It is quite obvious that North Carolina is one of our favorite states, maybe even our number one, we just don’t know it yet. The fact that we have been here so many times AND we chose to have our first travel nursing assignment together in Asheville just speak volumes of our fondness for this place.
If you are an outdoor enthusiast like we are, then there are tons of activities here for you. If you are a foodie and a beer lover, other than Oregon on the West Coast, this charming Southern state on the East Coast perfectly suits the bill.
We have been temporarily living in Asheville for 19 weeks now. We have two more weeks to go till our contract ends then we drive back home to sunshiny Florida for the winter.
In the meantime, this is the third part of my Blue Ridge Parkway hiking series.
If you are into hiking and would like some ideas and tips as to which trails to take, then this series is for you. There is no hard core technical hiking in here though, just doable and enjoyable enough to give you a good work out and enjoy the outdoors at the same time.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is touted as one of America’s scenic roads spanning between two states and runs for 469 miles through Virginia and North Carolina. It is a part of the Appalachian mountain range connecting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.
We try to hike as many trails as we can and not just along the Blue Ridge Parkway but because the Parkway is easily accessible and has lots of trails, then this is where majority of our hiking is done.
Skinny Dip Falls
The name itself piques interest in many. It is one of the many waterfalls around the Asheville area where swimming is allowed, but alas, no you can’t swim in your birthday suit unless you come really early or late. Skinny Dip Falls is a popular swimming hole in the area specially during summer. Sorry, just keep your clothes on here.
The trailhead is located right across the parking lot of Looking Glass Rock Overlook at Mile Post 417 on the Parkway. Note that there are no signs leading to the falls.
It takes you only half a mile to get to Skinny Dip Falls. It is a fairly easy hike. Just follow the Mountains-to-Sea Trail for the most part until you get to a wooden bench and a staircase that will take you down to the falls. There is also a bridge that you can cross to get to the other side and explore more of its nooks and crannies.
Less than two miles away from Skinny Dip Falls is Graveyard Fields Trail on Mile Post 418.8. The trailhead starts on the right side of the parking lot just beside the restrooms and drinking station. You go down a flight of stairs and then follow a “paved” trail where there are rhododendrons on both sides. Depends on the season you hike but rhododendrons bloom around May and June covering this trail with a canopy of pretty pink flowers.
The trail is a 4 mile loop. Graveyard Fields (like Skinny Dip Falls) is another misleading name. In the past, tree stumps and other trees in the area looked like grave stones in a graveyard, hence the name, but after a fire of so many years ago burned down the trees, there has been a noticeable absence of trees around this part, unlike the rest of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Being situated on one of the highest elevations on the Parkway, these bushes and plants are among those who display their colors first. We hiked this trail end of September and as you can see, the leaves are already showing some color.
But before you get to the open fields as shown above, you get to the Lower Falls first and then cross a bridge to get to the real “Graveyard Fields” where you can then continue hiking to the Upper Falls.
You can see wild blueberries growing abundantly too. No wonder there was a warning sign at the parking lot that there was no camping allowed in the area due to increased bear activity. In case you didn’t know, bears love berries!
These pretty yellow wildflowers were all over the trail. That and so much more including trees that were showing signs of autumn.
Soon enough, it was getting dark and we didn’t really know how far we were to the Upper Falls. It seemed like we were hiking on and on after the last trail sign we saw and hikers we met along the way on their way back reported there wasn’t much water to see and that it wasn’t that spectacular. If it were not for reports of bear activity and the fact that dusk was fast approaching, we would have pushed on.
Again, my instincts were telling me to go back so we did. Who knows how close we were to the falls but no matter how much we strained our ears to listen to water running, we just couldn’t hear anything. And yet, this wasn’t the first time I listened to this strange gut feel of mine while hiking.
It doesn’t help also that I was stopping every ten steps to take photos. I know. My hubby gets annoyed at this fact though he tries his very best to hide it and go along with me because a normal two hour hike would end up to be four!
So we hiked/trotted as fast as we can. No more stopping to take pictures. The trees were throwing creepy looking shadows on the trail now and I was trying my very best to not think about bears. I talked in my loudest voice, mostly nonsense, making some noise to ward off potential bears lurking and other animals nearby.
I do have my hiking pole and my hubby has his knife and whistle. But because, bears.
Once we got to the parking lot, phew, what a big sigh of relief! That was scary, a little…okay, a lot, for me, that is. But the sun was out shining brightly ready to set behind the mountains. We were greeted with this view. And just like that, all our fears went away.
“Beautiful sunset you have there! Endless mountains in sight.
Blue Ridge Mountains, we bid you good night.”
Any interesting hiking stories you want to share? Tips for the “bear-y” scared hiker?