Hiking Trail Review
for
The Mountains-to-Sea Access Trail
in
Graveyard Fields
in the
Pisgah Ranger District

This is an easy trail in itself, with a nice camping site and a stroll through highland terrain.  


Trail view

photo by Bret James Stewart


This trail is accessed from the Graveyard Fields Trail system which 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:  yellow

Length:  approximately .2 miles; exactly 1017’; this trail is one way; there and back distance of .4 miles; exactly 2034’.  Note that .2 miles; exactly 966’ of the Second/Lower Falls Trail must be hiked to access the trail.  Thus, the one-way distance is a combined .4 miles or 1983’ for a there and back distance of .8 miles or 3966’.

Difficulty:  medium; due to elevation change and lots o’ steps.


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.

 

The Mountains-to-Sea Access Trail connects the Second Falls (a.k.a. Lower Falls) Trail and the Mountains-to-Sea Trail at the edge of Graveyard Fields.  The trail is a relatively flat stroll, but the Second/Lower Falls portion has some elevation change.  Those wanting to create a loop hike can combine this trail with the Mountains-to-Sea Trail to the Graveyard Ridge Trail to the Graveyard Ridge Connector Trail to the Upper Falls Trail and back to the parking lot.  Please see a trail map or the descriptions of these trails on this website to piece this together. 

I hiked this trail in mid-September.  It was a quasi-autumnal hike, with some of the trees beginning to colour.  Yellow flowers and the reds of mountain ash combined with this to make it seem later in the season than it was.  It was overcast and cool, and Graveyard Fields was not as crowded as it normally is.  The trail features lots of turkey brush and I saw a few trilliums, which was odd because they’re out of season.

 

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 old and the new

photo by Bret James Stewart


The Mountains-to-Sea Access Trail:

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.


These flowers lent an autumnal colouring to the trail

photo by Bret James Stewart


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