Jeremy and I visited Asheville, North Carolina for the first time in October, 2015. We only had four days to hike, check out the city, explore, and head back home. As a result, we had only one day of actual trail hiking, so we had to make it count! This was a difficult choice because unlike our honeymoon in the Smoky Mountains, where we stuck to the more popular trails that were easy to find, there seemed to be an unlimited number of trails around Asheville with varying difficulty, length, elevation, and challenges.
We chose Graveyard Fields Loop Trail, in Pisgah National Forest, off the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway. It was an easy drive from our cabin, had beautiful waterfalls, and multiple trail options.
Graveyard Fields received its name when strong winds toppled large portions of spruce trees. The remaining tree stumps resembled gravestones as moss and pine needles covered them. Years later, in 1925, an extensive fire destroyed the remaining trees. Since then, the area has struggled to grow trees, but it is starting to show signs of recovery.
The parking lot, at milepost 418.8, only has 40 spaces. We were lucky enough to get one of the spaces, because we started out earlier in the day. If the lot is full when you arrive, do not park in the grass as the rangers will ticket your car. You have two options if the lot is full. Try back later, or park at the Looking Glass Rock overlook, hike in from the Mountains to Sea Trail, which is a more difficult hike. Click here for directions and to view an interactive, topographical map showing the trails, and waterfalls.
On the day we hiked, it was chilly, starting out in 40s and ending up in the higher 50s, which was perfect hiking weather. It was sunny and beautiful, with a clear azure blue sky, and the trees in their autumnal kaleidoscope of orange and gold. Standing in the parking lot, which thankfully has rest rooms, you are at 5,120 feet elevation. A trail map is at the right end of the parking lot. I recommend taking a picture of it before you begin hiking, to refer back to while on the trails. From the parking lot, you can see mountains raising above the picturesque valley.
There are two options to hike the loop. We took the stairs to the right of the parking that lead down through rhododendron fields. The viewing platform at the bottom, right of the stairs overlooks the Second Falls. From there, you can either go back to the parking lot or keep hiking to Graveyard Fields, which was our planned hike.
After you leave the falls, you will see a sign for the Upper Falls, and Graveyard Fields. Follow the sign, both of which are going the same direction. The moderate hike itself is beautiful with many sweeping views, and a 450 foot elevation gain.
Fair warning—many of the trails have overgrown roots, large rocks, and ditches that make walking challenging. Small tributaries also run across the trail, eroding soil and leading to slick, muddy conditions. But hey, when you hike on a mountain, this is to be expected.
The blazes for this trail were not always easy to see, the few signs we saw were quite worn and faded. Some were nearly impossible to read. As a result, we missed signs for the Fields Loop Trail, took wrong turns more than once, and unknowingly hiked the wrong trail. Eventually, we remembered the trail map photo we had taken. It confirmed that no, we were not on the correct trail. Being lost, the combination of only seeing five people on Graveyard Ridge Trail as opposed to the busy Graveyard Loop Trail, and reports of recent, increased bear activity started to make me anxious.
As we made our way back down the mountain, I could see holes from previous hikers’ poles. The steep decline and lack of anything to hold onto made every step slower, more deliberate. Jeremy and I helped each other down the challenging trek, careful not to pitch forward. It was hard on our knees and hips. Hiking poles would have added stability while taking the pressure off our joints. Instead, my knees and hips woke me up in the middle of the night. Shortly after this hike, I purchased our poles.
Before we left, we enjoyed a snack at the river. It was a memorable end to our eventful hike. I’m not going to lie. The thought of climbing the stairs to the parking lot reminded us of the 500 stairs we conquered just the day before at Chimney Rock State Park, so relaxing in a beautiful spot was kind of magical.
This is one of the coolest hikes we have taken. The views from Graveyard Ridge Trail far outweighed the mishaps. Having the mountain mostly to ourselves at one of the most popular hiking areas on the Blue Ridge Parkway, was sublime. We can’t wait to go back, and hopefully take the correct trails this time!
If you are up for a longer hike, Graveyard Ridge Trail connects to Mountains to Sea Trail (MST), which will be 900 miles long upon completion. This trails offers day, overnight, or longer hikes. The choice is yours. No matter which trail you take, be sure to check out Graveyard Fields. We were there mid-October, but each season offers excellent reasons to visit. Have you visited? Please share your experiences in the comments below. I hope you enjoyed this #ExploreMoreMonday article, and as always, remember #hikingisfun, your #adventureawaits!
Topographical Trail Map/Directions
Zoom in/out of this interactive, printable map that depicts our hike. A color-coded map key follows. For directions, click the map, then click the Google Logo in the lower, left hand corner to open in Google Maps.
- Red Solid Line – Graveyard Fields Loop Trail
- Royal Blue Solid Line – Graveyard Ridge Trail
- Light Blue Solid Line – Mountains to Sea Trail
- Green Solid Line – Trail to Second Falls
- Orange Solid Line – Lower Falls Trail