Hiking Trail Review
for
Upper Falls Trail
at Graveyard Fields
in the
Pisgah Ranger District
of the
Pisgah National Forest


An exciting hike through unusual terrain, Upper Falls should be on every hiker's list.

Water flume at Upper Falls in Graveyard Fields

Upper Falls includes a water chute or flume

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.


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 1.9 miles; exactly 10,064’; note this trail is a partial loop with the 1.1 mile portion of the trail that actually leads to the falls being one way for a there and back (for that portion only) of 2.2, i.e. a hiker will add 1.1 miles to the total distance if he hikes the entire trail; this makes the total distance 3 miles.

Difficulty:  easy; note this is the ranking according to the Trails Illustrated Pisgah Ranger District map (rev. 1996); I rank it as medium due to elevation change and effective length.

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.




An old birch along the way looks like it's seen better days

photo by A. Scott Lavender


The Upper Falls is a partial loop trail culminating in, surprisingly enough, Upper Falls, a beautiful cascade over a yellowish stone escarpment.  There are two ways to access the trail readily, both from the parking area.  The route I am following begins at the rightmost portion of the loop (on the right if you are facing Graveyard Fields from the parking area) following the first portion of the Second Falls (Lower Falls) Trail—this portion is referred to as Yellowstone Prong on the kiosk--until the junction with Upper Falls Trail and taking the latter. 

The two portions of the partial loop create a measuring problem.   At this junction (if it would be called that since all three ways to go are the same trail), I have no way of knowing which way the hiker will go.  The solution to the problem would be to rename one of the loop sections so that there is only one clear trail to the falls.  I don’t have the authority to do that, of course, so the solution is for me to somehow break up the trail so that it makes sense.  I am assuming, since the focal point of the trail is the falls, that the hiker is going there.  Thus, I measure along the trail from the junction with Second Falls Trail straight to the falls, back out the non-loop portion of the trail, then takes the other portion of the loop back to the parking area via the stairway opposite the starting point.  This adds 1.1 miles to the trail for backtracking.  Of course, the hiker may not travel the entire loop portion (though I would recommend it, not only because it is the quickest way back to the parking area, but it also allows you to see the entire trail).  For these reasons, I have measured the portion of the trail from the left side of the parking lot to the non-loop portion of the trail separately.  I have included that portion at the bottom of the rest of the review.  If you are hiking it, you can start over once you return from the falls; if you do not go to the falls, simply add the distances along the new loop to the distance from the junction.

 

Beginning at the rightmost stairway at the Graveyard Fields Overlook of the Blue Ridge Parkway by the kiosk:

 

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).

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.  Turn left onto it.

 

The Upper Falls Trail:

This trail has a nice split rail fence along its first portion.  Fences are found here and there along the trail.

At 476’, an unofficial trail branches off to the right.  Stay straight.

At 875’, a plank walkway crosses a marshy area, ending at 1246’.

At 1246’, an unofficial trail goes to the right.  Stay straight.

At 1300’, there is a Y-junction.  Upper Falls Trail (orange blazed) goes to the left; the Graveyard Ridge Connector Trail (yellow blazed) goes to the right. 

At 1715’, a plank bridge lies over a brisk stream.

At 2254’, is the confusing junction.  Go right to go to the falls.  The review for the other portion of the loop , i.e. you do not go to the falls and proceed forward to the parking area, is after the bottom of this review.

At 2372’, a plank bridge crosses a stream and serves to protect an ecologically sensitive area.

At 2641’, an unofficial spur trail goes to the river.

At 3287’, there is a plank bridge where three springheads converge, all overseen by three stately trees.

At 3967’, a campsite and an unofficial spur trail to the river confuses the trail somewhat.  Turn right and proceed through the campsite, crossing the laughing creek in the process.  

At 3997’, another creek is crossed.

At 4057’, there is yet another creek.  Graveyard Fields has tons of watercourses.

At 4330’, is a half-sawn log bridge over a waterway flowing into the river just a few feet from the larger waterway.  The bridge ends at 4341’.  A very nice campsite is present.

At 4401’, a nice gravelled stream about 2-3’ wide crosses the path.

At 4604’, an access to the river opens up to the left.

At 4631’, another half-sawn log footbridge graces the trail.

At 4695’, there is another small stream.

At 4951’, a larger creek crosses the path, allowing passage by stepping across on rocks if you don’t want to get your feet wet.

At 5124’, another creek rock creek crossing.

At 6457’, notice the triple tree on the left.

At 6967’, a lovely spring hops out from the side of the trail.  A plethora of small springs are present to 7234’. 

At 7173’, you can see white water from Yellowstone Prong through the trees and sporadically thereafter until reaching the falls.

At 7378’, you arrive at the falls.  Take a break and enjoy them.

 

The other portion of the loop at 2254’ above:

At 41’, a plank bridge extends to 61’.

At 137’ a bridge crosses a creek.

At 173’, a bridge crosses the river then heads uphill.

At 1016’ to 1127’, the trail is wet.  This is a common feature along this trail.

At 1182’, a stream with a mini-waterfall crosses the trail.

At 1264’, another stream crosses the trail.

At 1331’, a small stream crosses the trail.

At 1336’ to 1407’, the trail is wet.  Half-sawn logs provide some measure of avoiding the water.

At 1914’ to 1958’ the trail is wet.

At 1993’ to 2105’, there is a plank bridge.

At 2644’ the nicely-done stone steps to the parking area begin.

At 2686’ the trail ends at the parking area.


One of many nice campsites in the area

photo by A. Scott Lavender


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