Developed Areas Along the Parkway

North Carolina BRP Highlights Blue Ridge Parkway
Blue Ridge Parkway
Developed Areas


Craggy Pinnacle, Douglas Falls



North of Asheville, North Carolina, the Blue Ridge Parkway passes through the Great Craggy Mountains, an area of exposed rock surfaces and high peaks that provides breathtaking views. Large expanses of native rhododendron cover the slopes and summits of the Craggies.  The Craggy Gardens area is located between milepost 364 - 367 along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

This area has long been known by local people as Craggy Gardens. In mid-June, pink and purple blooms of Catawba rhododendron cover the Craggies. Throughout the summer, smaller native wildflowers cover the ground with vibrant splashes of color. These natural gardens are "balds."

A bald is a treeless area located on or near the summit of a predominantly forested mountain. Seen from a distance, the area appears bare. Closer inspection, however, reveals that balds are covered with low-growing vegetation - unique communities of plant life. Heath balds include rhododendron, mountain laurel, blueberries, and flame azalea. Grassy balds are made up primarily of grasses and wildflowers and, in some areas, they intermix with the heaths to form "pathways" through the rhododendron.

What caused the balds? No one knows for sure. Some may have resulted from natural causes such as fire or dramatic climate change over long periods of time. Other balds may be man-made, and some were probably cleared or enlarged by early settlers. We do know that many were used for pasturing livestock during summer months. In the Craggies, most grazing ceased in 1920, and all grazing was stopped in 1950 when the Blue Ridge Parkway acquired the land.

Sunset on Craggy Pinnacle

Hiking in the Craggy Gardens area

The Craggy Gardens Trail can be accessed from the south end of the Visitor Center Parking Area or from the north end of the Picnic Area. From the Parking Area, the trail begins as a self-guided nature trail with a moderate uphill climb for 0.3 mile to a large trail shelter.  This rustic shelter was built by the CCC in the 1930's as a picnic shelter. 

The self-guiding portion ends at the trail shelter, and a short spur trail to the left crosses the rhododendron bald to an unobstructed view of the town of Montreat and the lofty Black Mountain Range.  The views on the bald are spectacular.

The main trail descends gradually from the shelter to enter a mixed-hardwood forest and in another 0.5 miles reaches the Picnic Area. Half way from the shelter to the Picnic Area a narrow loop path to the right leads to a small gazebo nestled in the forest and overlooking the valley below. Many wildflowers embellish the Craggy Gardens Trail from spring through fall, and blueberries on the bald offer an extra late-summer treat.

Access to the Douglas Falls Trail (also known as the Carter Creek Falls Trails) is via the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. From Graybeard Mountain Overlook located at milepost 363.5 of the Parkway, travel the MTS Trail south for 1.3 miles to the intersection with the Douglas Falls Trail. Follow the Douglas Falls Trail 2.3 miles through a mixed hardwood forest to its termination at the falls. The trail winds past a series of cascades and two virgin hemlock groves before reaching the 70-foot Douglas Creek Falls. This strenuous, but rewarding, 3.6 mile hike (7.2 mile round trip) has long been a favorite with hikers.

Douglas Falls

View from Craggy Pinnacle looking toward Craggy Knob

The Craggy Pinnacle Trail offers the most spectacular views in the area. This moderate 20 minute walk begins from the upper level of the Craggy Dome Parking Overlook (just north of the tunnel that is in view from the Visitor Center). Visitors are rewarded with a breathtaking 360-degree view from its 5892 foot summit.  This is a wonderful Parkway leg stretcher with an elevation gain of only 250 feet.

Tunnels of rhododendron, gnarled sweet birch trees and wildflowers abound from the trail's beginning to its crest. Here the heaths are mostly blueberries. A spur trail to the right, just before the summit, leads to an observation point surrounded by rugged, rocky terrain. Although stout in appearance, this is fragile habitat for many rare plants. This is a must do hike when traveling on the Parkway.

The Mountains-to-Sea Trail skirts the southern side of Craggy Pinnacle and, when complete, will reach from the Smokies to the North Carolina coast. Accesses to the MTS Trail are located at the south end of the Visitor Center Parking area, at the north end of Craggy Gardens Picnic Area and at Graybeard Mt. Overlook, a mile north of the Visitor Center.

The Snowball Mountain Trail is a moderate to strenuous 8 mile round trip and affords beautiful views. Beware of poison ivy and stinging nettle bordering narrow portions of the trail.

To reach the trailhead, start at the Mountains-to-Sea Trail crossing at the Picnic Area road and continue south a few hundred feet. The Snowball Trail turns to the right (NW) off of the MTS Trail, passes through a mixed-hardwood forest and follows the ridges with views to both sides.

Some heath areas are encountered as the trail continues up the main ridge over Snowball Mountain. From the second rock face, and 30 paces on a spur trail to the left, Hawkbill Rock provides good views of Reems Creek Valley to the west. After joining a jeep road and reaching a turn-around area, keep to the left most road then continue to Little Snowball Mountain and remnants of a fire tower.

Most of the above hikes are featured in the hiking guide book Hiking the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The well worn Craggy Pinnacle Trail



Developed Areas Along the Parkway

North Carolina BRP Highlights Blue Ridge Parkway

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