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Shining Rock Wilderness 
Winter Hikes

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This is the time of the year to hit the trails if you like views and solitude. The leaves are gone and so are the crowds. Because of the sudden weather changes and lower temperatures many opt to stay home in the Winter. As a result some find this an appealing time to hike. Below are some short day hikes near the Blue Ridge Parkway, approximately 30 miles south of Asheville. These hikes are at a higher elevation so the temperatures are low and the wind cuts like a knife. As a result these hikes are intentionally short. This area is located in the Pisgah National Forest.

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Sunset from the Blue Ridge Parkway


The trailhead here begins at milepost 418 at the right side of the parking area. The paved...yup paved trail begins in a thick patch of Rhododendron with many side trails none worth following. The path leads you downhill to a small bridge that crosses Yellowstone Prong. After crossing the bridge the trail to the right leads to Yellowstone Falls. If you turn right and take the first trail that leads uphill away from Yellowstone Prong. You are now hiking in the Graveyard Fields.


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One of the few trees in Graveyard Fields.   

This is also an excellent place to camp. It is an open field devoid of any large trees due to a Forest fire in 1925. Piles of slash, the branches and limbs that the logging company left behind, caught fire and burned over 25,000 acres of timber. The logging company had to rebuild bridges and trestles that burned to rescue stranded logging trains.The fallen tree trunks and mossy stumps are all that remain. Hence the name of Graveyard fields was bestowed upon this spooky looking field. At night the effect is even more dramatic.

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Outfitters use Lamas to carry gear.    

The recommended route from here is to continue uphill towards Graveyard Ridge. There are many trails here and it is hard to go wrong, because you never leave the sight of the parking area. When you reach a level railroad grade with a trail on it you are on Graveyard ridge. Turn left and continue, approximately 1/2 of a mile, until you see a trail to the left. Head back to Yellowstone Prong.

As you walk through the field to your left are some tall mountains, a few miles in the distance. That will be our next destination. There are several fire rings in this area and is a popular camping area. As you descend towards the creek there are even more trails criss crossing each other. When you reach the creek follow the path to the right to Upper Falls. Double back along the creek back to the bridge and up to the parking area.

This hike is approximately 2.5 miles and can be made longer or shorter very easily because most of the hike is in a field.

Black Balsam Knob

About 3 miles south of Graveyard Ridge on the Blue Ridge Parkway is Forest Road 816. Take a right on 816 and travel approximately 1/2 0f a mile to the Art Loeb Trail. Take the trail on the Right side of the road as you are driving in.

This is a short section of the 30 mile long Art Loeb Trail.

As you ascend the rocky trail to Black Balsam Knob the absence of trees is conspicuous. The same forest fire mentioned above forever changed this section of Pisgah National Forest. The erosion that followed is still obvious and ongoing. The trail is sparsely populated with some scrubby conifers. The climb up has views to the northeast of Looking Glass Rock jutting out of the valley floor.

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 Looking Glass Rock   

You may be distracted by the panoramic views as you climb! It seems like a short hike to the top because as you climb the views get better. The elevation at the highest point is 6214', pretty respectable for this part of the country. If it is not too windy this is an excellent lunch spot. Double back to the car for a round trip hike of around 2 miles.

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A saddle on the Art Loeb Trail.


Proceed south on the BRP approximately 4  miles to the junction of Rt. 215. Take a left on 215 and head towards Waynesville. As you wind your way down the mountain notice how the forest changes from conifers (pine trees) to leafy hardwoods (deciduous) as you descend to lower elevations. From the Blue Ridge Parkway to Sunburst Campground you lose 3000'+ in elevation. At the bottom of the "hill" on the left is the Sunburst Campground. This is an excellent base camp for hikes in the Middle Prong and Shining Rock Wilderness. There are many trails in the area and a map is necessary for safe hiking.

The Sunburst Campground is on the former site of a Logging Camp. The loggers lived with their families in railroad cars that they rented from the "company". The men that harvested the timber from the surrounding mountain sides were paid in company scrip. They worked 10 hours a day 6 days a week in all seasons. While it is true that their working conditions were good for the day they still lived a life of hardship.

Behind the bath house is a trail that leads up the hillside. It is steep and climbs for a half of a mile to a cemetery. The residents are there because of a typhoid outbreak in the early twentieth century. They were buried here because a particularly icy Winter prevented the bodies from being taken elsewhere. Many of the people here were the children of the loggers. There are several short trails here that lead back to the road. Across 215 there are "fishing" trails on National Forest land that follow the west fork of the Pigeon River. It is worth the trip just to see this scenic river.


Drive back up 215 to the Blue Ridge Parkway and turn left back towards Graveyard Fields. Drive past the fields and turn on Rt. 276. Turn right and coast down the mountain towards Cruso. Again at the bottom of the mountain is your destination. Just past the small bridge over the east fork of the Pigeon River you will see a sign on the left that says Big East Fork. Park in parking area. The trail begins behind the tri-board at the end of the parking lot.

The trail is on an old railroad grade and follows the East Fork. After a short distance you see a sign that says "Trail" and points to the right. Don't turn and continue straight on the railroad grade. The trail on the right is the Shining Creek Trail and climbs 3000' to Shining Rock.

As the trail follows the river there are numerous campsites. These are so close to the car that they are suitable for "modified "car camping. It's not too far to carry in luxuries. The trail travels through dense Rhododendron and past several beautiful waterfalls. If one looks closely there are many artifacts that are left from the logging days. At one point the trail skirts the river on a sandy beach and in the water is a rail from a narrow gage railroads.    Follow this trail 'till your heart's content and when finished, backtrack to your car.

The above hikes are well suited for a weekend trip. Sunburst, Graveyard Fields and Big East Fork are excellent places for base camps.

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Middle Prong Wilderness   



30 miles south of Asheville, NC on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Graveyard Fields is at mile post 418. From I-26 take US 64 at Hendersonville, NC to Rt. 276. At the intersection of 276 and 64 near Brevard take 276 (BI-LO on the corner) past the Cradle of Forestry, a worthwhile museum about early logging, to Wagon Road Gap on the Blue Ridge Parkway. If hiking along the Big East Fork continue past the junction, down the mountain to The trailhead on the left. If hiking Graveyard fields and the other hikes, enter the B.R.P. turn left, towards Cherokee, and travel the short distance to milepost 418. Map your route with MapQuest>>>>

The Shining Rock Wilderness or Pisgah National Forest maps show these trails.

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