The three waterfalls in Graveyard Fields (Upper Falls, Second Falls, Yellowstone Falls) are accessed from Graveyard Fields Overlook at Milepost 418.9 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, between US 276 and NC 215. The main trail begins at the steps near the restroom building. You can mostly avoid the crowds by visiting early in the morning.
Take the steps down to the paved path. The path leads through a tunnel of Catawba rhododendron and mountain laurel, then changes to dirt as it continues descending to a footbridge over Yellowstone Prong at 0.16 mile. Downstream, you’ll see the brink of the waterfall. Cross the bridge and follow the boardwalk to the end, passing the trailhead for Upper Falls on the way. Continue from the end of the boardwalk for 30 yards to a fork. The right fork will take you to a long series of steps that descend to the base of the falls. Note that the trail signs call the waterfall “Lower Falls.”
You can see Second Falls easily from the Blue Ridge Parkway a short distance north of Graveyard Fields Overlook. This distant view provides a unique perspective that includes the surrounding mountains.
Overview of Graveyard Fields
Like to rub elbows when you hike to waterfalls? Well, have I got the place for you! About the only time Graveyard Fields isn’t crowded is during winter, and that’s only because the Blue Ridge Parkway typically closes during that time. The area owes its popularity to its spectacular and unique scenery and its accessible and easy hiking trails. From the Graveyard Fields Overlook on the parkway, you can look out over a flat, open valley that lacks the dense forest prevailing in much of the mountains. Yellowstone Prong meanders along the valley floor, and Graveyard Ridge looms in the distance.
The valley’s openness is not natural, but rather the effect of a catastrophic fire in 1925 that resulted from logging operations. The heat was so intense that it sterilized the soil below the surface. The vegetation still hasn’t fully recovered. The origin of the name Graveyard Fields is not known for certain. The leading theory is that it originated long before the logging, when lichens and mosses covered wind-thrown spruce trees, creating a ghostly scene resembling a graveyard.
Since I wrote the second edition of North Carolina Waterfalls in 2004, a number of boardwalks have been installed and other trail improvements made. These help greatly in lessening the erosion caused by so many visitors wandering all over the place. You can help by staying on the official trails. Additionally, there is now a restroom facility at the overlook, which should lessen the toilet-paper flowers growing all over the valley.
Overview of Second Falls
The deep pool and large boulders below Second Falls are perfect spots for swimming and sunbathing. In fact, the only way you’ll have this waterfall to yourself during summer is to get here first thing in the morning. Catawba rhododendron grows on the banks of the falls, putting on a beautiful magenta show in June. In May, painted trilliums bloom along the trail between the parking area and the creek. This waterfall is popular among photographers in all seasons, but autumn is when it really shines, especially in the view from the parkway. The photo rating considers all of the photo opportunities, from the base as well as the parkway.