Craggy Gardens is a section of the North Carolina mountains accessible via the Blue Ridge Parkway, north of Asheville. It has excellent hiking trails, a picnic area, cool mountaintop balds with wild blueberry bushes and dramatic mountain vistas. Read on to see what we saw on our hike of the Craggy Gardens Trail in early May! Hint: Wildflowers galore and other cool stuff that makes us love love love nature.
Situated in what’s called the Craggies, a 194-square-mile subrange of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Craggy Gardens area gets its name partially from the scores of rugged rocky slopes (“crags”) and the ridiculous amount of hot pink Catawba rhododendron that bloom from late May through June.
While May in the Asheville area at our elevation (approximately 2,000 feet above sea level) is usually filled with sunny skies, temperatures in the 70s and various shades of green on the trees as they finish leafing out, the Craggies are a different story. At an elevation above 5,000 feet, weather can change on a dime there, and the beginning of May can actually seem like February or March in terms of temperature and whatnot. In fact, we heard that it had snowed a few days before we went (no snow on the ground by the time we were there).
We wanted to see what Craggy Gardens looked like before springtime really set in there, so we ventured up the Blue Ridge Parkway from Asheville about 20 minutes. In that 20 minutes, the landscape changed dramatically, along with the temps. Good thing we were wearing layers and fleece. It was about 48 degrees and partly cloudy and barely any leaves were out yet on the ash, birch, buckeye and oak trees above 4,500 feet. The wildflowers, however, did not disappoint!
So let’s talk about the trail: One end of the 2-mile out-and-back Craggy Gardens Trail begins at the Craggy Gardens Picnic Area (Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 367.5) and the other end starts at the parking lot for the Craggy Gardens Visitor Center (Milepost 364.6). To head out on the trail from the Visitor Center, if you’re facing the Visitor Center with the road at your back, the trailhead is at the left end of the parking lot. The trail will have a slight incline as you walk a rocky path through the woods filled with birch and ash trees and rhododendron thickets.
The weather has done a number on the trees in Craggy Gardens, twisting roots and limbs into cool formations and you’ll see which way the wind blows by how the trees grow in one direction. It’s pretty cool. There are also very neat rock formations everywhere.
Tons of blueberry bushes dot the landscape and it’s a great place for bird watching. We saw several Eastern Towhees and Juncos. A little spur trail across the bald leads to a rock wall and a view of the mountains.
The trail continues another half-mile to the Craggy Gardens Picnic Area. For this trip, we turned around at the shelter house as the weather was starting to turn and get misty and cold. But along the way, we saw so many wildflowers — trilliums, geraniums, hydrangeas, chickweed and more — and wanted to share them with you. Enjoy this little showing of early spring from Craggy Gardens!