge spans an unbelievably scenic, iconic stretch of Yellowstone Creek. The crystal-clear water flows across solid bedrock, through various slots, potholes, pools, and cascades. The rock is colorful; bands and veins swirl through the smooth gray slabs. Enormous boulders sit in the middle of the stream bed. In fact, the bridge actually goes from one bank, to a big boulder, and then to the opposite bank. Just downstream, a side tributary spills out of a crack, over a small waterfall, and into a pool in the main stream.
Many people just stop right here and never make it into Graveyard Fields proper. I'd almost be willing to wager that this little area gets more rock hoppers than any other in the state! As for rock hopping, I've done this many a day here myself - cooling off and taking photos. Keep in mind that you're just above the brink of Second Falls here. It's level and not particularly dangerous, but still - be VERY careful if you decide to get wet. Do continue on the hike, though - there's plenty more to see!
Cross the bridge; the new trail (built in the spring and summer of 2005) heads uphill to the right and almost immediately splits. Unfortunately, it's already quite eroded. Bear right onto a spur trail to Second Falls. The trail crosses a tributary on a nice, new bridge in a thin forest of short Northern hardwood trees with grassy patches in between. You'll reach another intersection - this time with a spur that connects to the Mountains to Sea Trail. Again, bear right onto a new section of trail.
You'll soon descend to the base of the falls on dozens of steep, elaborate wooden steps. At the bottom is a viewing platform with some interpretive signs. You can also head out onto the boulders below the plunge pool at the base of the falls or perhaps take a dip in the deep, cold, crystal-clear pool itself. The combination of boulders to hang out on, the beautiful waterfall spilling into the pool and crystal-clear water, along with easy access from the parking area make it hard to imagine a more ideal swimming hole. Not surprisingly, this is probably one of the most popular swimming holes in the mountains as well, so come during the week if you don't want to wait in line.
If you decide not to spend the rest of the day here, return via the same steps and trail to the first intersection just past the main bridge to continue the hike. From here, the main trail makes a sharp right and starts uphill. This begins the loop.
Soon you'll get a great view in front of you of the flat valley you're heading into. You'll briefly re-join the original trail; then another new path angles right and enters the fields for which this area was named. It skirts the edge of the basin above the flat, wetland areas near the stream. The trail itself is still mainly level, but it's built along sloping land which (in theory) allows the water to drain across the trail, rather than pooling up and causing erosion. In practice, this trail receives so much use that it's badly eroded in places anyway. Small brooks and seeps drain across the trail. These are crossed by some long boardwalk structures.
Here in the fields, grasses, small trees, and heath shrubs - typically blueberries, rhododendron, and mountain laurel - cover the flats and the hillsides. The trail travels through vast areas of these blueberries, making for a feast when the berries ripen in late August. Above you looms Black Balsam Mountain and to the right, Graveyard Ridge. The trail is quite easy at this point except for a couple of places that are wet or climb over some very small hills.
If you have kids, count with them how many small brooks and tumbling tributaries you cross as you go. Notice how the trees - mostly oaks, maples, and a few scattered spruces - are having a hard time growing back in this area, but are making steady progress. In places near streams, the ground is covered in a thick mat of Galax. Look for the patches of large, round, shiny leaves just a few inches off the ground.
There are three main intersections you should look out for - all of which SHOULD be signed (if not vandalized).
The first is a spur on the left, which leads down to the stream, a campsite, and a popular spot for picnicking and wading. Turn right here.
Just a few feet past this intersection, you reach an intersection with the Graveyard Ridge Connector, leading away uphill to the right. Turn left here.
Finally, a bit further along near another popular campsite, the loop portion of the trail turns left. The spur to Upper Falls continues straight ahead. You'll return to this point later to complete the loop; for now, continue straight on to Upper Falls.
A short section of new trail re-joins the old trail again. From here to the falls, much work has been done in terms of installing drainage and rock steps. But one portion is beyond repair - it has been completely swallowed by a meandering side stream. Unfortunately, getting around this section without getting completely soaked and muddy was tricky last time I was here, but at least the path is obvious.
The trail ascends into some more fields and taller trees after crossing the aforementioned side stream. Near the falls, the trail goes right and shoots straight up between some bigger boulders. There is usually a sign here proclaiming the way to the upper falls. As you come out at the creek below the falls, it becomes a rock-hopping experience and you'll want to be very careful. You'll have to cross the creek to get a good view of the falls. On dry days, you can walk up the sloping rock towards the left side of the base of the falls if you're careful, but if it is wet, forget about it. Do not attempt to reach the top of the falls.
Return down the same path, but when you get back to the split for the loop, take a right to head back toward the parking lot. The trail goes thru a nice campsite and crosses the creek on a bridge. This bridge used to be a bouncy log prone to getting washed away during floods; however, a sturdy new bridge was built here in 2008. So sturdy, in fact, that it looks more like it should carry a county road rather than a trail. But this one should last decades, at least.
The trail will start climbing after you cross the creek. It's not too steep, but it goes through a couple of switchbacks, under a thicket of rhododendron and mountain laurel. There are some more attractive, grassy, high-elevation forests. The area is wet, and there are several more short boardwalks - and one long one - over marshy areas. Trickles and seeps are funneled across the trail in trenches.
All too soon, you'll reach another staircase, at the top of which is the ever-so-popular overlook and the location of your parked vehicle to finish the hike.
View more photos in this hike's gallery.
Here's an interactive GPS map of this hike. Yellow highlight indicates the route followed by this hike within the trail network. Only the trails and points of interest along the hike, and those in the immediate vicinity, are shown. For expanded maps, see this hike's Trailhead area.
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