Craggy Gardens, A Stop Along the Blue Ridge Parkway

Craggy Dome, Copyright KBuffaloe
A popular stop along the Blue Ridge Parkway is Craggy Gardens, which, according to my parkway guide, is named for rock outcroppings on nearby summits. The Visitors Center is located at mile 364.5, and there, you can enjoy a bathroom break and breathtaking views that includes Craggy Dome.

But our goal for this trip was the picnic area, located at mile 367.6, and the Craggy Gardens Trail.

The Craggy Garden picnic area is a spacious lot dotted with picnic tables comfortably shaded beneath a canopy of trees. Several trails can be accessed from this area, including Mountains-to-the-Sea and Douglas Falls.

The Craggy Gardens Trail is Hike 18 in Kevin Adam’s North Carolina’s Best Wildflower Hikes. As we learned during our hike, and as Adam’s mentioned in his book, a heath bald is located near the summit. Websters defines heath as a tract of wasteland, an extensive area of open uncultivated land usually with poor coarse soil and inferior drainage. According to the Guide to the Natural Communities of North Carolina, Fourth Approximation (March 2012, Page 11) Heath balds are "areas dominated by dense shrubs, with natural absence or near absence of tree cover, in topographically exposed, high elevations."

It sounds desolate, but as we discovered, the area is actually lush. The dominant shrub is Catawba Rhododendron, and rhodos line the trail to the pinnacle and at one point, form a tunnel.

Rhodo Tunnel, Craggy Gardens, Copyright 2014
The view inside is enchanting (and far more spacious). From photos I’ve seen, Craggy Gardens is breathtaking during the peak bloom season, but the hike and the bald offer a serene beauty even after the Catawba blooms fade. The forest floor is covered with ferns and other vegetation, and since it is a heath bald, blueberries, mountain laurel, and flowers mentioned in Adam’s book can also be found in their season. Near the bald is a shelter built by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) in the 1930s, constructed with American Chestnut, a massive tree that once could be called the king of the forest, but is now nearly extinct. The shelter provides a nice respite along the short trail, and is handy during an unexpected rain.

Craggy Gardens is a refreshing stop along the Parkway, and now that I'm familiar with it, it's likely we'll return again and again. Photos from our trip:

For mobile users: Craggy Gardens Photos on our Smugmug Site


Brenda W. said...

One of my favorite areas!! Beautiful in any season, and so many hiking options starting from here.

Kimberli said...

It's just as beautiful as we thought it would be, and I learned so much during the hike.

I thought about the sheep on Roan Mountain as we strolled through the bald. I wonder what Craggy's bald would look like if they implemented the program there (though it's likely now too small for the effort.)