Graveyard Fields : Hiking The Blue Ridge Parkway
Graveyard Fields, Elevation 5120
Graveyard Fields and Black Balsam
Access to Black Balsam and the Shining Rock Wilderness Area
Graveyard Fields Trails
Hiking Graveyard Fields
About 30 miles to the southwest of Asheville, past Mount Pisgah and the Pisgah Inn, you will find Graveyard Fields overlook and trail system. The overlook is located between mile marker 418 and 419, just before John's Rock and Black Balsam. It is hard to miss because it is one of the most popular places to hike near Asheville.
On the way to the overlook and parking lot you will pass several great trails. The Shut-In Trail, the Mountains-To-Sea Trail, Sleepy Gap and Mount Pisgah are all available and offer great mountain hiking. They just don't have all that Graveyard Fields has; waterfalls, fishing, hiking and access to deep country camping areas.
This satellite imagery shows the Blue Ridge Parkway, Black Balsam and Graveyard Fields. The low valley area in the center of the map, just to the north of the Blue Ridge Parkway, is Graveyard Fields. Black Balsam is the highest knob to the north and west of the valley.
Day Hiking Graveyard Fields
In total, Graveyard Fields has about 4-5 miles of hiking trails. This does not count any of the access points for fishing or back country camping. It is easy to add several miles to your hike by following one of the trails up the far side of the valley, away from the parking lots, and into the wilderness. From the parking lot there are two trail heads, one to the north and one to the south. These are actually the two ends of one trail that loops through the center of the valley and connects at the parking lot. From the south trail head you can walk down to the Lower Falls in about 20 minutes. From the north end of the parking lot you can walk to the Upper Falls in about 30 minutes. Walking the whole system and climbing the falls will take you about 2-3 hours, depending on your foot speed. Graveyard Fields is an excellent place for pic-nic-ing, fishing, hiking and exploring.
Graveyard Fields Overlook: Blue Ridge Parkway Near Mile Marker 419
What Is Graveyard Fields?
Graveyard Fields is a high mountain meadow. I say high because the valley floor sits just over 5,000 feet in elevation. The Lower Falls are a little lower and the Upper Falls sit around 5,300 feet. It is deep in the heart of the southern portion of the Appalachian Mountains in western North Carolina, surrounded by wilderness areas and national parks. Named for a distinctive pattern of tree stumps that looked like a field full of gravestones, Graveyard Fields has been a favorite destination for hundreds of years.
How Graveyard Fields Got Its Name
Geologists and ecologists believe that about 500-1000 years ago a cataclysmic wind-storm took place. The winds so strong they shaped the face of the valley by breaking all the trees in half, leaving hundreds jagged hemlock and fir stumps behind. Over the ensuing centuries the stumps weathered, grew mosses and the valley returned to life. The stumps took on the eerie appearance of gravestones and the fields got their name. Since then, in the 1920s, a raging wildfire burned the entire valley, including all the trees and all the "grave" stumps. The fire burned so hot, perhaps because of the old pitch filled fir and hemlock stumps, that it damaged the soil. So far the forest has not been able to fully recover but little by little progress has been made. Now there are a wide variety of trees, shrubs and plants living on the valley floor.
Appalachian Mountain Seep
Yellowstone Prong Home To Crawfish
A Brief Guide To Graveyard Fields
Entering the trail system you will find a lush forest of Mountain Laurels. The shrubs, combined with the leaf mold and other plants give of a fragrant aroma you will only encounter in the high mountains of Appalachia. Along the trail is evidence of "seeps". These are wet areas, not springs, that seep water for part or all of the year. The areas are usually small, a few feet across or more if in the right fold of mountain, and stay wet enough year round to foster plants and animals you wont find in other parts of the valley. The trees are mostly hardwood, some maples and birches with others mixed in. There are also a few fir trees making a comeback. The trail can be wet because of the seeps, especially in years when there is plenty of rain, so don't wear new shoes. Water that trickles out of the seeps help to fill the streams and creeks that flow throughout the Appalachians.
Fishing At Graveyard Fields
When you reach the valley floor you will find a creek called the Yellowstone Prong running through the valley. There are trout in the creek and fishing is allowed with the proper licenses. The stream is classified wild trout waters and those rules apply. Reading several fly fishing blogs has led me to believe that there is some ok fishing in the area, especially if you hike deeper into the wilderness areas. You can also find crawfish in the creek. They are easy to find and can be fun to catch. I found this one under a rock near the upper falls.
Wild Berries At Graveyard Fields
Graveyard Fields is well known for its wild berries. Blackberries and blueberries are only two of the varieties found here. Parkway rules allow blueberry picking, up to a gallon per day. The blueberries are usually ripe in late summer but you better be quick because they get a lot of traffic. I went at just the right time when there were still some good ones left. They mostly grow on the far side of the Yellowstone Prong from the parking lot, where the ground is higher and much drier. From here you can either hike to the left and up toward the Upper Falls, or down to the right and Middle and Lower Falls.
Black Balsam Knob Near Graveyard Fields
Wilderness Camping At Graveyard Fields
Wilderness camping is not permitted on the Blue Ridge Parkway but Graveyard Fields is an exception of sorts. The rugged terrain of the Shining Rock Wilderness Area and deep portions of Pisgah National Forest are accessible from Graveyard Fields and the adjacent Black Balsam Overlooks. Campers and day-hikers can leave from Graveyard Fields on extended trips into the back country. For overnighters I suggest parking at Black Balsam instead of Graveyard Fields, it is one mile further up the road on the right (when heading south from Asheville, Hendersonville or Brevard).