There may be some confusion about the name,but there is no confusion as to how great this trail is for the entire family.
Second or Lower Falls plashes through the early morning mist
photo by A. Scott Lavender
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.
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: blue
Length: approximately .3 miles; exactly 1476’; this trail is one way; there and back distance of .6 miles.
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:
· Second Falls a.k.a. Lower Falls Trail
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:
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.
Boulders alongside Yellowstone Prong
photo by A. Scott Lavender
The Second Falls Trail is a great trail for the family if only for the water. It does have some elevation, so you’ll want to take it slow, but it is doable by all but the smallest children (and you can carry them). If you don’t hike the entire trail, at least walk down to Yellowstone Prong and play in the water.
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 another set of stairs down to the actual waterfall. Note 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.
At 982’, an unofficial river access trail is on the right. Stay straight.
At 1167’, a wooden walkway/stairway clambers down the mountainside to the river and falls.
At 1313’, a bench is provided for those whom the walkway has defeated.
At 1439’ there is a badly damaged informational kiosk.
At 1448’, the wooden walkway ends.
At 1476’, the trail ends at the river with a superb view of the falls.
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