Obviously, I can’t bring myself to say goodbye to the Blue Ridge Parkway this year. I keep returning and that’s okay.
It seems so odd to think that a roadway as beautiful and well-know as this Parkway will be closed during the winter and inaccessible, but this is what happens. Around Thanksgiving or at the first sign of snow or ice, the gates close. They do open from time to time when there is plenty of sunshine; but last year, those days were few. Then spring returns and we are back! Here’s the post from one of our trips back then: click!
For this trip, Graveyard fields was the destination. It’s located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway (Milepost 418.8). The Yellowstone Prong is the main water source for two waterfalls in this mile-high valley that is filled with wildflowers along with being surrounded by the 6,000-ft. peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The area got its name years ago from the tree stumps that looked like grave stones in a graveyard setting. The trees were toppled by a huge wind several hundred years ago. Then in 1925, an intense fire burned the recently logged area; and since then, the forest has been slow in recovering.
It’s one of the few hiking places along the Parkway with restrooms! (Bet you didn’t think I would mention that!) They even have antibacterial pumps that are always full!
You can take a short hike to the lower waterfall (it’s beautiful) or a much-longer 3.5-mile loop through the meadow/valley to a second waterfall. Like most visitors, we started at the parking lot and followed the steps down to the first of several bridges crossing the Yellowstone Prong.
In the Spring, the river is much fuller. But I did see an update saying that the falls are much fuller after recent rains. The Graveyard Fields trail is super popular, and it’s a super trail, or I should say “trails,” because hiking trails entwine all over the place.
On this day, we took the well-marked pathway to the left and headed toward Black Balsam. I love that mountain and the entire area that Beth and others call the Shining Rock Wilderness. Sam’s Knob is in the mix, too, but Black Balsam and then Tennent Mountain have the views.
Be sure to notice how the Yellowstone Prong gathers in the surrounding peaks. It tumbles over Upper Falls into the western end of the valley and flows lazily through the valley before spilling out at the eastern end over Second Falls and traveling on to form Skinny Dip Falls and the Big East fork river in the Shining Rock Wilderness Area.
Of course, you have to stop and read signs like this one, but then we kept going. The forest service has banned all camping in the area due to bear activity. On this day, we did see hunting dogs and felt like the “guys” were out checking on the bears. But honestly, I have never seen a bear in this area and that’s okay with me. Usually, they are with their cubs and that can be a dangerous encounter.
This is a beautiful hike that almost anyone can do. It’s somewhat handicap accessible but not very much. There were some rocky “ups,” but mostly the trail was flat and fast—you are already hiking at 5,000 feet when you start. And there are plenty of boardwalks and (on this day) also some dusty paths with stepping stones or flat rocks to help us cross small streams. In my mind, I wanted to hop and skip and jump, 🙂 which I really can’t do anymore.
This valley is slowly transitioning back into a forest with taller shrubs and small trees beginning to dominate landscape. I have seen earlier photos that show a much flatter landscape. But for now, there are still open areas lined with blueberry shrubs and grassy openings in places. Of course, the blue berries of summer were long gone when we hiked last week. And the shrubs were turning a bright red. (Notice that Black Balsam’s in the background of this photo.)
I was amazed at the number of the bridge crossings that we hiked over. One moment we were moving through a Mountain Laurel and Rhododendron forest and the next, crossing an open valley surrounded by over 6,000 peaks. It was all I could do to keep from asking if we could “drop up” to Black Balsam for a quick hike up part of the mountain. For day trips, you have to choose one destination with lunch in nearby Waynesville. I have to stay focused and that is always hard for me to do in this area.
Lots of blueberry bushes along the trail and probably the reason why bears love this trail. (P.S. Pat’s not a bear! Smile!)
I can’t get enough of these views.
Ah, the way digital camera captures the color of my gray hair! Sometimes it will be blue reflecting the color of the sky, and other times—like this one—it catches up the color of my shirt! Pink!
I love, love looking up and I love the yellows of fall. I think this area is traditionally known for deep reds and oranges, but there were lots of brilliant yellows for us as we hiked.
Then there were plenty of secret pathways off to one side or the other. Since, this was my first time to hike this part of Graveyard Fields, I stayed on the main path. As we hiked out, the setting sun brought out the beauty of the fall grasses. It was a beautiful day for a hike. I felt great and could have hiked further if I had more time. I’m always grateful for the moments I have each day.