Trail: Graveyard Fields Loop Trail
Hike Location: Blue Ridge Parkway
Geographic Location: southeast of Waynesville, NC
Length: 1.3 miles
Difficulty: 4/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: June 2018
Overview: A high elevation semi-loop featuring waterfalls on Yellowstone Prong.
Park Information: https://www.nps.gov/blri/index.htm
Google Map: http://www.mappedometer.com/?maproute=697233
Directions to the trailhead: This hike starts at the Blue Ridge Parkway’s Graveyard Fields Overlook, which is located at Blue Ridge Parkway milepost 418.8. This milepost is located 4.5 miles north of SR 215 or 6.9 miles south of US 276.
The hike: Of the many easy and moderate dayhikes on the southern portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway, perhaps the most famous, scenic, and popular one is Graveyard Fields. Graveyard Fields is a relatively large and relatively flat high-elevation valley along the Yellowstone Prong of the Pigeon River. The valley’s unusual name probably comes from its logging days: clear-cut logging throughout the valley left only rows of stumps that resembled headstones in a cemetery. An alternate explanation says that the valley got its name from a windstorm that overturned many trees, and the overturned trees resembled headstones.
Yellowstone Prong enters Graveyard Fields from the west by cascading down Upper Falls. The river then flows lazily through the valley before dramatically exiting it to the east via multi-tiered Second Falls. Both of these waterfalls are easily dayhike-able from the Blue Ridge Parkway trailhead, but I only went to Second Falls for reasons to be given later. Hiking the loop through the valley and the short spur to Second Falls forms the 1.3 mile hike described here.
|Stone steps at main trailhead|
Start at the main trailhead beside the restroom building. A colorful sign that features a trail map stands here. After descending a set of stone steps, the steep descent continues on an asphalt trail through a thick cluster of mountain laurel. In total, the trail descends more than 100 feet in the first 0.1 miles.
The trail surface changes from asphalt to wooden boardwalk as you approach Yellowstone Prong, which you cross on a wooden footbridge. Just after crossing the river, you reach a signed trail intersection. The Graveyard Fields Loop turns left to head up some wooden steps, and we will go that way eventually. First continue straight to hike the spur to Second Falls.
The trail curves right to begin heading downstream with the river on your right. A river access point appears on the right, but be careful wading into the river here: this point is just upstream from Second Falls. Stay right where a connector trail to the Mountains-to-Sea Trail exits left. Soon you reach a set of steep wooden steps that head down to the base of Second Falls. The cascading 55-foot waterfall drops in at least three tiers, and the plunge pool is a popular place for swimming on hot summer days. Though you will not be alone here, Second Falls makes an attractive site for the eyes and ears.
Retrace your steps back to the Graveyard Fields Loop, then angle right to begin the loop portion of this hike. The boardwalk soon runs out, and the rest of the hike follows mostly eroded dirt trails. There are also quite a few unofficial trails in this valley; some trail markers might help keep hikers on the official trail if they were installed here.
|Hiking eroded trail|
Just past 0.6 miles, where the Graveyard Ridge Connector continues straight, you need to turn left to remain on the Graveyard Fields Loop. A carsonite post marks this intersection. The trail continues its westward course, and the vegetation opens up enough to allow the surrounding mountains to become visible.
|Views of surrounding mountains|
At 0.8 miles, the spur trail to Upper Falls exits right. The spur is 0.9 miles long one-way, and it is rockier than the Graveyard Fields Loop. I intended to hike to Upper Falls, but some loud claps of thunder over my shoulders told me that I had better take the shortest route back to the trailhead (a wise move, as you will see). Thus, I forewent Upper Falls and turned left to continue the Graveyard Fields Loop.
|Climbing back toward the trailhead|
Soon you cross Yellowstone Prong on a wooden footbridge. The yellow stones that give this river its name can be seen under the river’s clear water here. The balance of the hike is a gradual climb back to the Blue Ridge Parkway trailhead. Some vegetation crowds the trail here, but the route was easily discernable on my visit. Climbing a set of stone steps returns you to the parking area; I made it back to my car just as heavy rain started to pelt my head and shirt.