view from parking lot 10-5-2013
4-6-16 The parking area for Graveyard Fields is at MP418.8 on the Parkway between the exits for US276 and NC215. There are 3 waterfalls here - Upper Falls, Second Falls, and Yellowstone Falls - but only the first 2 are easily accessible. The area got it's name years ago from the tree stumps and surrounding trees that looked like grave stones in a graveyard setting. Then in 1925, an intense fire burned the recently logged area, and the forest has been slow in recovering since. There are also miles of hiking trails in this area and you should have the Pisgah Forest trail map if you want to do any serious exploring in this area. Some of the trails link to trails that are accessible from Balsam Rd which is just south of the main parking area. Here you will find access to the Art Loeb Trail and Ivestor Gap Trail which offer outstanding high elevation views, short drive shuttle hikes, and backpacking loops that link to the trails in Graveyard Fields. Fall color comes early in this section of the Parkway and you can usually find excellent color during the 1st and 2nd weeks of October. This area is heavily overused and the parking lot overflows during the summer - especially on the week ends. Do not park along the Parkway where the signs say 'No Parking Between Signs'. You will get a ticket and it's expensive. Personally, I wish they would tow these vehicles. Parking along the road has gotten way out of hand and I'm surprised someone hasn't been run over yet.
Yellowstone Prong is the water source for the 3 waterfalls. The 55' high Second Falls is the easiest to get to. (For some reason, the signs here have 'Lower Falls' instead of Second Falls. There is no waterfall called Lower Falls - it is clearly labeled Second Falls on the USGS TOPO map.) The hike is about 1/3 of a mile and is easy to moderate in difficulty. From the parking area, head down the steep stairs on the north end of the lot and take the paved path a short ways down to Yellowstone Prong. The top of the waterfall is just down stream at this point. Cross the bridge and take the newly constructed boardwalk to the right. Follow the boardwalk and come to a short set of steps to the left that heads up to the trail for Upper Falls and other trails in Graveyard Fields. Stay straight here on the boardwalk, cross a small stream, then continue on the dirt trail. In a short distance, the trail forks. A connector trail to the MST bears left, but stay to the right and follow the trail down stream to the set of wooden steps and decking that lead to the base of the waterfall. This waterfall has been a popular swimming hole for years, so expect company on a warm summer day. Photographers - go early to avoid the crowds!
Second Falls from the Parkway
Second Falls from the base
Upper Falls isn't that spectacular of a waterfall, but the 1.5 mile hike to the falls really gives you a good taste of the Graveyard Fields area. The waterfall is about 40' high and the hike is easy to moderate with some more difficult scrambling towards the end. If you check the trail map, you'll see you can get to the waterfall using either set of steps at the north and south end of the parking lot. When the improvements are finished in the summer of 2014, there is supposed to be a map at the trail head in case you don't have one. Take a picture of it for reference later on! If you take the same steps at the north end like you are going to Second Falls, cross Yellowstone Prong and take the new boardwalk to the right. In a short distance down the boardwalk, a short set of steps on the left leads up to the trail to the falls. At about 1/4 mile from the bridge, the Graveyard Ridge Connector Trail turns to the right, but you'll want to stay straight. At a little over 1/2 mile from the bridge, the trail splits again. Going left will take you back to the parking area and the steps on the south end of the parking lot if you just want to do a loop. Keep straight on the Upper Falls Trail to get to the waterfall. Towards the end of the hike the trail gets tricky. Look for a split in the trail at a boulder pile. You'll want to go right and up and in a short distance you'll come out to the base of the falls. If you miss this turn, going straight will take you out to Yellowstone Prong below the waterfall.
looking down Yellowstone Prong from Upper Falls
Yellowstone Falls is the most impressive of the 3 waterfalls in Graveyard Fields, but unfortunately is very difficult to access and should only be attempted by experienced off trail hikers. If you are at the East Fork Overlook on the Parkway just north of the Graveyard Fields parking, look down and to the left and the waterfall is hidden down there. There is no trail to this waterfall! It's down stream from Second Falls and as you can see from the Pisgah Trail map, the Mountains to Sea Trail passes very near the top of the waterfall. The waterfall is in a gorge and the rock is very steep and slippery. Death awaits you if you attempt to come in from the top. A more reasonable - but still very difficult - way to get to the waterfall is to follow Yellowstone Prong up from Skinny Dip Falls. If you are experienced in bushwhacking up and along creeks, Head to Skinny Dip Falls and follow the trail on the right side of the creek and past the waterfall. At a point well past the falls, you'll have to get in the creek before the trail begins to ascend and head towards Graveyard Fields. The going here is tough and you'll have to scramble up and around large boulders before you make it to the base of the waterfall.
Yellowstone Falls - looking up towards East Fork Overlook
Harry at Yellowstone Falls
Cathy at the top of Yellowstone Falls
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