Saturday we hiked with Upstate Hiking to Craggy Gardens on the Blue Ridge Parkway. This is typically the time of year when the rhododendron and mountain laurel are blooming and we wanted to catch them in their glory.
We started our hike at the Graybeard Mountain overlook and left our cars there to hike the Mountain to Sea Trail to a place on the trail where there is a beautiful field of pink rhododendron.
The trail itself was a bit technical requiring the hikers to watch their footing carefully due to roots and rocks galore. We weaved up and down through the woods sometimes hearing the sound of cars on the parkway to our left. Once in a while we would cross over a little seep of water making the trail muddy and or slippery. In many places the grass has gotten higher and has started to tent over the trail. I was a little worried about ticks yesterday but I didn’t see any (although I got one today while walking over in Spartanburg, SC). At this time of year, it’s always wise to be on the lookout for ticks when you get home and to carefully remove any you find.
This stretch of the MST has a few places where you run into spaces with what looked to be hemlock trees. Finding the trail across those spaces could be difficult if you were not watching but staying to the right does the trick. We did not pass any hikers on the way to the rhodoendron field and after about a mile and half we arrived.
The group came out of the woods that had been lightly sprinkled with rhododendron into an open space with the blooms just beginning to come into their full glory. This year the wildflowers have been a little late (unlike last year) and so they are not at their full peak. They were still very beautiful and I always look forward to repeating this hike. I typically don’t like to go to the same place twice so you have to know this is pretty special.
The views on this stretch of the trail are quite lovely in several spots and there are bare rocks looking towards the south where you can sit and have a little snack/lunch which is what the group did. At one of the rock overlooks, I took at look through the binoculars at Glassmine Falls off in the distance. I don’t think there’s much of a hike to it or we probably would have tried it already but it is a substantial waterfall.
We had set the break for 20 minutes and got up as a group to head back to our cars for the second leg of the hike. This particular hike, unlike others, was broken up as we wanted to see some of the other areas we hadn’t hiked before.
The group drove down to the visitors center at Craggy Garden, visited the gift shop, and then headed down one of the trails towards the shelter. This is an easy trail, which we’ve hiked from the other direction and we shortly found ourselves at an open grassy bald with great views sprinkled with more rhododendrons. Having already had a photo op with these lovely flowers, I decided to focus on a small grouping of bluets. They are delicate flowers that require a little patience to photograph but they were cooperating yesterday.
We made our way back to the parking lot at the visitors center and on to our third trail of the day. The group was hiking up to Craggy Pinnacle which is an approximately .7 mile trail to a 360 view of the area. On our way up, we passed lots of people touring the mountains. I noted many of them were unprepared for hiking (poor footwear and lack of hiking poles). Lots of people were stopped on the trail taking time out from the difficult climb up.
Our group made it up with no problem and stopped to have lunch and enjoy the view. The day had started off a little hazy and skies were cloudy at this point in the day. We would experience times when the sun would go in and out of the clouds but it stayed pleasantly warm most of the day and we only had to resort to windbreakers early in the day.
There’s a great view of the Asheville watershed from the top of Craggy Pinnacle as we viewed it through a hazy sky. After lunch, we worked our way back down the trail. I stopped to wait while one of our hikers went back up to retrieve his hiking poles. At the particular spot in the trail where I stopped at to wait, I spotted a trio of perfect rhododendron in full bloom. About half way down, we stopped to explore and ran across a man painting a mountain view, the smell of oil paint wafting in the air around us.
The group made its last move of the cars to the Craggy Garden Picnic Area. There is plenty of parking here, restrooms, and picnic tables for the day traveler to stop and enjoy the mountain air.
We made our way over to the Mountain to Sea trailhead and headed towards the Snowball Mountain Trail. This section of the trail was mostly downhill. We crossed the road we had recently come over. There is a small area for parking at this trailhead (which I later came to regret not parking at). As we came out of the woods, we saw some flame azalea which can range from very red in color to very pale orange so of course we stopped to take a picture. I will say that these flowers are very hard to get a good photo print of. I don’t know why but the prints often don’t do them justice. You gotta be there!
We crossed over and hit the MST again. The Snowball Mountain trail comes up very shortly on your right within about 10 minutes of the road. This trail is quite challenging as it switchbacks up and down to a very nice view from a rock overlook.
I was pretty tired at this point and started to overheat. Probably the best way to avoid this is to drink more. Overheating can lead to more serious consequences so it is best to avoid this if possible. I should be so smart as to take my own advice. We stopped a couple times to let me recuperate and we decided it would be best if the some of the other hikers went on to get the cars and meet us at the road. It all turned out fine in the end.
As we hiked, I noted the late afternoon sun peeking through the trees. At one point, I noticed how quiet it had gotten with no birdsong to give us a little accompaniment but a few hardy bird souls started singing again shortly and all was well with the world.
We regrouped at the road after a brief ten minute wait and made our way back down the mountain to Greenville. It was a wonderful day in the mountains. Until next year!
Mileage about 10. Beautiful views.
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