Yellowstone Falls @ Graveyard Fields (9-16-16)
Graveyard Fields is a place I've been to dozens of times, primarily in the off-season when the area isn't buried under a blanket of visitors. Located at Milepost 418.8 along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Graveyard is a spectacular high elevation valley lying in the shadow of nearby Black Balsam and Tennent Mountains. It obtained its rather dark name after a combination of winds and logging reduced its thick spruce-fir forest to naked stumps dotting the landscape, resembling gravestones. Adding insult to injury the fields suffered two catastrophic wildfires in the 1920's and 1940's which further denuded the landscape and even sterilized the soil. Conditions are harsh at these high elevations so life has been slow to return. Today only a few scattered trees and small patches of laurel and blueberry have managed to repopulate the landscape.
The primary attractions of Graveyard Fields are two very scenic cascades with the rather uninspired names of Upper and Second Falls. What many people don't realize, however, is there is a third and arguably more scenic waterfall to be seen here...and its been provided a much nicer name as well...Yellowstone Falls. Yellowstone Falls is located along the same stream which feeds its upstream neighbors, Yellowstone Prong. Comprised of two distinct drops, the waterfall could actually be considered two separate cascades. Each about 30-feet in height, the upper falls tumbles down the riverbed in a stair-step fashion while the lower falls takes the form of the traditional single drop. In my opinion, Yellowstone Falls just might be prettier than either of its two more popular nearby brethren.
The primary reason Yellowstone Falls is virtually unknown is that there is no official trail to it (although a rudimentary scramble path does exist). Needless to say this keeps away the average tourist. Even so, the falls are not all that hard to get to provided you are one of those people who are comfortable with off-trail travel in the mountains. To reach the falls I would begin my hike at the Graveyard Fields Trailhead. The most direct route to the falls would only clock in at around a mile one-way but I always enjoy a walk through the Graveyard itself when I'm up there so I took the more circuitous route through the valley on my way in. From the south end of the Graveyard Loop I'd then hop on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail for a short while, headed east. The MST darn near runs right along side the falls and a short side path leads to the river just above it. A simple rock-hop (at normal flows) took me to the other side and from there I followed the narrow, and in places steep, scramble path down past the two cascades that comprise the falls. If you want better directions refer to Kevin Adam's waterfall bible for North Carolina. His explanation of the route is spot on and will better prepare you for what a visit to this waterfall entails.
So come along with me as I explore an all but un-visited corner of the famous Graveyard Fields...and the spectacular waterfall which resides there...ENJOY!!
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 35.320277, -82.847174
Mileage Hiked: 2.5 miles Hike Duration: 1:45
Trailhead Temp: 60'F Trail Traffic: 5-10 people
Min. Elevation: 4,740' Max. Elevation: 5,120'
Total Vertical Gain: 450' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 180'