This short mile-high hike offers huge rewards with some of the best mountain views anywhere. It's only a 1.4-miles roundtrip hike to the top of the 5,892-foot summit at Craggy Gardens. The exceptional panoramic 360-degree views are hard to beat in Western North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains. The hiking trail goes through tunnels of rhododendron, gnarled sweet birch trees and wildflowers. Near the top, there are side trails to explore.
From the Craggy Gardens visitor's center, drive north through a short tunnel and pull into the next parking area on the left for the trail. The elevation at the parking lot is 5,640 feet, so you only climb 252 feet in elevation on the trail. It's not difficult. Located on the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 364.4, it's free to visit. Plus, it's a great spot to watch the sunrise or sunset. If you watch the sunset, be sure to take a flashlight to help you get back to your car.
During June, enjoy the beautiful purple blooms of the Catawba rhododendron. This heath bald doesn't have any large trees. Instead, you'll find shrubs (like rhododendron and mountain laurel) and even blueberry bushes. Look for the trail sign in the parking area. The trail is easy to follow. As you walk up the hill, stop to admire the twisted birch tree that has created a bonsai-look (great photo spot). This tree tells the story of the harsh weather on this peak, especially in the winter.
Near the top, you'll see a bench where the trail forks for the summit and lower overlook. Since the hike is short, you should see both! The summit overlook has three small areas with rock walls to sit and enjoy. Don't venture past the rock walls since there is fragile, endangered species here in this sensitive habitat. From the summit overlook, you will see our favorite mountain view in North Carolina. To the north, you can see Mount Mitchell. To the west, you can even see I-26 as it crosses Tennessee. To the south, look down at the Blue Ridge Parkway visitor center for Craggy Gardens and look across at the Craggy picnic shelter (another fun hike). To the east, look down at Asheville's water reservoir, North Fork.
While this lofty hike is only 24 miles from downtown Asheville, it can often be 15-20 degrees cooler. The weather can change quickly. If you are greeted by low clouds and fog, wait a bit. The weather can change rapidly. This section of the Parkway is closed much of the winter, so the hike is not accessible then.
Driving Directions: Simply drive north on the Blue Ridge Parkway (Milepost 364.4) from Asheville, about 18 miles north of the Folk Art Center on the Parkway (near U.S. 70 exit). 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.