Bluets adorn the trail
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: yellow
Length: approximately .5 miles; exactly 2406’; note this trail is not immediately accessible so 1300’ of the Upper Falls Trail and 797’ of the Second Falls/Lower Falls must be hiked from the parking area, making the total one way length of 4503’ or .9 miles; there and back distance of 1.8 miles.
Difficulty: 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:
· Graveyard Ridge Connector 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.
A gorgeous snag along the trail
photo by A.Scott Lavender
The Graveyard Ridge Connector Trail connects Upper Falls Trail with Graveyard Ridge Trail. It is not directly accessible. There are various ways to get to the trail, but the fastest is 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 until the junction with Graveyard Ridge Connector Trail. This is the route I am using, beginning at the stone steps (on the right if you are facing Graveyard Fields from the parking area) 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 the latter.
The Upper Falls Trail portion:
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. This trail has an official trail sign.
The Graveyard Ridge Connector Trail:
This trail features a lot of elevation gain.
At 1862’, an unofficial trail goes to the right. Remain straight.
At 2167’, another unofficial trail turns right. Stay straight.
At 2406’, the trail ends at the junction with Graveyard Ridge Trail (orange blazed; so is Upper Falls Trail). There is no trail sign for the connector trail on this end.
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