Hiking Trail Review
for
Graveyard Ridge Trail
in
Graveyard Fields
in the
Pisgah Ranger District

You're going to love this trail.  It is a rugged jaunt through areas that look like Canada and Greece.  There are also great views from the trail.


A view of the trail

photo by Bret James Stewart


The Graveyard Fields Trail system is accessed from the Graveyard Fields Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  The overlook is the beginning point and the directional referent for driving.

Directions:

From N.C. Highway 215 at the intersection with the Blue Ridge Parkway:  Travel north on the parkway (turning left onto the parkway if you came off of 215) 4.4 miles.  The Graveyard Fields Overlook will be on your left.  It is a large parking area.

From N.C. Highway 276 at the intersection with the Blue Ridge Parkway:  Travel south on the parkway (turning left if you came off 276) 6.9 miles.  The Graveyard Fields Overlook will be on your right.  It is a large parking area.

Blaze Markings:  orange

Length:  approximately 3.4 miles; exactly 18,022’; note that the trail is not directly accessible, requiring 966’ of the Second (Lower) Falls Trail, 1017’ of the Mountains-to-Sea access Trail and 2532’ of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail to access.  Thus, the total distance is approximately 4.3 miles or exactly 22.537’ one way.  There and back distance is 8.6 miles or 45,074’.

Difficulty:  difficult; due to elevation change and long distance.


Graveyard Fields is an exceptionally popular area for hikers and campers.  It is an upland heath with a gorgeous watercourse and two notable waterfalls.  The area was covered with trees early in the previous century, but a fire devastated them, leaving blackened trunks resembling tombstones—hence the name.  The entire valley reminds me of the Rockies.  I assume others have felt the same way as the watercourse is named Yellowstone Prong.  Prong is an unusual term for the area, reminiscent of the West.  Graveyard Fields is a treat, and you should plan to spend some time here.

There are four trails in Graveyard Fields:

·         Upper Falls Trail

·         Second Falls a.k.a. Lower Falls Trail

·         Graveyard Ridge Trail

·         Graveyard Ridge Connector Trail

 

Caution:

Unfortunately, the trails are very confusing.  There’s no danger of getting lost as the parkway overlook that is the parking area is visible nearly the entire time, and the trails out of sight of the parking lot are clearly marked.   However, there are a number of problems.  The Trails Illustrated Pisgah Ranger District map (1996) does not match the on-site kiosk and neither matches the wooden signs along the trail.  The latter have incorrect distances on them, sometimes.  Also trails are marked as to the feature at the end rather than the trail you are actually hiking, which makes it seem you are on a different trail.  But that’s not all…

The Mountains-to-Sea Trail goes through the area and overlaps with other trails, bringing new and different places into the confusion.  Further, some trails have no sign. Trails Illustrated mislabels part of Graveyard Ridge Trail as Ivestor Gap via using the wrong colour in its colour coding.  Contributing to the confusion are a number of unofficial trails that are heavily travelled and are sometimes difficult to distinguish from the official trail.  But that’s not all…

The trail designations and labeling are such a garble that Trails Illustrated, at times, couldn’t figure out which trail was which and where they ended or overlapped—a failing for which I cannot blame them at all—and their response was to throw up their hands and leave the distances “dashed out” on their map so that you don’t know how long the trail is supposed to be.  The same waterfall is referred to as “Lower Falls” by Trails Illustrated and “Second Falls” by the kiosk.  But that’s not all…

View the kiosk photo in conjunction with the following issues:

To further compound the problem:

  • Notice the kiosk refers to the three trails combined as “Graveyard Fields Trail”, but there is no official trail by this name
  • Notice there are two ways to access the non-loop portion of the Upper Falls Trail—Trails Illustrated only acknowledges one because there was only one when the map was made
  • Yellowstone Prong is listed with a distance but is not designated on the map so you don’t know where it is
  • Graveyard Ridge Connector Trail is not listed at all—I think they are trying to maintain a quasi-loop with the trails they selected and the connector does not contribute to “loopiness”
  • I am not sure what they are measuring for the distances corresponding with Upper Falls but the distances work out as follows:
  • The rightmost path includes .2 miles for the Yellowstone Prong section of the trail to Second Falls (see below) plus the 1.4 length of the Upper Falls Trail from this direction for a total of 1.6 miles, which matches the kiosk length—the kiosk map makes the trail appear to be 1.4 miles
  • The leftmost path includes a .5 length from the parking lot to the Y-junction including the non-loop portion of the trail (NOT .6 as on the kiosk) plus a 1 mile portion of the non-loop portion for a total length of 1.5 miles, which does not quite match; still, this is very close to the kiosk distance.
  • Thus, only one way equals 1.6 miles, not both as the kiosk indicates


Catch your breath!

As I mentioned above, there is little chance of getting lost on a trail, you just won’t be able to identify which trail you’re on.  Also, I have the solution.  I am using the kiosk designation for Second Falls as I by default assume the on-site information provided by the Park Service trumps a secondary product.  For the distances on the trails to match the kiosk, Yellowstone Prong must be a portion of the Second Falls Trail, the portion from the parking lot to the junction with Upper Falls Trail.  This distance is .18, which is close to the proffered distance of .2—the Forest Service rounded up, I say—and makes all the other distances work.  Also note that the distance to Second Falls is from the parking lot; it does not begin at the end of Yellowstone Prong Trail.  As it is just on the kiosk, it appears that it is .5 miles to Second Falls rather than the actual .3 miles it is.  Note that Yellowstone Prong Trail is not an official trail either on the Trails Illustrated map or on this website. 

Whew!  I apologize for the tedium, but the issue of errors needed to be addressed before I can provide accurate trail information.  As the new walkways evidence, the Park Service is working on Graveyard Fields, and I hope they rectify these issues in the process.


Sun on the trail

photo by A. Scott Lavender


 

Graveyard Ridge is a great long-distance trail.  It is not directly accessible from either end.  The shortest distance to the trail is from Graveyard Fields Overlook, using part of the Second (Lower) Falls Trail, and the Mountains-to-Sea Access Trail to the Mountains-to-Sea Trail and finally to the Graveyard Ridge Trail.  On the other end, one could hike the Ivestor Gap Trail from the Black Balsam Parking Area to the other end of the Graveyard Ridge Trail where they meet at an informational kiosk about the Shining Rock Wilderness.  This latter access is longer than the first, so I am considering the Graveyard Fields access to be the primary access, and measure from thence.

The Graveyard Ridge Trail follows an old roadbed for most of its length.  There are nice views all along its length—Graveyard Fields at first, then parts of the Shining Rock Wilderness.  Berries—blue, rasp, black, and buck—are common, and there are fruit trees to be found here and there.  There are a number of wildflowers to be seen, especially bluets and daisies.  This is a tough trail, much of it is rocky and there are lots of wet areas, but the scenery is worth it. 

 

 

The Second Falls/Yellowstone Prong portion of the trail:

This trail has a paved path and wooden stairs and bridge across Yellowstone Prong (the waterway) and the first .18 miles of the trail overlaps with the Yellowstone Prong Trail mentioned on the kiosk.

At 168’, notice the cool tree formation.

At 550’, there is a small stream.

At 660’, the wooden steps and walkway begins.  This ends at 827’ and crosses the river en route.

At 743’, a side trail leads to a stream paralleling the Second Falls Trail.

At 797’, there is the junction with the Upper Falls Trail.  Continue straight toward the wooden walkway.

At 842’, a wooden bridge crosses the aforementioned stream, continuing until 874’.  There are some nice birches here, calling to mind a Canadian climate.

At 966’, there is a junction with the Mountains-to-Sea Trail access to the left.  Take it.

 

The Mountains-to-Sea Access Trail portion:

At 131’, an unofficial trail leads to the Second Falls Trail.

From 300’ to about 400’, there is a nice ivy bush (Kalmia latifolia) and laurel (Rhododendron maximum) thicket.

At 364’, a large rock to the left has an interesting lichen pattern.

At 494’, the trail opens up to the right.  You can see the Blue Ridge Parkway from here.

Around 545’, there are a couple of gleaming white rocks reminiscent of the nearby, relatively speaking, Shining Rock.

At 745’, an unofficial trail to the right leads to a springhead and beyond to the campsite at 840’.

At 840’, there is a nice campsite to the right.  There are several more of the white rocks around the campsite.

At 1017’, the trail ends at a junction with the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.  Turn left onto the MTS Trail.  Note the directional sign is inaccurate as to distances.


The squid tree

photo by Bret James Stewart


The Mountains-to-Sea portion:

This bit of the trail winds through open meadow areas and groves.  There are some noticeably large trees; my favourite of these is a large fir tree about halfway through that is shaped like a giant squid.  The trunk is the trunk or body of the squid and its large roots spreading out all around it look like tentacles.  This alone is worth the trip.

At 2532’, there is a junction with the Graveyard Ridge Trail to the left.

 

 

The Graveyard Ridge Trail:

I began measuring at the centre of the junction with the MTS Trail.

From 1270’ to 1308’, there are rock stepping stones over a boggy area.  This is a common occurrence on the trail.

At 1321’, there is a junction with the Graveyard Ridge Connector Trail.  Graveyard Ridge is not marked at this junction.  The other end of the Connector Trail is Upper Falls Trail.  Go straight.

At 1702’, three springheads with a nice body of water is to be found.  Someone has placed nice rock stepping stones that go on until 1773’.

At 2038’, a spring tinkles merrily out of the bank to the right.   The trail is covered in water, perhaps conditionally, until 2099’.

At 2158’, a spur trail to the left leads to a rock overlooking Graveyard Fields.  There is water coming out of a rock to the right.  Moss and bluets, in season, grace this area.  Several springheads keep the area wet between here and 2390’.

At 2532’, an exposed rock to the right has water coming out of it.  There is water on the trail until 2627’.

At 2709’, is a delightful sight.  A cascade above and below the trail (the trail goes over it) makes for an interesting stream crossing.  The trail is wet as water flows down the path on the other side of the cascade.   This water tapers out around 2754’.


Dead tree along the trail.  Sights like this are common here.

photo by A. Scott Lavender


At 2837’, a marshy area begins, ending around 3000’.

At 3393’, a wet area begins and goes to 3423’.

At 3467’, another wet area begins.  This one ends around 3725’.

From 4099’ to 4452’, is yet another wet area.  At 4341’, there is a small waterfall off the trail to the left.

At 4533’, a small stream crosses the trail having come from the bank on the right and up a short distance.  This is a lovely place, reminding me of Ireland, for some reason.

From 4811’ to 4929’ the trail is the course of a small rill flowing down the bank to the right.

At 5198’, a stream crosses the path.  This is a common occurrence on this trail.

At 5496’, a stream leaves the path, having travelled from 5849’.

At 6881’, there is an intersection with the MTS Trail.  This is the second time we’ve encountered this trail.

At 7937’, a large creek flows beneath the path.  The sound of a waterfall or cascade enlivens the immediate area.  The area just after the creek and for a long way afterward strikingly reminds me of Greece due to the rocky hillsides partially covered with grass and heath plants of various sorts.  The mixture of the odd, decaying sign of civilization being reclaimed by nature is reminiscent of Classical ruins.  Don’t expect to see Pan, though.  Actually, the wild scenic beauty, the rugged wilderness areas surrounding, and the haunting sound of flowing water imply you can.  I would not at all have been surprised to turn some obscure corner to find satyrs madly piping.

At 8247’, there is an official campsite to the left near a whitewater stream.  The stream begins at 8330’ and is 12-15’ wide here.  No dryads, though.


Cloud cover dapples the area

photo by A. Scott Lavender


At 9067’, another stream flows beneath the path.

At 9285’, a metal culvert is present with a stream beside it. 

At 9410’, there is a repeat of the scene.

From 9685’ to 9759’, there is another culvert with the stream from the previous two entries.

At 9896’, there is yet another culvert.  The trail is wet before and after it.

At 10,661’, a tilted culvert provides some variety.

At 11554’, a displaced culvert too far above ground demonstrates that things can, at times, get progressively worse.

At 12554’, there is an observation point for very long range views with cities and/or towns in the far distance.  The sound of what must be a decent waterfall or cascade tempts you to go off-trail to find it.

At 13,039’, a nice sized stream is in the path.

At 13,358’, another displaced culvert actually has water running through it.  There is a stream in the path just after.

At 13,463’, there is a nice set of triple streams.

At 13,593’, is another displaced culvert.  These seem strange.  A large stream runs to it from beyond.

At 13,786’, there is a campsite on the left with five birches.  They seem auspicious.

At 14,301’, a creek in the trail spills off the mountain to the right.

At 14,672’, is another displaced culvert.

At 14,783’, a portion of the mountain has slid a short distance down the mountain.

At 15,709’, is a non-displaced culvert.

From 15,737’ to 15,937’, the water in the trail is red.  I assume this is from minerals in the rocks.

At 16,116’, is a displaced culvert.

At 16,330’, a stream on the path spills off the mountain.  This is another good vantage point to see the cities/towns in the distance.

At 16,401’, an unofficial trail goes to the right.  Stay left.

At 16,469’, a mini-waterfall is to the right.  There is a stream convergence here of a stream running along the trail and one running into it.

At 17,897’, there is a junction with the Art Loeb Trail to the right.

At 17,995’, there is a junction with the Art Loeb Trail to the left.

At 18,022’, the trail ends at a kiosk for the Shining Rock Wilderness.  Those not wishing to backtrack may take the Ivestor Gap Trail from the kiosk to the Black Balsam Parking Area, which is another 11,777’ or 2.2 miles.  I recommend doing this if you can arrange for two cars if you want an easier hike as it shaves a little over 2 miles off the hike.

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