Accessibility – Moderate
Height: Approx 40′
Distance – 3.0 Miles (out and back)
Beauty – 6
Photo rating – 6
Solitude – 6
GPS Info: LAT 35.3182 LONG -82.8669
Last updated – 04/01/2017
Access to Graveyard Fields is at mile 418.8 on the Blue Ridge Parkway but before we get to the parking area, stop at the East Fork Overlook at mile 418.3. The overlook provides sensational views of the surrounding mountains and if you look to your left you can see Yellowstone Prong as it crashes down Second Falls. Park in the Graveyard Fields Parking Area. There are facilities and trashcans as well as parking for 40-45 cars.
Most people refer to Upper and Lower Falls simply as Upper Falls and the pictures are only of this top, or Upper, section. While Second Falls is the most popular waterfall at Graveyard Fields, the hike to Upper and Lower Falls on Yellowstone Prong is what sets is apart. The three mile out and back is one of my top ten hikes in the area. You can see the rest of the list here. The hike can be combined with Second Falls to take in all three in a single visit and it doesn’t add to the total distance too much, other than a short backtrack from the base of Second Falls.
There are two ways to get to the trail to Upper and Lower Falls. You can take the stairs at the lower end of the parking area next to the bathrooms or you can take the stairs at the upper end. If you’re not going to second falls take the ones at the upper end. You can also transform it into a loop hike by departing from one and returning on the other. For argument’s sake. our hike will begin at the lower staircase. An asphalt trail at the base of the stairs snakes down the hill to a wooden bridge over Yellowstone Prong. In drier times, like when I was here in July, the large flat section of rock around the bridge is cool to explore. On my December visit, water levels were up and any foray onto the rocks would likely end badly as top of Second Falls is close by. At the intersection, the trail to Upper Falls goes left. If you’re going to Second Falls first, veer right. The intersection is marked.
What The Upper and Lower Falls lack in beauty is more than overshadowed by the hike. Neither compares to Second Falls or the remote and difficult to access Yellowstone Falls. The hike through the heart of Graveyard Fields more than makes up for it. The waterfall is 40′ high and the hike is easy. I only call it moderate due to the distance and the scramble at the end. There is a trail map posted so you can use this to familiarize yourself with the hike. Since I carry my cellphone to record my hikes, I will always snap a picture of any trail map just in case.
Barely 0.3 of a mile from the intersection on the boardwalk, ,the Graveyard Ridge Connector Trail intersects to the right. Ignore it. In another 0.25 of a mile a trail intersects from the left. This is the way to the staircase at the upper end of the parking lot. Keep going straight. Parts of the trail get muddy when it’s close to Yellowstone Prong. The trail does meander at times but as long as you keep moving basically parallel to the BRP, you’re heading in the right direction.
As you near the falls, the navigation trail gets tricky. There is a split in the trail that is not terribly obvious. There is a pile of boulders here. Taking the right fork leads up the hill to the Upper Falls. If you’re coming from lower falls you would backtrack to this point and ascend the hill. The scramble up is steep in places but once you get to the flatter section of trail there are some cool rock formations. The trail empties onto a large expanse of exposed rock. Move out onto the rock and you will see Upper Falls. You can also climb up along the side of Lower Falls but it was very tricky.
You can set up for a shot anywhere in the open section and there is enough color in the rock and surrounding vegetation to make for a pretty picture. The lighting can be challenging since there is no canopy. There is nothing at the top of the falls so be wary of the sky.