Accessibility – Hard+
Height: Approx 125′ (2 drops)
Distance – 1.60 Miles (out and back)
Beauty – 9
Photo rating – 9
Solitude – 10
GPS Info: LAT 35.3238 LONG -82.8416
*DISCLAIMER: This hike is most assuredly not for everyone. Most of the 1.6 miles is on the MST. The difficulty lies after you depart the MST. There isn’t a maintained trail. In some spots there’s no trail. It is part rock hop and creek wade. There are two steep scrambles, most of which will be done hunched over to get under the rhodos. After all that, you come to the final obstacle, boulders. Lots and lots of boulders. On my December 2015 visit I also had to contend with ice.
The journey to Yellowstone Falls begins along the Blue Ridge Parkway but the journey for me began several years ago. Since I first started coming to Western NC, I have been obsessed with two things, seeing Yellowstone Falls and hiking Looking Glass Rock. These were my white whales. I took care of LGR back in July. December 5, 2015, I took care of Yellowstone Falls. I don’t know what it is about this waterfall but I have been obsessed with seeing it. My obsession only grew after a failed attempt to reach it by coming up from Skinny Dip Falls in October of 2015.
The parking area for Graveyard Fields is at mile 418.8 on the BRP but before we get to the parking area, first there is the matter of the East Fork Overlook at mile 418.3. The overlook provides sensational views of the surrounding mountains. It also provides a preview of the hike to Yellowstone Falls. If you look down from the Easy Fork Overlook into the foreboding tangle of Rhododendrons, Yellowstone Falls is hidden down there, all 125 feet of it and it is hidden well. If that doesn’t dissuade you, turn from the precipice and make 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 and to see Yellowstone Falls, you will be climbing over them.
Park in the Graveyard Fields Parking Area and take the steps down to the paved path. The asphalt trail will lead you to a wooden bridge over Yellowstone Prong. In drier times, 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, stay to the right and make your way down the steps to the observation deck. You can also take the MST spur before the steps. I didn’t go that way, so I can’t comment on the hike or the trail condition. If you so desire, enjoy Second Falls before heading downstream. I had the opportunity to see Second Falls on my way to and from Yellowstone Falls and I stopped to take pictures both times because there was no one there! A narrow path parallels Yellowstone Prong as it flows toward Skinny Dip Falls about 2 miles away. The trial is very soggy in places so step carefully. This side spur connects with the MST and passes through several campsites before nearing the top of the falls. The trail gets very soggy near the top of the falls and on my visit it had water flowing along it. The MST will make a left away from the prong and ascend, the path to the base of the falls is to the right.
When the trail ends at the prong you will see a series of rocks along the left side, jutting out of Yellowstone Prong, you will have to walk along those to get to the creek crossing. They are large flat stone turned on edge, so enjoy. It gets a little dicey in places but eventually you will come to a sandy area where you can walk. At this point you can also see the top of the waterfall. The prong vanishes abruptly as it plunges 125 feet. Rock hop to the other side and locate the trail into the rhododendrons. I wish I could be more precise but those were the directions I was given and I found my way. The “path” follows the prong and through the thicket you can see the water rushing past. In places the trail is right on the edge of what would be a painful and likely fatal plunge into the boulder filled prong. As best I could tell there is no way to get to the base of the falls without crossing. If you try it, you do so at your own peril. I scouted the MST side and it is steep!
There is a flat section between the two drops. You can get out onto the boulders for a look at the upper section of the falls but use caution. I slip into the water will likely sweep you over the lower section and into the boulder pool at the base. The second section of the descent is much worse and to get a good shot you will have to venture out onto the boulders, which on my visit were covered with moss and ice. There is another drop but with the water level high, I didn’t venture any further. if you look downstream you will see additional sections of the falls. In some reference material I’ve heard them called Lower Yellowstone Falls. They are discussed as well but I approached them from Skinny Dip Falls.
As for photography, venture out as far as you dare. If the water levels were low, I probably would have gone further but the prong was raging and many of the rocks were covered in ice.