A short drive (20 miles) from downtown Asheville takes you up, up, up on the Blue Ridge Parkway to Craggy Gardens. After you enter the Craggy Gardens area on the Parkway, you will see a sign for the Craggy Picnic Area to the left, a short drive up the mountain to many picnic tables and some great hiking trails. If you continue straight on the Parkway a few more miles, you will reach the Craggy Gardens Visitor Center for great views to the east and to the west. Enjoy the crisp air, summer rhododendron, and easy to moderate hiking trails. Since this location is more than 3,500 feet higher in elevation than Asheville, be prepared for temperatures 10-20 degrees cooler than the city. If you are greeted by low clouds and fog, wait a bit. The weather can change rapidly.
The Great Craggy Mountains are an area of exposed rock surfaces and high peaks that provides breathtaking views of distant southern Appalachian ridges. Large expanses of native rhododendron cover the slopes and summits of the Craggies. The area has long been known as Craggy Gardens. In mid-June, pink and purple blooms of Catawba rhododendron cover the Craggies. Throughout the summer, smaller native wildflowers cover the ground with vibrant splashes of color. These natural garden meadows are "balds."
Visitors come to see vistas, rocky crags, wildflowers in the summer and bouquets of red berries of the mountain ash in the fall. The berries are often encased in ice in the fall and winter. The combination of high altitude, cool weather, and exposed rocky outcrops creates the necessary habitat for a number of rare and endangered plants. Craggy Gardens has been recognized by the state of North Carolina as a Natural Heritage Area and has been recommended as a National Natural Landmark.
Craggy Gardens Hikes:
Note: There are many fragile habitats with rare plants. Please stay on the designated trails.
Our favorite hike at Craggy (and one of our favorites in the Asheville area) is the Craggy Pinnacle Trail. It's a 1.5-mile roundtrip hike to the top for exceptional panoramic views that are hard to top in Western North Carolina. See our Craggy Pinnacle Guide. (Photo above)
The Craggy Gardens Trail (above) can be accessed from the south end of the Visitor Center Parking area or from the north end of the Picnic Area. From the Visitor Center, the trail begins as a self-guided nature trail with a moderate uphill climb for 3/10 of a mile to a large trail shelter. A short spur to the left crosses the rhododendron bald to a overlook. If you begin at the Picnic Area, it's a 8/10 of a mile uphill hike to the shelter and bald area.
The Douglas Falls Trail (also known as Carter Creek Falls Trails) is via the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. From the Greybeard Mountain Overlook (at Milepost 363.4, about a mile drive north of the Visitor Center), travel the MTS Trail south for one mile to the intersection with the falls trail. Follow the falls trail three miles through a mixed hardwood forest to its termination at the falls. The trail winds past a series of cascades and two virgin hemlock groves before reaching the 70-foot Douglas Creek Falls. This strenuous, but rewarding, 4-mile hike (8 miles roundtrip).
Directions: Simply drive north on the Blue Ridge Parkway from Asheville, about 18 miles north of the Folk Art Center on the Parkway (near U.S. 70 exit) or take scenic Town Mountain Road from downtown to the Parkway and turn left (about 20 miles total). This section of the Parkway closes frequently during the winter for snow and ice. Road closures and conditions, along with weather reports, are available by calling the Parkway information line at (828) 298-0398.