Blue Ridge Parkway Provides Lots of Possibilities
Story by EMILY FOLEY
Nearly 19 million visitors come to the Blue Ridge Parkway each year to enjoy the breathtaking sites and prime locations for swimming, camping, and hiking. Asheville is in close proximity to many of these treasured, outdoor spots for explorers and tourists. Looking for a place to spend time along the Blue Ridge Parkway can be overwhelming considering the vast options of hiking trails, overlooks, and waterfalls in the area. Here are some closer options for visitors or locals trying to briefly escape the bustle of downtown.
The two-mile loop that surrounds Crabtree Falls contains camping sites for travelers but the real novelty of this secluded trail is the 70-foot waterfall. In the off-season, the trail is closed but in warm weather hikers can enjoy a unique view of the waterfall by climbing to reach three different heights along the levels of the waterfall. There is a comfort station with running water along with a gift shop and restaurant. Down the trail, camping spots hold 70 tents and 20 RVs. At milepost 339, you’ll find a sign for Crabtree Falls Trailhead, park here near the info booth. Take the trail from the parking lot until reaching a T-shaped intersection and turning right will bring you to a downhill trail leading along the waterfall.
Travelers looking for a short but rewarding hike should try the Craggy Gardens trail, located at milepost 364. The main trail from the parking lot leads up a shaded path for about a half-mile where it opens to a campsite fit for multiple tents. Smaller trails can be explored at the campsite opening but the real view can be found at the top of the main Craggy Pinnacle Trail where a 360 pinnacle (with rock platform) gives hikers panoramic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
In 1941, the United States Forest Service built this 70-foot-tall tower at the top of Fryingpan Mountain, to keep lookout for forest fire outbreaks. Now, the historic tower provides picturesque views for hikers looking to avoid the rush of travelers at nearby Mt. Pisgah trails, as well as a faster trip to find spectacular sights of the Blue Ridge Mountains (including the famous Cold Mountain). The trip is only 1.5 miles roundtrip and a fairly easy hike. Be aware, however, that the climb up the tower can become extremely windy and the height is not for the faint of heart. Park at the Forest Service Road 450, located at milepost 409, along the Blue Ridge Parkway (south of Asheville). Walk around the gate and continue up the gravel road to reach the Fryingpan Mountain summit and tower.
Located south of Asheville, Graveyard Fields draws in tourists each season due to it is multiple waterfalls, extreme foliage, and easy accessibility off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Various intersections along the developed path indicate trails leading to spots for camping, picnics, swimming (waterfalls and streams), as well as more hiking trails to higher peaks. The hike is a moderate, three-mile hike with limited obstacles, making it good for travelers with children or just looking for a relaxing trail. The main path loops back to the parking lot with a couple switchbacks and slight incline on the way (along with a view of lush mountain laurel and tunnels of rhododendron). The parking lot for Graveyard Fields will be located at milepost 418, where there is a large map of the trail.
Rattlesnake Lodge Hiking Trail
A popular lodge for locals in the early 1900s, the Rattlesnake Lodge has become a throwback adventure with various “ruins” marking past sites of Appalachian travelers. The 30-minute drive from downtown Asheville makes the spot a favorite for locals looking for a historical exploration. The lodge burned down in 1926 but hikers can find old fallen stone houses and other remains of barns, storage, and water pipe systems (all marked with signs). Two trails lead to the Rattlesnake Lodge: the first is a 1.4-mile gradual incline from Ox Creek Road (with a place to park four miles up on the left) and the second is a .5-mile steep climb off of the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 375.
Richland Balsam Overlook & Hiking Trail
Flowing rivers and thick Carolina pines surround the trail along the Richland Balsam Overlook, the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The hike is a 1.5-mile (moderately difficult and uphill), self-guided loop that provides more than 20 scenic overlooks for viewing the Fraser fir trees stretching over the mountains. Its height makes the overlook a good 20 degrees cooler than surrounding valleys, making this hike a chill escape compared to other overlooks lower down the Blue Ridge Parkway. To locate the trail for the Richland Balsam Overlook and Trails, travelers can stop at milepost 431, where the trail begins and ends.
For more information about the Blue Ridge Parkway, visit blueridgeparkway.org