Wild blueberries, waterfalls bring Graveyard Fields to life
Graveyard Fields may sound spooky, but that certainly doesn’t describe this popular hiking spot in Pisgah National Forest. Although I heard one legend that a community cemetery was once there, a more often-repeated story is that the area got its name from headstone-shaped stumps left behind from the logging industry days. The ominous stumps are long gone. What remains is a wide valley flanked by two waterfalls.
Along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Pisgah, there are a plenty of wooden signs marking overlooks, with quirky names like Pounding Mill and Funnel Top. While all offer amazing views, a new visitor could easily be overwhelmed when looking for a good hike.
Graveyard Fields stands out from the many overlooks. It offers an easy hike to the first falls, a more challenging four-mile hike to the second falls, and between the two falls, there lies a flat field where wild blueberries grow prolifically in summer.
This variety of features makes Graveyard Fields a popular spot. Although I’d heard friends rave about it, my first visit was last August with a group, who like myself, were unfamiliar with the area. (And we spent much more time at our gorgeous Mount Pisgah campsite than rambling.) We only stopped briefly to see the nearby Lower Falls, and we left without any inkling of the wild blueberries growing nearby. I, however, had heard this place mentioned way too many times to be satisfied with our quick excursion. Excited to explore more, I returned two weeks later with my kids, and I was determined to see both waterfalls.
We started by returning to the easily accessible Lower Falls. From the parking lot, there are two trailheads. The one closer to the Lower Falls is next to the restrooms. The walk to the Lower Falls is short and downhill – only about one-third of a mile. (Of course, that does mean the return to the car is uphill, but it’s short enough walk that you don’t have to be an Olympian to handle it.)
As a popular wading area, photography aficionados will find it challenging to get an unobscured shot of this natural wonder during midday in summer. My hopes of posting a flawless shot to Instagram were dashed. A man in low-riding swim trunks perched on rocks directly in front of the falls. He was not contributing to the scenery, and he wasn’t moving!
Although the wading area has sunny rocks, bring a sweater or jacket even in summer. Temperature changes at Pisgah are surprising. At the high altitudes along the parkway, the weather is cool and windy. Our campers froze at night atop Mount Pisgah! Then we shed layers at warmer Lower Falls.
After my foiled photo opp at the Lower Falls, we carried on to explore the Upper Falls. That’s when we stumbled upon blueberries in the valley. Lesson learned: if you want to pick berries, don’t go all the way back to the parking lot. After visiting the first waterfall, take the fork in the trail that leads to the Upper Falls.
After scampering around the valley, collecting tons of tiny berries, my kids ran out of steam, and I worried about running out of daylight.
Plus, I was disappointed with the Upper Falls trail. By far, this trail was the most poorly marked I’ve seen at Pisgah. It was seriously lacking blazes. With all the crazy forks and splits, if we hadn’t been able to catch glimpses of the parking lot, I don’t know how we would’ve managed. And even after we reconnected to the main Upper Falls trail, we ran into enough confusing points for me to lose confidence that we’d get there without extra walking.
Another, better-prepared-looking group with berry buckets and maps struggled with direction, even more than we did. They circled my snail-paced crowd at least three times. When the posse’s leader offered me advice about which way to go, I smiled politely and chose the other way. About a half hour later, they materialized, having caught up to us from behind.
This summer, I hope to get back to Graveyard Fields to tackle that second waterfall hike. But if I do, I’m getting an earlier start, and hopefully taking a friend whose been before.