We get out about once a week to hike usually in central to western North Carolina. We hike slowly and stop often to enjoy the views and the little treasures that nature offers. We enjoy waterfall, river, and mountain hikes frequently visiting The Blue Ridge Parkway, the Great Smoky Moutains National Park, and Pisgah National Forest.
Craggy Gardens is an area along the Blue Ridge Parkway north of Asheville with several peaks above 5000 feet. We came up here to enjoy the rhododendrons that peak about the middle of June but the first thing we noticed was how much cooler the temperature was up here. There is a visitor center with restrooms, a small museum, and a gift shop on the parkway.
We parked at the visitor center and hiked the trail that begins at the south end of the parking lot. The signpost identifies this as the Douglas Falls trail but we were not hiking to the falls. The trail immediately enters the woods. It is narrow and rocky but gains elevation slowly and is not overly difficult. Soon the falls trail goes right and downhill but we stayed on the trail that goes straight ahead.
After .3 miles we arrived at the shelter built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930's as a picnic shelter. It was definitely built to last. A junco was playing at the edge of the shelter when we arrived. The main trail continues straight ahead from here but there are side trails leading left before and after the shelter that we wanted to explore.
We took the trail at the far side of the shelter up onto the bald. The origin of the bald areas that are found in several places along the Blue Ridges is a bit of a mystery but they provide great places to view wildflowers and wildlife. We find them to be peaceful places to hang out and relax. There were lots of rhododendrons and the flame azaleas were still in bloom.
There was a bench in the shade of the oak trees that invited us to sit a spell. There were small flowers scattered in the grass. We watched butterflies flit around and bumblebees in the flowers. This trail was busy today and there were other people on the bald but it was still quiet. After about .1 miles the trail ended at an overlook.
We turned back the way we came then took the trail to the right coming down to the shelter on the other side. There were lots of berry bushes along this short trail and great views of Craggy Pinnacle that we would climb later in the day. We talked to a ranger resting in the shelter who said this would be a good year for the berries.
The trail continues .8 miles from here to the picnic area. It is all downhill. The first part of the trail is open to the sun and has lots of flowers and berry bushes. As we lost elevation we were once again in the woods. There were lots of interesting trees and rock formations along both sides of the trail.
The picnic area at the end has tables, grills, and restrooms. It can be reached by car from the parkway. The majority of people on the trail today were hiking from either the picnic area or the visitor center to the bald rather then hiking the whole trail. We hiked back to the van then drove back up to the picnic area for lunch.
After relaxing in the picnic area we drove north of the visitor center to the parking for the Craggy Pinnacle trail. This is a .7 mile uphill hike. We climbed through rhododendron tunnels and past more interesting rocks and trees. The rhododendrons were past peak but the azaleas were just starting to bloom. There were bluets and other small flowers along the trail.
The trail is not overly difficult but is narrow in spots and rocky. Near the top is a signed intersection. Straight ahead on the trail leads to the top overlook. A right turn leads a short distance downhill to a lower overlook. It is worth the effort to visit both overlooks. The upper overlook was busy but that didn't stop the juncos from visiting. The lower overlook was quieter.
This is a trail that we like to bring out of town company including children to. It is a short hike but you feel like you have climbed a mountain and the views from the top are great. We have hiked here with the grandsons and they enjoyed playing along the trail. The area is fragile and dangerous though so you do not want to wander off of the trail.