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A massive wind storm toppled nearly every tree in the area hundreds of years ago, leaving only the stumps behind that made early visitors think of tombstones. Then in 1925 an intense fire burned through the area and the local flora has been slowly recovering ever since. These natural events and two beautiful waterfalls have combined to make Graveyard Fields one of the most unique and interesting places to visit on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Graveyard Fields is located at Milepost 418.8 on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. It’s about 45 minutes from Brevard and about an hour from Asheville via the Parkway. The area has a nice series of hiking trails, two waterfalls, and a privy.
Visitors can head out on several trails from the parking area, creating as many loops as they like. The beautiful Graveyard Fields Loop Trail is a 1.3-mile hike along a mostly flat path near the Yellowstone Prong. The Graveyard Ridge Trail is a more strenuous hike along the ridge above the open fields running about 1.4 miles from the loop trail. The Mountains to Sea Trail passes just 0.2 miles from the loop trail giving hikers another option for day hikes or even longer overnight stays (camping is currently forbidden in Graveyard Fields because of bear activity).
Anyone wanting to see Second Falls, the closest and therefore most popular waterfall in Graveyard Fields, starts at the trail head near the privy in the parking area. The first 0.2 miles is an easy downhill hike through a rhododendron tunnel. The clearance inside the natural tunnel is nearly 8′ so you won’t feel cramped, but rather the thick leaves provide a shade that will knock of the summer heat.
The trail crosses the Yellowstone Prong and gives visitors their first look at the water. A few cascades to the left are popular places for young children to splash in the water, but be careful; just to the right of the boardwalk across the creek is the top of Second Falls. Visitors are allowed to walk along the exposed rock along but are urged never to try to climb across the top of the falls.
The trail continues to the right along a wooden boardwalk. A short staircase and sign point toward the Graveyard Field Loop to the left, but you’ll want to continue straight ahead. A long series of wooden stairs leads to the bottom of Second Falls, the last section of the wooden boardwalk being a gentle ramp. Visitors come out about ten feet above the average water level just below the falls.
This area is one of the most popular spots on the Parkway during just about any sunny day throughout the year, especially in the summer. People will scatter across the exposed boulders, spread out blankets, and spend the day sunbathing or reading a good book. Adults and children alike will splash in the shallow waters. Photographers love this area early in the morning because of the good lighting on the falls and various angles to capture a unique photo.
The one-way hike from the parking area to the base of Second Falls takes about twenty or thirty minutes.
Graveyard Fields Loop Trail
Whether you visited Second Falls or not, the first 0.2 miles of the Graveyard Fields Loop Trail are the same. Beginning at the short staircase on the wooden boardwalk near the first river crossing the loop trail heads northwest away from Second Falls.
Some of the trail is a wooden boardwalk. A few sections are steps for steep climbs. But most of the trail is primitive, covered with rocks, roots, and footprints of a dozen previous visitors. It’s an easy hike which is one of the reasons why it is so popular.
The loop trail continues near the Yellowstone Prong for 0.5-miles, passing the Graveyard Ridge Connector, to a split in the trail. The loop trail continues to the left and returns visitors to the parking area. To the right a spur trail leads to Upper Falls.
Continuing along the loop trail, hikers will cross the river a final time and begin a slow but steady ascent to the parking lot. It is deceptive just how low Graveyard Fields is from the parking lot until you hike this return section. The 0.6-mile section of the trail leads to a tall staircase on the western end of the parking lot.
The entire hike along the Graveyard Fields Loop takes about an hour to complete.
From the point where the Graveyard Fields Loop Trail splits to Upper Falls is about 1.6-miles round trip. This section is similar to the previous loop trail as it meanders along several smaller tributaries in an open field. The final 1/10 of a mile to the falls is a bit of a climb. The trail splits; keep right to reach the base of Upper Falls, keep left to reach a nice area just below the main drop to view the entire waterfall.
The shortest possible route to Upper Falls is to take the Graveyard Fields Loop Trail from the western end of the parking lot down a long set of stairs, heading west initially. This route to the waterfall is 2.8-mile round trip and takes about two hours to complete.
Graveyard Ridge Trail
Graveyard Fields is exactly that: a large, open field. Vegetation has been slow to recover from the 1925 fire so most the area is still open. Visitors hoping to get a good look of this field can try the Graveyard Ridge Trail a couple hundred feet above the fields.
The quickest way to access the trail is to start on the Graveyard Fields Loop Trail near the privy in the parking area. Continue 0.2-miles to the a crossing over the river, then follow the loop trail to the left another 0.2 miles to the Graveyard Ridge Connector. This trail leads straight up the ridge to the Graveyard Ridge Trail. Turn left and continue about a mile where it connects with the Mountains to Sea Trail.
The view along the Graveyard Ridge Trail is beautiful at times with an open vista of the fields and surrounding mountains. It’s a bit of a strenuous hike and the total 3.6-mile round trip hike takes a few hours, but it’s well worth it for the views on sunny says.
There is a large parking area at Graveyard Fields with a privy and sign with a map, but these parking spaces are coveted on sunny days, especially in the summer. Signs along the Parkway heading south note no parking is allowed for about a quarter mile. Once you have passed the last of these signs you are allowed to park on either side of the Parkway and trek back to the parking area to begin your adventure.
Be sure to read my Blue Ridge Parkway Guide for more amazing destinations, information, and photos.