As a tourist destination, the Blue Ridge Parkway specializes in three things: spring blooms, autumn leaves, and jaw-dropping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
While there are many places to stop along the way that supply all three of these things, Craggy Gardens, NC is the ultimate option in my opinion.
Located nearly 5,900 feet above sea level, the panoramas of the Blue Ridge region you get from the Craggy Garden overlooks are second to none.
Due to its elevation, the park is also admired for its unique flora, which includes whimsical, hobbit-like knottiness to its tree growth. The “Crag” in Craggy Gardens is a reference to another of the gardens’ stunning features– rock formations.
Furthering its draw, there is a Craggy Garden Visitor Center (Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 364.4) for historical info and souvenirs, as well as the Craggy Gardens Picnic Area (lue Ridge Parkway Milepost 367.6), which is laden with flowering plants and world-class scenic vistas.
Just nine miles north is Mount Mitchell, the tallest point east of the Mississippi. And about 15 miles south, on the way towards Asheville, is the Folk Art Center and the LEED-certified Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center.
Here’s an overview of everything you need to know about the park, including how to get to Craggy Gardens from Asheville and options for hiking, camping, and nearby lodging.
Blue Ridge Parkway- Craggy Gardens Guide
- How to Get To Craggy Gardens From Asheville
- Craggy Gardens Hiking Trails
- Craggy Gardens Camping Options
- Nearby Blue Ridge Parkway Lodging Options
HOW TO GET TO CRAGGY GARDENS FROM ASHEVILLE
One of our favorite things about Craggy Gardens is its convenient location.
This elevated section has some of the best Blue Ridge Parkway Overlooks where you can soak in the scenery while cruising (which is the most popular thing to do in the Blue Ridge Mountains) to and from Craggy Pinnacle.
It’s possible to access the Blue Ridge Parkway in Asheville at four different locations. From there, it’s just a matter of driving north and looking for the signs.
It’ll be 20 to 25 miles and will take roughly 45 to an hour to get there.
- In East Asheville, off of I-40, you can take US Highway 74 ALT E at Exit 53A. This puts you on the Parkway near the Folk Art Center and Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center.
- Or you can continue on I-40 towards US Highway 70 at Exit 55. This also puts you near the Folk Art Center and Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center.
- Coming from South Asheville, a third option is to enter the Blue Ridge Parkway at US Highway 25, about three miles south of the Biltmore.
- Further south, off of I-26, you can enter the Parkway from NC 191, which is close to the North Carolina Arboretum (another great garden of the Blue Ridge region).
Once heading north on the Parkway, there’s no need for navigation devices or maps. The speed limit is 45 mph, and the protocol is to drive carefully while some of the nation’s most spectacular scenery reveals itself around you.
CRAGGY GARDENS HIKING TRAILS
Despite being a relatively small destination in terms of the parkway’s recreation areas, the Craggy Gardens trail map is extensive.
Options range from quick 20-minute sojourns for jaw-dropping 360-degree panoramic views to sweat-inducing clambers that lead to majestic waterfalls.
In short, Craggy Gardens has something for everyone who’s looking for great Blue Ridge Parkway hikes.
- Craggy Gardens Trail is a short route that can be accessed from either the north end of the picnic area or the south side of the visitor center parking lot. Though barely a mile, the Craggy Gardens Trail features lots of rhododendron, hardwood forest, a gazebo, and a trail shelter. There’s a great view of the Black Mountain Range, as well as lovely flowers in spring and blueberries in late summer.
- Douglass Falls Trail (a.k.a. Carter Creek Falls Trail) is a challenging 8-mile round trip hike to a 70-foot waterfall. It can be accessed from Graybeard Mountain Overlook via the Mountains-to-Sea (MTS) Trail. Along the way to the waterfall, there will be picturesque cascades and towering virgin hemlock forests.
- Craggy Pinnacle Trail is just a 20-minute hike. But it’s the big draw for visitors seeking the best vistas Craggy Gardens has to offer, with a path around the summit of the Great Craggy Mountains. The trail can be accessed from Craggy Dome Parking Overlook, and is a must-do for those capable of a short walk.
- Snowball Mountain Trail is the other 8-mile option, ranging from moderate to strenuous terrain. This hiking trail takes you through mixed hardwoods and provides great views, specifically of the Reems Creek Valley. Be aware that narrow parts of the trail are notorious for having poison ivy and stinging nettles.
- The Mountains-to-Sea Trail, though not exclusive to Craggy Gardens, does run through it. This trail stretches all the way from Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the North Carolina coast.
One final note on hiking Craggy Garden: Staying on the pathway is paramount here, because the high-elevation ecosystem is fragile and takes a long time to recover.
OTHER THINGS TO DO IN CRAGGY GARDENS
Craggy Gardens has long been a favorite stopping point for Blue Ridge travelers, primarily for the vast vistas offered up by one of the highest points on the Blue Ridge Parkway (Richard Balsam Overlook at 6,053 feet).
However, there are lots of other things to do at Craggy Gardens besides simply staring out into the distance:
- Admire the Bouquet: The Blue Ridge Parkway is famous for its spring and summer flower displays. Craggy Gardens, NC, is touted as a top spot for enjoying the pink and purple blooms of the rhododendron, one of the most popular Blue Ridge Mountain plants. Locals consider mid-June, when the rhododendrons bloom, to be the ideal time to visit. Violets, May-apples, Turkscap lilies, blackberries, and blueberries also bloom at Craggy Garden.
- Picnic at the Peak: The Craggy Pinnacle Trail is at the summit of the Great Craggy Mountains, and Craggy Gardens offers stunning picnic areas nearby. There is a lovely green, along with tables, bathrooms, and all the makings of a comfy, serene setting for brunch, lunch, or an early sunset dinner.
- Leaf Peeping: In autumn, the Blue Ridge Parkway is taken over by myriad shades of reds, oranges, and yellows. The fall foliage at Craggy Gardens is phenomenal, offering some of best views along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
- Craggy Garden Visitor Center: For those hungry for history, stats, and/or a souvenir to take home, the Craggy Garden Visitor Center provides some low-key action and information.
Additionally, Crabtree Falls—a personal favorite of mine—is only about 25 miles north of Craggy Gardens. The Biltmore Estate is located about 25 miles south.
There’s a rapidly growing movement to make some 16,000 acres overlooked by Craggy Gardens into the Craggy Wilderness & National Scenic Area. The conservation NGO Forest Keeper has helped to link over 100 organizations and thousands of supporters in this cause.
The goal is to designate over half of the Craggy area (including Douglass Falls) as a highly protected wild space. It would become only the 11th national scenic area in the country. The Craggy Wilderness area would consist of rare stands of old growth forest, with dozens of unique and unusual species.
Craggy is considered one of the most biologically diverse sites in the United States. The national scenic area designation would prevent logging and protect the ecosystem, while allowing for non-mechanized recreation in Craggy Gardens to continue.
CRAGGY GARDENS CAMPING OPTIONS
There are no campgrounds at Craggy Gardens, but there are some close by:
- Crabtree Falls, located at Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 339.5 – 340.2, offers great hiking, a beautiful waterfall, and a large campground with 92 sites. It’s open from mid-May until early November every year. As with Craggy Gardens, the offices and facilities here are closed in winter and early spring.
- Mount Pisgah, located at Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 408.6 (a little south of the Craggy Garden), has an extensive campground with 126 sites. This is the southernmost campground on the Blue Ridge Parkway, America’s longest linear park at 469 miles. From the Mount Pisgah picnic area, it’s possible to summit Mt. Pisgah with a short, sometimes strenuous hike.
Due to the unpredictable Craggy Gardens weather and icy conditions in many of the higher elevations along the Parkway, sections of the road are frequently closed in winter.
None of the campgrounds remain open after November, and most of the visitor centers (including Craggy Gardens) shut down as well.
NEARBY BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY LODGING OPTIONS
The part of the Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville does offer accommodations south of the city. There are some fine choices just off the Blue Ridge Parkway map as well.
- Winding Poplar Home is a 4-bedroom log home with a bird’s-eye view of the incredible NC mountains from its two decks. It features a stone hearth fireplace and has its own wine cellar and game room.
- Firefly Lodge is a cozy 3-bedroom log cabin with three decks privately tucked away in the woods. It’s only 5 minutes from downtown Black Mountain, and 20 minutes away from several great hiking trails.
- The Red Rocker Inn is located in Black Mountain, just 6.5 miles from the Craggy Mountain Visitor Center. It offers gracious Southern hospitality and delicious meals and is located just a short walk to shopping in the small town.
Of course, being near Asheville and both I-40 and I-26, there are innumerable options for those looking for a run-of-the-mill highway-adjacent hotel.
Craggy Gardens is just short a day trip from Asheville, so you can also take your choice of the many great accommodation options there. –Jonathon Engels, lead photo by Emma Gallagher