Blue Ridge Parkway: Graveyard Fields/Upper Falls & Black Balsam Mountain via Graveyard Ridge Trail/Mountains-to-Sea Trail, Brevard, North Carolina
The North Carolina High Country is a beautiful area. It is part of the Pisgah National Forest, and part of it is also classified as the Shining Rock Wilderness. The NC High Country is where the mountain tops are bald, black balsam trees/forests are abundant, and steep, rushing streams descend into the valleys below to form some of the bigger rivers in the area. The drainages on the south side eventually end up in the Mills River, whereas the drainages on the north side end up in the Pigeon River. Yellowstone Prong is one of the major tributaries of the Mills River on the south side. Just below the bald summit of Black Balsam Mountain, Yellowstone Prong begins its journey southward towards the Mills River, and on the way, it passes through an outlier: a somewhat swampy, lush mountain meadow known as Graveyard Fields. This hike occurred on Saturday, July 19th, 2014, My original plan was to start at the Graveyard Fields Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway, hike down into Graveyard Fields via the Graveyard Fields Loop on the west side, and then take the spur trail to Upper Falls out and back. From there, I would take the Graveyard Ridge Connector to the Graveyard Ridge Trail, and the Graveyard Ridge Trail west to the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Next, I would take the M-t-S to Black Balsam Road, and then the Art Loeb Trail over the bald summits of Black Balsam Mountain and Tennent Mountain to Ivestor Gap. From here, I would return by taking the Graveyard Ridge Trail southward back to the M-t-S. However, to add variety, I would turn left onto the M-t-S at the junction, and then return via the M-t-S Connector to Graveyard Fields Loop. Finally, I would return via the paved path out of Graveyard Fields to the parking area at the overlook. Sounds good enough, eh? Well, what actually happened was a little different. I got to a false gap what I thought was Ivestor Gap, and when I couldn't find Graveyard Ridge Trail, I took the old logging road that went to the left and connected with Ivestor Gap Trail. I followed Ivestor Gap Trail to Black Balsam Road, and finished the hike with 3 miles of roadwalk. This description will follow the actual route of my hike.
Blue Ridge Parkway: Sam Knob - Flat Laurel Creek - Chestnut Bald Loop Trail, Brevard, North Carolina
The Blue Ridge Parkway has some of the best hiking destinations in North Carolina, and this is only the second time I've been there (after Mount Pisgah three years ago). The Black Balsam/Sam Knob area is a small triangle between two wilderness areas and the Parkway. The views are grand from the whole hike, and many mountain tops are treeless. According to what I've heard, Sam Knob originally was only grass and rock, but it is being gradually covered up by brush and bushes. The views are incredible, nevertheless. This hike occurred on Saturday, May 10th, 2014. My plan was to take the Sam Knob trail from the Black Balsam Trailhead. At the junction with the Summit Trail, I planned taking the Summit Trail to the top of Sam Knob, and then go back down to the Sam Knob trail, and down to Flat Laurel Creek. After Flat Laurel Creek, I planned taking the Flat Laurel Creek Trail to the Little Sam Knob Trail, and from there, follow the Little Sam Knob Trail to the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Finally, I planned finishing by taking the MtS to the Art Loeb Trail, and following the Art Loeb Trail to Black Balsam Road. The last part of the hike would be a road walk on Black Balsam Road.
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