Accessibility – Difficult
Height: Approx 50′ (4 drops)
Distance – 1.92 Miles (out and back)
Beauty – 6
Photo rating – 6
Solitude – 9
GPS Info: LAT 35.3223 LONG -82.8345
Access to Graveyard Fields is at mile 418.8 on the Blue Ridge Parkway but to get to Lower Yellowstone Falls, we will be parking in the Looking Glass Rock Overlook at mile post 417. They can likely be accessed by continuing downstream from Yellowstone Falls but since I have yet to make the trek from that side, I will give directions coming up from Skinny Dip Falls. This section will likely be re-written in the summer when I try the Yellowstone Prong hike from Skinny Dip Falls to Upper Falls.
If you’re coming from US276, the Looking Glass Rock overlook will be on your left, while coming from NC215, it will be on the right. For those coming from NC215, make a stop at the East Fork Overlook. For those coming from US276, let’s drive 1.3 miles out of the way. The East Fork Overlook at mile 418.3 and it provides a panoramic view of the lower section of Graveyard Fields. It will also provide a preview of the hike to Lower Yellowstone Falls (and Yellowstone Falls). If you look down from the East Fork Overlook into the foreboding tangle of Rhododendrons, Yellowstone Falls and Lower Yellowstone Falls are hidden down there. Getting to either of these waterfalls is challenging and should be attempted by only those experienced in off-trail hiking. Lower Yellowstone Falls is almost directly below the overlook, while Yellowstone Falls is down and to the left. If this view doesn’t dissuade you, turn from the precipice and take note of the 100 foot high cliff created in the 1930s when WPA workers blasted out hundreds of tons of rock to make room for the roadbed and the overlook. Those hundreds of tons of boulders are now piled in the valley below. Lower Yellowstone Falls is primarily comprised of these boulders and you will be climbing over them to get good views and to access the upper section of the falls.
Park in the Looking Glass Rock overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 417. The first segment of the hike is just over 0.5 miles and relatively easy, although the trail is eroded in several places and there are some rocky sections. The trailhead is across the parkway and as you began you will see the white blazes. The first part of the hike is on the Mountains to Sea Trail. A set of log steps lead up an incline and once at the top stay left. The trail descends and along this stretch you will encounter some rocky sections. The trail ends at the observation platform for Skinny Dip Falls. Take the stairway down to the bridge crossing Yellowstone Prong.
The trail upstream is to the right of the Skinny Dip Falls. Early in this section of the hike the trail mirrors Yellowstone Prong, rarely venturing far from the water. There was a lot of downfall along this section of trail but other than having to climb over several fallen trees it isn’t too difficult. About ten minutes upstream of Skinny Dip Falls, after the path veer away from the prong there is a steep descent to the left, taking you back toward the creek. You will know you are in the correct place when you see this.
The way upstream gets steeper after this point and after leaving the large rock formation the path ventures away from the prong. You will be able to hear the creek down to your left and when the trail rejoins the creek you will close to the lowest section. You’ll know you’re in the right place when you see Yellowstone Prong flowing over the boulders. You can get a shot of the lower section by rock hopping. If the water level were down you could wade into the creek as well. The only way I could find to the next section was by climbing up the boulders. The second section of falls is nicer than the first but you will work to get there.
There aren’t a lot of landmarks. So from this point, what I did was pick my way upstream as far as I could. I tried it venturing inland and by climbing the boulders. The terrain to the right side of the prong is steep and almost impassible in spots. The climb over the boulders gets dicey at times so the choice is yours. Your reward will be seeing a waterfall that very few have seen.
The hike isn’t remotely kid friendly once you get to the rock formation so you will want to leave those unaccustomed to this kind of hiking at Skinny Dip Falls with the kids. The photo opportunities are varied and will depend greatly on how you want to approach it. I explored around the upper section of falls and found an awesome vantage to isolate one section of falls. There is only enough room for one person and it is access by scooting through a narrow opening in the rocks.
This is the view of the middle section from a small vantage between the boulders – October 2015