Graveyard Fields, a short drive from Brevard, North Carolina, is jointly managed by the US Forest Service (Pisgah Ranger District) and the National Park Service ( Blue Ridge Parkway). Primarily access is from the Graveyard Fields Overlook at milepost 418.8 of the Blue Ridge Parkway. This area is listed as one of the most popular hiking areas in the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area. Summer visitors are attracted to the area to because of seasonally cool days and to experience several waterfalls. Fall visitors experience vivid colors and the opportunity to collect blue berries.
Anyone visiting Graveyard Fields and seeing its open-faced natural beauty might wonder the origin of its name. The sign on Graveyard Fields explains one theory, that many years ago a tremendous windstorm uprooted the spruce forest, leaving behind stumps that gave the area the appearance of a graveyard.
Other theories speculate that logging in the early 20th century prior to the area being under management of the US Forest Service left tree stumps covered in moss resembling gravestones. The Graveyard Fields experienced catastrophic fires, once in 1925 and again in the early 1940s. These fires swept through the area, destroying the stumps and scorching the soil enough to render it sterile, changing the appearance of the once dense evergreen forest.
The headwaters of the Yellowstone Prong a tributary of the Pigeon River originate with in the study area. The unusually flat valley is like an upside-down "bald", with fields of high-elevation grasses and shrubs surrounding the tributaries of the Yellowstone Prong. True bald mountaintops, such as Black Balsam Mountain, surround the valley.
Rare Mountain bogs lie along springs and seeps in the valley. Although the trees and shrubs are beginning to grow back in places, periodic smaller fires have swept the area, helping keep the alpine meadow-like appearance in places.
The high precipitation, shallow peaty soils, and historic disturbance in the area have produced an unusual mix of forest, shrub, and wetland vegetation. Trees include yellow birch (Betula lutea), serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea), mountain-ash (Sorbus americana), flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), various oaks, white pine, Fraser fir, and red spruce.
Pink and purple blooming mountain laurel and rhododendron thrive throughout the valley as do many wildflowers, and a number of asters and honeysuckles. Other groundcover plants include the hay-scented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula), ground pine (Lycopodium obscurum), and running clubmoss (Lycopodium clavatum).
One delight in the Yellowstone Prong floodplain is the wild berry shrubs that have colonized the area. Hikers along the creek enjoy summer and fall harvests of blackberries (Rubus argutus), gooseberries, and blueberries. These fruit-bearing shrubs also attract a variety of wildlife, including white-tailed deer, and black bear.
Bird watchers report some unusual bird sightings here, including the belted kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon), bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephala), peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis), and spotted sandpiper. Along the meadow like areas in late spring and summer, northern bobwhite (Colinus virginianus), eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis), common yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas), and indigo bunting are regulars. The area contains several species (7 animal and 4 plant) considered rare in North Carolina.
The three waterfalls in the Graveyard Fields are easily accessible from the Blue Ridge Parkway. The main trail descends from a parking area by means of steps that give way to an asphalt path, necessary due to the popularity of the area. Many parts of the trail beyond the asphalt portion have been worn into deep ruts which are often muddy due to the frequency of precipitation. For those who wish to hike beyond the Yellowstone Prong Valley, the spur off the Graveyard Field Trail, the Graveyard Ridge Trail, leads to, among several places, Black Balsam Knob and Tennent Mountain where spectacular views, buckets full of blueberries, and grassy balds await.